Apple Peel

Welcome back to Tuesday, friends! It’s hard to believe that it’s already here again. These weeks go by so fast, which we know, and yet nothing’s been done about it! You’d think the days would realize that we were on to them. :o) 

Today I wanted to share a short story I’ve been working on. It’s a bit rough, but I hope it’s still enjoyable. Plop yourself down, partake in a nice soothing mug of coffee or tea (you’ll see why), and take a few minutes out of your busy Tuesday to hear a story. Who doesn’t love storytime every once and a while?

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Apple Peel

She kept squinting and adjusting her glasses. She’d had them for over a decade and her sister kept nagging at her to get new ones.

      “You can’t see, Genevieve,” Eleanor said every Tuesday, when they shared lunch in the local café. “It’s high time you go see Doctor McGill, if you ask me.”

     “Well I didn’t ask you,” Genevieve retorted, clearing her ever-congested throat. Her voice had a warble to it, she knew. Once it had been high and musical, but now it was low and loose. It was just a part of getting older. You can’t live eighty years on the earth and not have some battle scars to show for it. “Besides, I can see just fine. And Doctor McGill doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I keep telling him I don’t need new glasses, but he insists over and over that I need my prescription changed. I’m telling you, these young doctors have a lot of nerve. I can see just fine.”

     Eleanor didn’t ever believe her, but she pressed her dark red, prim lips together and rolled her blue eyes. And that was that.

     Now it was Wednesday and Genevieve was trying to order hot tea from the café. She was the only one in line, which suited her fine because it took her a long time to decide on what she wanted. The tea selections at the café were numerous and diverse, and it took particular discernment and skill to choose the right one.

     Genevieve had once decided that the people who said they didn’t like tea were horribly ignorant, because any educated person knows that there is not a single kind of tea to like or dislike. If you say you don’t like coffee, well, it’s a shame for you, but tea is much different. There are myriads of types, blends, and flavors, and if you dislike one, then you dislike that one. But to throw out the whole world of tea just because of one un-liked flavor is to be prejudiced and uninformed. As it was, Genevieve liked all kinds of tea; every blend had a distinct flavor and she tasted and savored them as some people taste and savor different wines.

     Her very favorite was called “Star of Persia”, and it was a simple black tea with a hint of vanilla and tiny red sugar crystals mixed in with the tea leaves. When the tea was prepared, the sugar melted, making sweet red streaks in earthy brown liquid.

      Gunpowder green tea was another favorite; it had a hearty, strong, and yet somehow delicate flavor because the green leaves were rolled tightly, compacted into tiny dried spheres. Genevieve usually chose gunpowder green after she had been reading articles in health magazines on the benefits of green tea. In her mind the healthy tea made up for the enormous blueberry muffin she always got when she visited the café.

     Those two weren’t the only teas of course; there were the usual white tea, oolong, rooibos, Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, lemon, chai, berry, fennel, and peppermint. (She chose the latter two whenever she was on her way home after having tests done at the hospital, because the tests gave her a nauseous feeling afterward.)

     The tea choices were many, and so it was difficult to pick a specific one. And on this rainy, gray Wednesday afternoon in the almost empty café, Genevieve was having a hard time choosing. The barista at the counter was a tall, skinny guy, with wiry orange hair and blotchy freckles. His wire glasses magnified his blue eyes and they were bent, leaning off to one side, but they were balanced by his bony, crooked nose that leaned off to the other side. His large front teeth bulged out more the longer he smiled, and he smiled more the longer Genevieve took to decide on a tea.

      But it was so hard to decide, because the menu up on the wall, up above the skinny barista’s orange head, had such small letters! Genevieve could have sworn that last week the letters were much bigger. The barista shuffled nervously as Genevieve continued to adjust her glasses and squint at the menu.

     “The menu is too hard to read,” she warbled with a chuckle that was more like a snort.

      The skinny barista looked up confusedly. “W-would ya like a paper menu, ma’am?”

      “No, no!” Genevieve scoffed. “I can see just fine. But you should let your manager know that the menu up there is too small. It could be hard for some people, who can’t see so well.”

     The skinny barista nodded vigorously. “So… what’ll it be?”

     Genevieve sighed in frustration and set her heavy black purse down on the counter. “Star of Persia, I suppose. For here.”

      “Yes ma’am, coming right up.” The relieved skinny barista punched some numbers into the register. “That’ll be one-fifty.”
“One-fifty?” Genevieve gasped, gripping her wallet. “It was one-thirty-five yesterday!”

      “We had to change the price, ma’am,” the skinny barista quaked in his high tops. “The tea company jacked up the prices.”

     “Well you’d better change the menu then,” Genevieve said grudgingly as she counted out the money. “Some people might not like to have to pay more money than the menu says.”

