A young man in a yellow apron moves briskly through the narrow ally ways behind the counter, crafting each cup of coffee with pride. He is an artist, he knows himself as an artist of the small and perishable. He has read about about this somewhere in his studies on flower arranging, the Japanese call it wabi-sabi, this quality of perfection and perishability. His well crafted cups of latte, with chocolate or vanilla or chai spices and the foam formed into little messages like blossums of the heart draw in foamed cream with a toothpick into smiling faces and flowers; these he knows will vanish with the first kiss of a pair of lips. The transience of these things gives him pleasure. It is his zen.cubicle that is slowly moving towards a window
He tamps the coffee into the cup of the espresso machine, takes the large tamper knob and gives it an expert twist, which his hands have learned and clamps it into the machine as the customer waits at the counter, dimly aware she is in the presence of an artist.
As the coffee presses through, his hands are already busy crafting the steamed milk. He is thinking of of years ago in the Cafe Du Monde in Jackson Square, crafting the cafe au lait in the late hours of night, his apprenticeship for this, his shop.
Milk steamed. Flipping off the huge brass eagled espresso machine at exactly the right moment to draw two ounces, which he dashes into a huge 16 oz china cup with a saucer. Then goes in the foamed cream, the latte, carefully preserving the foam. He takes a toothpick and with a flourish draws a rose on the foam.
He brings the cup to a table where a man is seated with a notebook, looking off and thinking. Around him people are talking. This is a wounded soul sitting silent and looking off. He has just come from a bad conversation which has poisoned him. He is thinking about the power of conversations and now looking for a cure for the darkness that threatens to grow in him. A woman has wounded him. A woman has refused the intimacy of question and deeper talk and no longer wishes to be his close friend and he is struggling not to brood which would be to enter into this darkness that shadows his thoughts.
And he is a curious man who has learned to write with a pencil very fast. His eyes follow the waiter who sets a cup down on the table to the right of him where people are talking -
"Hello Sunshine. Here you go."
He listens to the table next to him, where a young woman and a man are talking.
"Once you lose trust," says the young woman, "its like you're thrown out of the garden of eden. Its like there's a wall and you're searching for that trust again. You're on a quest."
"Are you on a quest?" says the young man across from her.
"See, you ask questions like that. Why should I tell you?" says the young woman. "I am a whole person. I am myself. I know myself. But you, you're like a chameleon. You're always changing, who are you?"
"That's what I am, says the young man. "I'm at least an adaptable person."
"But its like I don't know you!" she says. "How can I trust you if I don;t know you? You're like a ghost. A Phantom. After what happened to me, how do I trust life again? How can I tolerate the unknown?"
"Now you sound like one of the existentialist poets."
"Oh, that's so dreary," she says.
The dismissal in her voice reminds the young man sitting alone of his pain and his ears return to another station, the one behind him. Two women are sitting.
"When I got the diagnosis from the oncologist I was afraid Allen would be so distraught he'd start drinking again in despair for me."
"And did he?" says the other woman.
"No! He did not. And you know the strange thing? I can't forgive him for it. For not drinking. For not being distraught."
"You wanted him to drink?"
" I wanted him to grieve! I wanted him to beg God for my life. But he took it so much in stride. That hurt. Some things should not be taken in stride. Its a bad sign. It's like I'm already a ghost woman in his eyes.
"What does he say?"
"He says we'll get through this. He's not the one who got his fucking tits cut off. That was me."
"Oh my god. No."
"If he had drank again, I would have forgiven him for that. Loved him for that even as I'd fight again to get him off the bottle. But no. His calm. I want to poke his eyes out for being so calm."
The young man has the feeling as though he were a child walking into his parents room while they having intercourse. It is a feeling of having stepped blindly through a door and discovering something shameful without knowing why. His ears scan the room, find another.
"Unpredictability!" declares the old man at the other table, to the old man sitting across from him. "That is the stuff of nature, the very stuff of youth. The dazzle of evolution. You can tell that creationism is a myth because compared to the reality of nature,it's just so small."
"But people find it comforting."
"I think its something like fifty percent of Americans believe the earth is only 6000 years old."
"It's so dull! The old mythologies. Have you read The book of Job?"
"Once, a long time ago."
"God answers Job out of the whirlwind. Job asks for justice and God answers him - where were you when I created the world? He just sort of batters him down with words. What do you know, little man? What do you know about anything? God says. And Job backs down, I don't know anything he says. I hated that for years, but I've grown to understand it. That's actually a very good answer. You have your Einstein and Carl Sagan, these people, who say their idea of the sacred is that there are things in the universe that are just too big, just too vast. You don't have the braincells to understand how things work. They see the sacred in the mystery of what cannot be understood and that's what God is saying and what Job is saying."
"Its a good answer."
"It's a very good answer."
"I've gotten used to not having breasts anymore," says the woman behind him. "What feels strange is not wearing a bra. I'm so used to feeling that little wraparound hug all through the day and then being free of it at night. Now its gone."
"I used to hug fire hydrants when I was a kid."
"Can I ask you?" says the other woman. "When someone loses a leg or an arm, they feel phantom limbs. What's it like? Do you feel like, phantom breasts?"
The young man hears silence. And then -
"Yes I know. But that's kind of crazy."
"Crazy?" Says the other woman. "Oh I can tell you about crazy, you don't know a soup spoon of the crazy I have in my skull."
The young man thinks of Job. Thinks of God speaking from the whirlwind and even the room seems to turn as thougha breeze moved in it. As though he sat, in his wounded state, in a whirlwind of human voices, moving, moving. I can't go home, he thinks. My house is haunted.
He sits and the voices go on and on.