by Suphala Nibhanupudi
Art by Peyton Chiang
Issue: Phosphene (Summer 2019)
87 days, After Kit
The old aroma of coffee is pungent, but Jonathan can sense the vestiges of Kit’s sweet lemony smiles in the air. The everpresent golden dust is fading his vision.
Lilith props her head on the counter, staring at the empty candy jar. Her fingers drum the beat of the song. Her slouching figure is checkered in pink and yellow light.
“I got you a present.” Jonathan says as the coffee finds its way into his hands. He turns his bag upside-down. The colored lemon candies cascade onto the countertop, flowing down its sides. Lilith gasps as pink and yellow pearls flood the wooden floor.
Snow muffles Jonathan’s steps as he trudges through the door frame of the coffee shop. Flakes fall silently from grey clouds, which clump around grey city buildings, which tower over grey people, skittering over the grey sidewalk. Jonathan brushes the snow off his shoulders and brings himself out of the cold, and into the dull warmth.
The barista knows his name and order. Only bills are passed over the counter. If he looks, he would remark the bags under her glazed eyes. Jonathan squints at his glowing phone, not thinking to lower the brightness, even though it blinds his eyes and gives him a headache that will last for hours. The coffee slides into his hand, he grunts a farewell and steps back into the outside world.
He returns eight hours later, hair limply swinging over his brow, and picks up his regular ham sandwich, and the cold coffee that had been set aside for him. He had been returning to the coffee shop later and later with each passing day, and the barista had not learned to accommodate for it. He considers telling her, asking her to care for the needs of a familiar stranger. To break this cycle of disinterest.
The styrofoam cup still holds traces of heat. He shrugs internally. It’ll do. He pockets a free coffee candy, sliding the treat from its wrapper, and tossing the wrapper into the trash. He doesn’t watch it float down into the can, doesn’t see it flutter and twirl in its last few moments.
The door beeps a farewell.
And there he goes. Back to his home, where he will chew on his ham sandwich, and taste the vestiges of burnt coffee beans on his tongue. His alarm is set, his computer is shut tight, and Jonathan is laying on his bed, wondering if he should get up tomorrow.
It’s six in the morning. Jonathan has already stepped out his door, bag in hand, to do it all over again, and again and again and again.
20 seconds, After Kit
It takes a moment too long for Jonathan to realize the presence of this new, grinning barista, who basically sings, “Hello! My name is Kit! May I take your order?”
“… a small macchiato, almond milk.” Jonathan picks at his nails, creating a rhythmic scratch and thump that seems to fill the room. “And a ham sandwich under the name Jonathan?”
“Jonathan.” The boy repeated, lingering on the “O” like it’s a foreign delicacy. He doesn’t immediately leave to grab Jonathan’s sandwich like he should have. “What a unique name!”
The new guy can’t figure out how to open the cash register or work the coffee machine, so he fills a cup with frothy cream and chocolate sauce, and has the utter gall to allege it was what Jonathan had ordered. His ham sandwich is stuffed with vegetables. The coffee candies in the jar are swapped for hard lemon candies, each cloaked in a brightly colored wrapper. They make the jar shine with a new brightness that Jonathan chooses not to notice. He snatches his cup full of diabetes, his laden sandwich, and his stupidly-disgusting-lemon flavored candies, and storms back outside. This is the worst day ever, the worst the worst the worst!
Jonathan flings his saffron candy wrapper into the air and stalks home.
It glides in the tempest, floats like a newborn butterfly, and settles into Kit’s waiting palm. Kit breaks into his sunshine smile, and the wrapper dissipates into golden dust. It curls into the coffee shop. The flakes will remain hanging in the coffee shop, a constant reminder of his objective, until he finally leaves. Kit is ready to make the most of it.
52 days, After Kit
The opaque thread tries to hold his shriveled wings tight, unwilling to let him free into the cold blizzard. His curliqued wings would tear! His antennae would freeze! It’s not worth it. Just rest here, where you are safe and everything is normal, the same.
Lillith is yelling from the break room. Kit trips, slams face-first into the ground then picks himself up. With a pearly white smile and a bloody, crooked nose, he winks at his friend. “Hey stranger? What would you like to try today?”
The threads fray at his lemony smile. His wings twitch.
1 day, After Kit
The normal barista is back. She palms the money off the counter and fusses with the cash register and hands back change. She’s a dancer, Jonathan decides, her hands leaping and soaring with practiced precision, restricted by her small stage, and her small world…
The barista thumps on the countertop. “Uh, sir? Your coffee? Is ready?”
He glances at her and accepts the drink. “It’s Jonathan, by the way.”
