The cafe is on fire. It’s Monday, though, so I clock in at nine. Eight-hour shifts wait for nobody.
The fire doesn’t actually burn me; I’m told that’s what counts. It does hurt – not badly, not drop to the floor and scream bad, my hands just callous instead of scarring, so it’s alright. I can still make coffee, clean the counter and smile politely when I get screamed at, which is the extent of my job. The joys of minimum wage.
Nobody knows exactly why the fire started and nobody can figure out why it hasn’t ended yet – I mean, the shop is down the street from a fire station. Apparently, there’s a protest nearby, so they can’t get the trucks out of the garage. As it is, the shop has been at a constant blaze for a month or two, and it’s a miracle the damage isn’t worse. We do our part by stopping, dropping and rolling when it gets too toasty.
That does happen, sometimes. Sometimes someone will catch fire – there one moment and then gone up in flames – and the sweet pork smell of them burning mixes with the scorched beans and smoke. You see it on the news all the time these days. Very depressing.
“Hi, what can I get for you today?”
One of these days, it’ll probably be me.
“One black coffee, please.”
A beam will collapse on my head, smash my skull in backward over a latte, or the air will just get too thick to suck in, or I’ll catch, too. Maureen from church went up last week and wound up in ICU with her lungs scorched black.
I make the man’s coffee – not a hard order, thankfully. I do have to reach through the fire to grab a lid, but it’s my lucky day: I don’t catch.
“Have a nice day.” I make sure to smile with my eyes.
I do the best I can: I wear the gloves, even though they’re clunky and make it hard to move, I keep water buckets handy even though I can’t put the whole fire out. It’s about protecting yourself these days.
The bell jingles, and a woman and her kid walk in, hacking on smoke.
“Allergy season,” she explains with a smile too big for her exposed face.
I take her at her word. That’s policy.
I’m going to be honest: I don’t want to be doing this. I’m not stupid, I keep up with science, I know what a third-degree burn looks like and not to put water on a grease fire. I know how dangerous a burning building is, and that when you’re in one, you should run and leave everything behind.
Just because the cafe’s on fire, though, doesn’t mean the world stops.
I just hope that if I’m next, it’s quick. I can’t stand the idea of going home and blowing smoke in my grandfather’s face.