An Empty Cup Holds the Soul of a Dream (Excerpt)

It was early in the morning, almost night, the sun not quite shining anywhere around, but Kyle somehow knew that it was somewhere, just not there at the right moment. It was somewhere else he was certain. He knew this from a science class in highschool, on the last few days of a poetry seminar, examining the life sciences. He remembered the moment. He would graduate and leave town to head to a larger city, something he had been dreaming about for months. Would he be like the sun then, still in the town he grew up in but not around anymore? Would anyone miss him? Walking out into the morning air,  there was only the soft hum of streetlights, rustling electronically in the morning before dawn. There was a strong wind, unusual for Three Corners. As he opened the door he thought he heard something behind him. Still half asleep, he whirred around enough to catch a glimpse of something he’d never seen before. It was clear and cloudy, like a moving shaft of raincloud. Kyle shook his head, trying to wake a bit more. “It’s too early. I’m half asleep, it’s probably nothing.” He got in the car to head to work, fumbling in a pre morning coffee brain fog, as he somehow found the magical ability to find the playlist he had been listening to on his phone: something classical, just to cure the house music he listened to getting ready for work. He found a black sweater somewhere in the closet, taking from a clean pile he hadn’t put up yet after a trip across the country to Chicago. He felt uneasy, until he fit his black ball cap close to his eyes and breathed deeply in the crisp morning air. 

For the first time he realized he couldn’t stand it. All the songs he used to listen to, all designed perfectly but by someone else or an algorithm he didn’t understand. Was an algorithm a person?Rithm just a design? Algo? “I don’t know,” Kyle said, for another time. He chose a song absentmindedly, the third or fourth one to break up the monotony to try to convince him it was real. Automatic morning. He turned the car on the street, and headed down the hills and into work. Past the one street that ran through the town, he watched the cars as they passed, unknown drivers only described by license plates and headlights, and he wondered about the aspects of this, how the soul describes the contours of an inner world, somehow in a dance with external reality, or was it like that at all? “I guess.” Kyle said, ignored the thought, and headed down city street, onto the highway, and headed toward Old Mill, a mix of classical piano, engine sound, and the sound of passing cars, headed to some destination he would never know. “Thank God I don’t know where” Kyle said, and eventually, almost painfully, made the 15 minute drive into the town square of Old Mill, finding a two hour parking spot, and opened the door and walked out onto the street.

Looking back at the meter, he thought about the persistence of time. “Life is like that, I guess,” Kyle thought. “I don’t want to pay the meter but I have to.” Kyle approached the meter and saw wires and plastic dangling from what was once the casing of the device. “I guess I don’t have to pay.” Kyle said, “Time doesn’t exist here anymore.”Kyle smiled. It wasn’t a really exciting moment though, the streets were never monitored and it was possible to just leave your car for days at a two hour meter and never get a ticket. It was a sleepy town, and thus needed more coffee than everything else. The coffee shop was right across the street.

A few doors down was the employee entrance. Walking through the empty street (Old Mill hadn’t woken up yet) Kyle put on his apron and went down each step to the employee meter, passing boxes of unopened drinks and buckets for no apparent reason, punched in and headed upstairs and into the shop. Coffee shops in the morning, usually before the music starts being played by a store manager, are a symphony of sound. From the whirring of a bean grinder to the first shots being tested on the espresso machine, the whisp of the steamers, the hint of the inner machinery of the machines, made visible only in sound. Once again trying to stay positive in the morning before sunrise, he greeted his colleague, nice people, yet absent in the morning fog of waking up. It could be a passing train in a small mountain town. Kyle was always imagining mountains. He’d never been on one but the hills almost seemed like it. Sometimes he thought he never would.

