It’s been some time since I released the first Petit Four from The Pie Hole. It did not fare as well as I’d hoped it might, and it occurred to me that it was because I hadn’t done nearly enough to share it with readers. The Pie Hole is my twisted fantasy of a coffee shop combined with a book store. There are regulars. There are resident canine employees. There are issues of social justice and sarcastic comments in plenty. As I have said before, I never found a coffee shop quite like this, so I wrote one. Please enjoy this excerpt as I work to complete the second tale in the series.
You can find the first story in the series here. It addresses the criminalization of poverty and the use of the law to serve the interests of the privileged classes. The second installment in the series will grapple with the pervasive trend of legislation proposed to control the healthcare decisions of adult, female citizens in order to serve an exclusive cultural agenda–namely those laws that criminalize abortion or miscarriage, or seek to prevent impoverished women and those with compromised health from obtaining low-cost health services or education unrelated to abortion, based on a misguided, warped pseudo-religious conviction.
“Just no.” Al didn’t bother to look up from where she leaned over the counter, her nose inches from the clipboard.
“You haven’t even—“ The young man began.
“Ehn! Shh.” She pointed at him, her left hand making notes in the margin of a printed form. “And don’t look at me with that tone.” Neat yet sloppy, her handwriting reached the bottom of the page. With a flick that brooked no nonsense, she flicked it over and began writing on the next sheet.
“What can I do for you, Nate?” Bea came towards him, wiping her hands on a towel.
“Can I have some more hot water, please?” He hefted his cup, keeping it close to his body and eyeing the top of Althea’s curly head, as if he feared she might hit him.
“Of course.” Bea leaned and reached for his mug. “Do you need more ice as well?”
“That would be nice, thank you.” Nate murmured, the soul of politeness, as he produced his plastic tumbler from its safe nest in his back pocket.
“You kids,” Al murmured like a crusty old man. “With your guns and your makeout parties.”
Nate swallowed a giggle, his eyes creasing with silent laughter.
“Don’t mind her.” Bea handed first the cup of ice and then the mug of steaming water back to Nate, who took it gingerly, wary of spilling a drop on Althea. “She’s just all kinds of out of sorts over this morning.”
“What happened this morning?” Jeanette chirped, as she came down the line with her apron hung over the crown of her head.
“I inadvertently opened a portal to Hell.” Al announced, still scribbling furiously.
“You burned something?” Jeanette halted, her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide as she stared at Al.
“I was distracted.” She tilted her head from side to side, cracking her neck. “Kind of like now.”
Bea pushed Jeanette towards the bar with her hip, sliding open the pastry case door with her hand. “Were you just here for the free drinks or are you coming on the floor, Slick?” She peered into the case, her mouth working as she soundlessly counted the muffins remaining in the morning’s display.
“I’m on in 30.” Jeanette wandered towards the bar and scooped up a mug. “I thought I’d have a latte before shift.” It clattered against the metal counter as she set it down again.
She poured milk into a stainless steel pitcher and impaled it on the steam wand, spinning the knob to release the jet of steam. “It’s been a rough morning.” She raised her voice over the sucking and gurgling of the frothing milk.
“You ain’t kidding.” Al grumbled, straightening from her pose at the counter and flipping the papers back into order. She swept past them, and pushed through the door to the kitchens.
“What’s up?” Jeanette leaned close to Bea, her stage whisper piercingly audible as she wiped the steam wand with a clean towel.
“Right wing politics.” Bea ran her pen down the column of pastries on her checklist and marked the number of blueberry crumble muffins remaining. Looking up into the café, she raised her voice. “Hey! Anyone want a muffin? I have three left. Free to good homes.” Her eyes strayed to Jeanette’s hands as they tilted shots of espresso into her mug. “How many shots is that?”
“Four.” Jeanette rinsed the glasses and free-poured steamed milk into the mug.
“What else did you put in?” Beatrice craned her neck dramatically to peer into the mug.
“Scotch.” Jeanette quipped. “I wish.” She grimaced and sighed. “Just a couple pumps of mocha.”
“If you’re going to start spiking the drinks, Slick, be sure to bring enough for everyone.” Bea shook her finger at the purple-haired young woman. “I don’t permit drunkenness on shift unless it’s a party.”
“Yah-kay.” Jeanette bared an alarming mouthful of turquoise braces. “I’ll remember that.”
“I drink single malt. And it should be old enough to vote. Remember that, too.”
“Gah.” Jeanette sipped her drink, her tongue snaking out to lick the milk froth from her upper lip. “You’re not a cheap date.”
“That’s why I pay me the big bucks, Slick.” She turned away to dole out the last three muffins to the regulars who’d drifted up to the counter. “Jeebus, who let the waifs in out of the rain?” She picked three of the most pathetic looking faces and awarded their performance with a muffin, tossing the last one towards the back of the crowd where Nate waited quietly.
©Erin Sandlin, 2016