Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Otter

Keoonik never tiers of tricks. The otter giggles at every opportunity, and he is always able to turn sorrow into joy. Unlike coyote, otter is patient. He will take his time setting up his jokes just so he can savor them all the more in their realization.

Once, he convinced the sun and the moon to exchange places. He turned the night to day, and the day to night to confuse and confound owl. Tired and hungry, the old bird stumbled and fell from a cedar. He landed on his face and Otter laughed for an age at the bird with the flat face.

Otter turns everything on its head, and always for a laugh. While there is mischief about him there is also great joy. His eyes light up when he turns over a rock and finds tender, young crabs there to eat. And always there is a chuckle.

“Yeah,” the kid kicks the air after pulling a pair of perfect shots from the brewing group. “This is going to be one amazing cup of coffee,” he says to the patron on the other side of the brushed steel boiler. The patron is unimpressed. Dark rings have collected under his eyes, without that cup of precious caffeine this one will likely sink between the cracks and meld with the gray sidewalk along the pier.

This patron is just one in a long line of people infected by gray. Millions are perpetually overwhelmed by the city’s palette. In Seattle, it is not the rain that will get you, it is the gray, whose interminable shades are everywhere. The Mercer tunnel is a golden gray, with highlights of red brake lights regardless of the hour. The space under the Alaskan Way viaduct is the gray of a weekend party ended; barbecue charcoal ash sadness with too much mess to clean up after the guests have all gone home.

It is the overwhelming grayness of the sky that gets to the citizenry of this place the most. It spans the full spectrum of grayness from spoiled cottage cheese in an unlit refrigerator to the color of the collective mental funk that drove Jonestown to Kool-aid cocktails. Seattle is gray. Anxiety gray. Sleepless gray. Loveless, chilly gray lonely and isolated.

It is the gray that robs this patron of all energy and motivation. Makes him breathe through his mouth like a depressed salmon stuck in a lifeless estuary. Makes him crave that chemical kick in the ass that will push him along to the next cup of coffee a couple hours down his endless gray road.

But the barista is not affected by the gray. He loves his job, loves these people, loves the brew he squeezes through gray perforated metal film with high temperature water. The barista wakes up every morning with a smile on his face. He greets the gray. He wears it. His hoodie is gray, his jeans are too. Even the overpriced, vintage t-shirt he sports is a shade of gray.

On the ass-end of the city’s grayness is the last happy barista in Seattle. He tosses an artfully mixed grande latte to the next weary patron like a life preserver. Grudgingly, the tired man’s lips curl up in an insipid response to the resplendent grin the kid shines on the line. The patron passes him some dough — not for the paper cup, bean juice and milk — but because, just for a moment there, he felt the possibility of the gray. The mystic, concealing cloak it could be. A moist breath of life under a waterfall in the desert. A kiss on his wan, dry lips. In that moment the patron understands something new about the color that so dominates his life. Without that blanket of gray he would be scorched. Burnt. A wasted husk of a person.

In that moment, in the presence of Caesar Cinereus behind the bar, he hears the ticking of charcoal bicycle derailleurs merging on Broad Street, sees the gentle whoosh of silver hybrid cars gliding along Alaskan, and smells a cinder block gray of the fog floating above the Sound. All this combines for him alone. The patron feels a rush of gunmetal in his chest, chill and calming.

The kid, seeing that flash in the man’s eye, knows undoubtably that he put it there. He says, “You’re a rock star baby,” and sends him out the door with a salute. The kid turns to the next patron in line, “What can I get for you this fine morning?” Saving lives one cup at a time.


Just a reminder, these shorts are going into a collection on WattPad. It is free to read and if you like what you’re reading here, your votes and comments would be much appreciated there. Well technically, your votes and comments would be appreciated there even if you hate what you’re reading, but I digress.

Seriously though, spend some time out on WattPad. It is currently my favorite mobile app.

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