Passing behind the counter and into the floors, a narrow pathway with a small kitchen, the espresso machine, the machinery of the coffeeshop, unremarkable, essentially unchanged since his first coffee gig years ago. It was Kyle’s third day. Kyle packed the cups in, which were a few inches to the right of his hand. He had quickly learned a rhythm of taking an order, preparing a cup in the other hand and finishing a coffee order in a matter of seconds. There wasn’t much room to feel any kind of achievement in the gig so he kept timetables in his mind of how fast he served each drink, at least until that morning.

It wasn’t the first customer, maybe the end of a sprint of folks in the door in the pre morning wave that started around 6:35. The sun was beginning to shine through the window outside, the streets becoming more busy. In a few minutes, Kyle thought, he would be locked in, steadily working the job and greeting the community one after one to help the town prepare for the day. He loved all the customers who came in the shop, he wasn’t lying when he seemed happy to greet them all.  It was just as he was settling into a hum when Miles tapped him on the shoulder, “Hey, Kyle, you haven’t met everyone yet, this is Amala” 

Kyle paused midair, performed a quick and automatic “Hi Amela! Good to meet you!” and tilted his neck around to see who he was speaking to. Amala was in a black apron like the new employees, but far different from Kyle, she was tall enough to reach the upper cabinets of the highest espresso shelves. For a moment, their eyes met, and Kyle immediately flashed through a series of images he didn’t know where from. “Hi Kyle,” she said, kindly but distantly, like she was very far away. Kyle proceeded to drop the coffee, spill it on a patron, and brilliantly, in an acrobatic moment, tripped and fell to the right, precisely where the coffee pot was kept.

Saved by design and the production in a factory somewhere of study materials, nothing was broken, and neither was Kyle, saved by design and production of the human body, and something else, Kyle thought, “Why didn’t I fall down”. He almost perceived that he had been held by something invisible, something in mid air. No one could detect it, but he was certain something caught his fall. “Still asleep,” Kyle thought, and quickly poured a Cold Brew, took it to the backroom and slammed it, to try and get the caffeine into his system as quickly as possible. 

Doing a quick yogic stretch, Kyle splashed water over his face, wiped it up with a paper towel, threw it in recycling, and went back to his daily duties. Looking to his left he noticed Amala was steaming milk in the espresso line. She must be three weeks in, he thought, gauging from the time the training would take to move from coffee bar to espresso area. 

Hours went by. So many people, all who Kyle loved, or tried to love, because what other choice did he have? The Coffee shop was so busy, and especially in the early morning hours Kyle felt like at times he was standing against darkness and discouragement, doing absolutely anything he could to make sure everyone he came across had a good day. No one ever did that for him, so he thought, hey why not, how is anyone different from talking to myself at all. Within a few hours it was time to go on break. 

Kyle walked out the door, said hi to Steven and the customers he knew, went around the corner and sat on the street, which by now was as busy with traffic as a downtown in a larger city. It was amazing how quickly the streets transformed. Kyle did almost nothing on breaks. He glanced at his phone, but it was more out of habit than anything else. Drinking what was now his third or fourth coffee drink, Kyle watched the clock until 10 minutes went by, then walked back inside and got on with the days work. 

The music was so annoying. He really wished there was no sound at all, just the rhythm of the machines, the sonic footprint of the work behind the counter, the announcements of orders. There must be a reason for this, Kyle said, imagining that it must have something to do with studies at the retail level, but he wasn’t sure, and even though he was curious, his culture had told him to “know his place”, which he was starting to perceive as a kind of classist system. 

“Nothing I can do about it”, Kyle thought. Passing behind Kyle just then, Amala said “Good third day, Kyle, good to meet you.” “You headed out?” Kyle asked. “Yep,” Amala said, and walking out the door, Kyle noticed something fall from her backpack. Kyle rushed to pick it up, but was caught in line by a customer. “Non fat, flat white, extra hot, dry latte with oat milk on the side, large cup, double with an extra cup and two lids” it happened so fast that it caught him off guard. He kept an eye on the paper on the ground while entering into order mode, a particular modality of thought during which no memory was required, everything sat within short term focus and rendered into the order system. 