Her eyes widen imperceptibly, and she glances off to the side, and mutters “Alright then,” before rushing away to the machines.
Jonathan could barely taste the acidity of his candy, over the bitter taste of his own saliva, and the paralyzing thoughts of Stupid stupid stupidstupidstupid. He fumbles his hand out of the candy jar and gets the hell out of there.
38 days, After Kit
Kit could fall under many mythical categories, he supposes. The mortal world doesn’t have a word for his line of work. A guardian angel, maybe. A fairy, here to stir up some mischief for the greater good? It was possible, but Kit requires a pair of wings. Kit decided on the term spirit yesterday, after Lillith’s tall tale of a woodland spirit murdering campers at midnight. He just really enjoyed Jonathan’s reaction, who swore up and down that he was never coming into this coffee shop after ten ever again.
“Just, put the wrappers in here? Why?”
“No clue! Let’s just see what happens!” Kit is proudly wearing barrettes that he stole from his mortal friend, Lillith. Each clip had a shimmering butterfly perched on it, and he found them to be quite inspirational for his project.
2 days, After Kit
“It’s Lillith, by the way.”
80 days, After Kit
“What do you mean he’s gone?”
“I don’t know, I don’t, I just… look there was no notice, no note, nothing. He even left behind the barrettes. That’s all I know okay? I’m just as lost.”
“He can’t… he can’t just go like this! Maybe he was kidnapped. He wouldn’t leave without a warning. This is the guy that leaves notices about going to the restroom!”
“He doesn’t have a Facebook, a Linkedin, nothing.”
“So we can’t even contact him?”
“…I’m honestly worried that he might not exist.”
“… I have my car today, I’m going to go search—”
“Search for what? Jon, we knew nothing about him. Where he lives, his family. We never bothered to ask. It was so easy for him to fall off the face of the earth?”
“His butterflies are here. It’s still here. As long as it’s here, he is here too. Somewhere, and I need to find him.”
“…I think we’re going to have to make do without him. I’ll post for new help tomorrow.”
46 days, After Kit
Lillith thinks it was hilarious that Jonathan didn’t know how in the world to order coffee. Yes, fine he comes here every day, but he gets just a macchiato alright? Lillith quickly launches into a monologue about the types of coffee, how a macchiato means stained in Italian, how she thinks a Caffe con Panna sounded like a music video filmed in South America. She still has dark circles underneath her eyes, but her pupils hint at a gentle fire stoked inside.
Jonathan purchases the Cafe con Panna. It’s much too sweet for his taste, but he gets a good laugh from capable Lillith combatting the whipped cream bottle.
Eons Ago, Before Kit
University. He’s finally free! No more toxic friends, no more parents, no more creepy guy that pestered him to mow his lawn and called him Barney. He would be happy, he would make something new out of his boring, nothing life.
But all these people here, they’re just staring at their phones. Eyes pensive and dull at the same time, robotically scrolling. A sense of gloom. Did the narrative have to be so…similar?
The thread of a cocoon start working away at his feet.
76 days, After Kit
The tips of his fingers have already faded away. Soon his hand, then his arm, and then how soon would it be before Kit’s whole body disappeared and he had to go home?
Should he leave a note? Ask them to care that he would soon vanish from their lives?
He rests his chin on his broom and observes Jonathan and Lillith fumble with the coffee machinery that Kit could never really get the hang of. How Lillith cackles, and Jonathan beams.
Kit wishes Jonathan would know how sweet his smile was. Like dandelion nectar, the kind he would drink back home. He wishes he could drink in his smile forever.
73 days, After Kit
People are gathered outside the small window, gawking at the new color that interrupted the pattern of grey, grey, and grey. Hundreds of blushing pink and buttery yellow candy wrappers, twisted at the center, their wings fanning out. Hundred of butterflies alight on the windowsill, alit by rays of sunshine. They cast patterns onto the sidewalk
Some people take a couple of pictures and walk on. Some curiously peer into the coffee shop and are lured inside with the smell of lemons and roasted coffee.
Some smile at their neighbor about the art and then laugh about something else. Couples lean closer, friends grab each other’s hands, strangers greet strangers. The coffee roast is brightened by the lemon
Jonathan leans against the counter, mesmerized by the pattern created on the floor.
Lillith glances away, then slowly turns to Jonathan. “So do you think we should stop Kit before he scares off our new customers, or should we let him keep evilly laughing behind the espresso machine?”
“Oh come on. Let him have this one.”
If Jonathan is paying any attention as he steps into the coffee shop, he should notice how the lights were glowing a little brighter, or how the air is newly tinged with citrus. Or the dainty, tenacious flapping of a butterfly wing that could have been beating from inside his heart.