7:00 a.m. and Miss P. enters the coffee shop to order her usual blend, heated in the microwave for 45 seconds. She places her cardboard box on the counter. “Dear, could you watch this for me?” Miss P. asks with a sweet, sane smile. “I am being followed again this morning.” The FBI has been following her for the past thirty years; she knows government secrets, you see. I nod my head as I pour her coffee. Like yesterday and the day before, she proceeds to gather a napkin, stir straw, three sugars, and two creamers, places them on her table and comes back for her package. She would like a glass of water for her friend who is joining her this morning, and waves to an empty chair.
Regular customers flow in and out casting sidelong glances at Miss P. conversing with her friend about FBI aliens and her abduction to Barbados. Customers order and exit; New Orleans’ life streams on outside. “The coffee is so good today, I will have to have another cup,” Miss P. chirps. “Remember, 45 seconds. It really brings out the flavor. Oh, could I have a little more ice for my friend?”
Miss P. standing at the corner, tall and thin, keeps glancing over her shoulder toward her box. “Help me keep an eye on that would you, dear?” She starts gathering her items again, same order, same amount. Miss P. wears the same blue outfit everyday: blue pants, blue shirt, very clean, very neat. The only thing that she changes is her gloves. Today she is wearing tattered silk elbow gloves, one pink, one dingy white. I give Miss P. her coffee; customers enter, a line forms. Miss P. turning to her corner table, stops. She says to me, “You are a very nice girl. I know because I was a nice girl. I went to Mexico when I was young…” She goes on about her near corruption by a young gentleman, though she explains that she preserved her chastity, and warns I should do the same. Customers shift, and roll their eyes, all wanting to order their usual. Miss P. returns to her table. I serve the customers; most order to go, busy, busy, hurry, hurry.
Miss P. has a ritual to drink her coffee. During my first week of training, Sally, one of the other waitresses, nudged me, “Take a look at what she does.” Miss P. first arranges a napkin around her coffee cup, then takes the three sugars and packs them furiously, her mouth counting off the number. She pours the sugars, then starts to pack her creamer; she uses one and stashes the other, stirs and stirs. Then Miss P. drinks her coffee and stares out the window.
In between her sips, Miss P. periodically checks everything in her box. She sips, and then pushes her coffee aside and flips through every file folder, twice. Assured, she slides the box aside and returns to her coffee. She sips, and then checks her gloves. She holds out her hand, as if admiring an expensive ring, turns her head this way and that way, brushes off her gloves, straightens and pulls the gloves to order. Satisfied, she sips her coffee and starts to fidget with her hair, patting front and back. Her attention turns to the coffee; she wraps her hands around the cup and frowns and stands. I try to look busy. “Excuse me; my coffee has cooled, could you please warm it up?” She smiles anxiously. “Remember, 45 seconds. It makes all the difference.” Coffee placed in the microwave, we wait. Miss P. leans forward. “One day,” she pauses and puts her hand to her mouth, smiles and continues, “I want to try the flavored coffee, but I just can’t.” She sighs, “The regular is so good today.” She receives her coffee and toddles off to her table, where she sips.
Midmorning. Miss P. starts to straighten her mess, wiping and stacking. She gathers her box, pats her hair. “Good day, I’ll see you tomorrow. The coffee was delicious today.” I watch her blue form disappear into the day outside. The shop is empty now. A car pulls up, another customer who proceeds to order the usual. I fix it the same way for her today as I will tomorrow. The same way I fix coffee for Miss P., only without the 45 seconds. The day will go the same as it did yesterday, the same tomorrow, the same rituals. Same.
7:00 am and Miss P. enters the coffee shop to order her usual house blend, heated in the microwave for 45 seconds. Like yesterday, she places her cardboard box on the counter. “Dear, could you watch this for me?” Miss P. says with a sweet, sane smile. “I am being followed again this morning.” The FBI has been following her for the past thirty years; she knows government secrets, you see.
**** I wrote this story when I was in graduate school. I was a waitress at the Coffee Cottage in Metarie, LA. It also appears in Patterns Plus a text book although without my permission, but nonetheless.