“Thank you!” Kyle said hurriedly, and rushed out to the floor and picked the paper up. Amala had left by this point. Kyle took it to return it to the drawer to give to her the next day, promising he wouldn’t look at it. Sliding it underneath the money drawer he went on with his day. But order after order the anticipation was building. What was on that paper anyway? He was so transfixed, he started to make mistakes taking orders, he was getting off sync. He fumbled and managed his way through all the orders until he finally got to his break for the day. 

“Can I take a break?” Kyle asked his manager. “Um, that was the full day Kyle,” George said. You forgot to take your last break, this is it for the day. “Oh thank God,” Kyle said, rushed back to the register, scrambled through the desk, found the note, opened it, and stared. It was a part of a map. It looked really old, the letters in a script he didn’t understand. “What’s that?” George asked. “Oh, nothing” Kyle said. “Amala dropped it.” 

“Oh, OK,” George said. “Just keep it in the desk. We’ll tell her tomorrow. Remember, you’re off.” Kyle tried to not look disappointed. “I really want to see what’s on that map!” Kyle thought. “”Oh, and Kyle,” Could you take the trash out before you leave. It seemed to always be one last thing, Kyle thought, at least he didn’t have to close tonight. Kyle rounded up the trashes, loaded them onto a pushcart, and wheeled them down the street and into the area for garbage, tossing pounds of espresso and milk containers into their prospective parts.

“Why are these bins all white?” Kyle thought. It made the exteriors even more apparently gross. Wheeling everything back around, Kyle passed from passerby to passerby. everyone seemed off work at those moments but the shopkeepers. Kyle waved to those he saw often, and then thinking he was right back at the cafe, absentmindedly wheeled the cart into the wrong door, realizing he was in an a vintage shop. “Oh my God, I am so sorry” Kyle said, wheeling backwards. The shopkeeper smiled warmly, suppressing a laugh. 

Within a few moments, with actions not so specific, Kyle was packing up and ready to head back home. He clocked out and went back to his car. He thought he saw a ticket on the window. Great, out of all the times I was finally given a ticket on today, if there’s a map out of here I’d love to see it at any moment. The job was hard, sometimes Kyle wanted to leave but he couldn’t. He loved it at times but on days like today he just wanted a reset. Maybe sleep would bring that on. Getting in the car there was bad traffic which always happened at this time of day. 

It was back to classical music. He often wondered what composers of classical music thought about their work being played in cars for “relaxation”. How could anyone from the 17th century think that they would be listened to mostly in machines that could destroy an environment to be a distraction from congested highways and freeway entrances. In any case, he was soon home.

Walking inside the apartment, a few flights down in the hills of Three Corners hills, Kyle rushed to his bedroom, flopped on his bed and stared off into space. Maps, he thought. At least that’s somewhere. It would all happen again tomorrow, Kyle thought. Sometimes every day seemed the same, and while he loved the community, it was such hard work that he couldn’t do anything at night, just sit and try and detox from remembering coffee orders for 7 to 8 hours a day. He had some dinner quickly, opening the refrigerator and then deciding to do something quick. Pasta again. He was exhausted so went to bed. Climbing onto the bed, blowing out any candles he had lit when he got home, he had the first few moments to himself for the full day, and he dared to dream a little.

Sometimes the days were so hard at the shop he couldn’t dream, but he slowly broke free of the remaining thoughts burned into his mind, and thought about the map piece he had found on the ground. Why would anyone be carrying this to work? It was odd. He knew almost nothing about Amala. It was so busy at the shop he realized he may never get to know her, or ask about the map again. Probably she would have it by morning when he arrived.” I need to let this go,” he thought. “The map doesn’t belong to me and it’s none of my business.” Watching a series of reiki videos online, it was so early in the evening, but he was exhausted. At least for a few moments, even seconds, he felt a kind of gentle peace. He immediately fell asleep.

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