Saturday, March 19, 2016

Earl, Fred Feldman

A sketch by Frederick W Feldman

 Earl yanked his coat tighter around his neck as he walked into the Starbucks.
It was forty degrees outside, and the heating inside the building was working overtime to keep it at a cozy forty-two. He shivered.
 There were two people standing in line at the counter. They were both wearing shorts.  They were going to get frostbite. He considered the ethics of calling or not calling a doctor. If they ended up having their legs amputated, he might feel pretty bad for not doing anything. It was a good thing he hadn’t taken any sort of Hippocratic oath. 
Earl wondered what it was like to be a doctor. If they, say, saw some stranger doing something detrimental to their health – like wearing shorts in cold weather – were they compelled to take them aside and warn them of the risks? That would be terrible. Earl was glad he was not a doctor.
Earl appraised the Starbucks-brand merchandise displayed in neat, equidistant rows. Snowmen, reindeer, logos and other innocuous designs displayed. They were nice to look at.
The line moved up by one. Earl left the displays and stepped dutifully forward, even though no one was waiting behind him. He looked out the big glass doors. 
Soon, he hoped, he’d see a woman walking towards those doors. And she would walk through them, and she would come through them, and he would wave at her, and she would smile and wave back, and she would come greet him before ordering her drink.
Soon, he hoped.
The line moved again.
 He found himself face to face with a barista.
“Hi! What can I get for you?” she asked.
“Uh…I don’t know yet,” he said. 
“Ok, take your time,” she said impatiently. 
She looked past him towards the empty wall. The empty wall sympathized with her, and understood what she had to go through thanks to idiots like this.
“I’ve decided,“ he said. “I’d like a medium coffee. And I’d like it with cream.
“Ok.” She queued up the price. “That’ll be ten dollars.”
He meekly handed her his card.
“And what’s your name?”
“Oh!! Like the tea!!!”
“Yeah, like the tea.”
“Ok, wait over there.” She pointed to another counter.
He felt awkward waiting all alone in the center of the floor. There was a newspaper rack with two papers left. He didn’t look at the headline but he was pretty sure it was announcing BUSINESS LOST IN EWE FLOSS.
He sat down at table and was thankful that the abundance of laptops kept the Starbucks patrons glued to their screens. He hated the coldly inquisitive glances to which he was always subjected in any given public place. Boo to natural curiosity.
Outside was a gray day. The matte colors of the automobiles driving by and parked in the lot all were dulled by the covering of thick clouds. Moisture hung between the ground and the sky and the cold swirled around the bone.
Earl shivered again and rapidly rubbed his gloved hands together in the hope that the friction might cause them to light up in flame. It was worth a try.
He looked up and there was a woman walking down towards the tables. She had blonde hair and was wearing an insulated vest. She waved…past him? No, at him. Oh! He waved back. He hadn’t noticed that she had come in.
“Hey, Earl!!”
“Janie! It’s good to see you! How are you?”
“Good! Hang on, I’m going to order.”
He watched her walk over to the Barista.
“Hi! What can I get you?”
“Hi! I’m not sure yet.”
  “Can you believe this?” she asked the wall.
  “Omigod, no,” said the wall.
“…I’ll have a hot chocolate, please!”
“Ok, coming right up. Name?”
 She stood over by the pick-up counter. She pulled out her phone and played around on the screen and looked busy. 
 Solitary, keeping the world at arm’s length, at bay. Standing a little off from the center of the room, calm like a pillar, an easy exertion of force, wielding it off with her cell phone. How did she do it so easily, Earl wondered?
 She picked up her drink and came over to his table.
 “Yours was done, too,” she said, placing his drink in front of him.
He took the brittle cardboard in hand.
“So how has your semester been?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s been great! Mostly great. I love my classes, but I’m going to be switching roommates. Like, just last week, I had come home and I went to the closet…”
As he listened, Earl brought his cup to his lips and sipped. He grimaced.
“…so I’m definitely gonna have to get a new roommate.”
“Blech,” he said.
“This isn’t what I ordered.”
“They gave you the wrong thing?”

“Yeah. They gave me Earl Grey.”


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