Flash Fiction Friday: Morning Smoke

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A cloud of smoke lingered outside the door. The morning smokers had already trailed their way to the bus stop, all of them huddled on a single bench with their newspapers tucked under their arms and fresh cigarettes between their lips.

            The groan of heavy tires echoed down the road. Emily watched as the hulking machine lurched its way up the street. It squealed to a stop and the doors cranked open. All the commuters flicked their spent butts to the ground and filed up the metal steps. The doors closed, and the bus sputtered away.

            Emily sighed. She slapped a damp washcloth onto the counter and guided it in slow circles across the surface, watching as the off-white cloth turned brown with spilt coffee.

She filled the slop sink with water and soap and plunged the morning’s pots into it. She rearranged sugar packets. She stacked paper cups. She rearranged the sugar again. It was 7:47, then 7:53, then 8:02. Another bus grumbled its way toward the stop.

            The bell over the door chimed and without looking Emily said, “Late.”

            “Fuck you,” said Isabelle. Her arms were so loaded with clothes and bags and school folders that Emily could hardly see her face.

            “Missed alarm?” Emily asked. “Late bus?”

            “Fuck you,” repeated Isabelle. “And my alarm. And the fucking bus.” She lugged what seemed like all of her belongings behind the counter, behind the double doors, and dumped them onto the break room table. “It reeks outside,” she said as Emily followed her.

            “Happy Monday,” Emily said.

            “Fuck-“ Isabelle started, and Emily joined her on, “-you.”

            Emily plucked Isabelle’s timecard from a metal rack on the wall and fed it to the clock. Mechanic gurgles erupted, then the clock spat the card back out with a fresh stamp: 8:04. Isabelle was busy tugging her apron free from the tangle on the table. Emily crossed the room, poured some burnt coffee into a mug and handed it to Isabelle as she tugged a wrinkled black smock over her head.

            “Thank you,” Isabelle said.

            “Don’t thank me,” said Emily. “It’s cold and burnt.”

            “Still coffee,” sighed Isabelle, though she wrinkled her nose at the first sip. “Or gasoline.”

            “Same thing,” said Emily.

            “Cheers to that.” Isabelle took another sip, then spilled the rest into the sink. She rinsed the mug, dried it with a dish rag slung over the faucet, and set it back on the counter. “I need to go to Paris,” she declared as she turned around.

            “Need?” asked Emily. She lead the way back into the front of the shop – still empty after the morning rush, still quiet and smelling faintly of cigarette smoke and sweet vanilla creamer.

            “Need,” Isabelle said. She went to the self-serve station and shook the cartons of creamers. The hazelnut was halfway full, the vanilla completely empty, and the white chocolate raspberry completely untouched. Clearly it was far too adventurous the delicate palates of the morning smokers.

            “Why Paris?” asked Emily.

            “It doesn’t have to be Paris,” Isabelle said.

            “Where, then?” asked Emily.

            “Spain, maybe.”

            “That’s a country.”

            “So?”

            “Paris is a city.”

            “Okay, Barcelona,” Isabelle said. “Madrid.”

            “What would you do?”

            “Nothing,” Isabelle said. And then, “Everything.”

            Emily finished washing and drying the pots from the morning rush as Isabelle set about straightening up the shop, all the while talking about hot springs in Japan and the rainforests of Brazil. She planned an entire Italian cruise as she scrubbed the tabletops and as she swept the floors she dreamed of seaside dining in Greece.

            “You could come,” Isabelle said, her leaning over the front counter as Emily arranged packets of tea bags into their proper tins.

            “Where?” said Emily. “Hong Kong? Honolulu?”

            “We could be on a plane tomorrow.”

            “We have work.”

            “This place will still be here either way.”

            “Are you being serious?”

            “I think so,” Isabelle said. Emily stared at her from behind a mountain of mugs.

            “Wait. Really?”

            “Why not?”

            Those two words lingered in the air. Why not? They hung there, and with them dangled all the possibilities they teased. It was 8:56, and tomorrow the shop would be just dead. The buses would be coming and going as they always did, with their clanking and groaning and exhaust fumes. The morning smokers would still leave their noxious cloud outside the door. Everything would be the same as it always was, running like clockwork, but maybe Emily wouldn’t be there. Maybe she would be on a plane looking down at the Irish countryside, or on a beach in Mexico. Maybe she would be in Belize, and the air would smell like sea salt instead of cigarettes and coffee creamer.

            “Think about it,” Isabelle said.

            And Emily said, “Sure.”