     “B-but the menu says one-fifty,” the skinny barista stammered. “We changed it just last night.”

     Genevieve looked up and squinted. “Oh.” Maybe if the letters weren’t so darn small, it’d be easier to see!

     She sat at a little round table in front of the window and watched the traffic outside in the rain. Cars splashed through puddles in the potholes of Gingko Street, and Genevieve wondered why on earth the city didn’t fix those potholes. “It’s ridiculous, that’s what,” she muttered to herself. “How do they expect people to come to this town if they can’t even get around without popping a tire? No wonder the economy is so bad.”

      Frustrated with the incompetence of the city council, Genevieve turned her attention indoors. The skinny barista was hurrying around the kitchen, putting the loose tea into a tiny silk bag and preparing the mug. Genevieve watched closely to make sure he added the perfect ratio of tea leaves to sugar crystals. She hated it when the tea was too bitter or too sweet.

      He was a nice young man, she decided, but a little gangly. He reminded her of the one boy she had dated in high school. Dated for a few years, but never married. After graduation he had gone off to school in Virginia and stayed there for the first four years of medical school. He’d sent Genevieve a few letters, the last of which told her he had found a new girlfriend, one who more completely shared his interests. Genevieve didn’t care, of course; he was entirely too ridiculous and undignified for her anyway. Her mother had raised her and Eleanor to be gracious and ladylike, as befitted their fortunate position in life. So Genevieve had stayed in the big sandstone family home on one of the hills in their tiny town, filling her days with ladies auxiliary meetings, concerts, sight-seeing, and visiting the café.

     She snapped out of her reminiscing and turned her attention back to the skinny barista, who was pouring the boiling water into the mug. Some of the scalding water spilled onto his thumb and he dropped the teapot to the floor. It shattered and he ran to the back room to bathe his thumb in some cold water and Neosporin. Genevieve scoffed. Poor kid. It wasn’t his fault he was so inept. The longer she lived the more she realized that people these days were much more incompetent than the people of days gone by. In earlier years, the baristas at the café were elegant and poised. Making coffee, tea, and pastries was an art to them, and the men who stood at attention behind the café counters steamed their milk and brewed their tea with the same finesse and grace that a painter or musician would show. Now everyone and their brother could be hired for the job.

     Genevieve sighed and rubbed her eyes. They’d been more irritated lately, red and itchy and dry. But she was sure it was nothing; she just needed to drink more water like it said in the health magazines. It wasn’t nearly as serious a problem as Eleanor or Doctor McGill would like her to believe. It was just a part of getting older. Goodness! She thought to herself. Was it a crime to get older? Couldn’t she accomplish it without everyone making a fuss?

     The skinny barista startled her by setting a cup of tea in front of her. “Sorry for the wait ma’am,” he said. “Tea’s still hot.”

     Genevieve saw the bandage on his finger and smiled. “It’s quite fine, young man,” she said. The words themselves were nicer than the way she said them. Her smile wasn’t the nicest one in the world, either, but it was the best she could manage. The skinny barista nodded with a quick, jerking movement and smiled idiotically.

     “Thank ya, ma’am,” he said, and Genevieve noticed for the first time that there was a stain between two of his teeth, a dark, shiny stain that made her insides cringe. But, like a lady, she kept composure and only subtly inched her tea away from his direction.

     “That’ll be all,” she said briskly, as if dismissing a butler. The skinny barista nodded quickly again, and with a rather confused look on his face he walked back to the counter in long, bouncing strides.

      Genevieve had never been so disgusted in all her eighty years. For the life of her she couldn’t understand how she hadn’t seen it before! There were a lot of lowlifes in this town, a lot of people who were poor and had never been educated in proper hygiene. Here he had a serious dental infection that could have been avoided by good daily tooth brushing! Where had his parents been all his life? Probably nonexistent to him, she imagined, off doing other things and too busy to properly look after their child. It wasn’t the poor kid’s fault, she decided, but it did explain why he was so inept. But it didn’t explain why on earth the owners of the café would allow him to work here! Here, of all places! This café had the reputation as the classiest place in town, and in a town this small and this poor, it was a reputation worth protecting.

     The more she sipped her Star of Persia tea (it was a tad too sweet), the more irate Genevieve got. The nerve of that kid! How indicative of his culture and generation he was: lazy, inattentive, and unmotivated! How he had had the initiative to even get a job was beyond her. Because of his age, he was undoubtedly an addict of some sort; she imagined him smoking in the alley behind the café on his break. And there was no denying that he most likely was late to work every day. His work uniform – those nicely washed jeans, crisp white button-down, and red sneakers – he must have bought it at some thrift store. Genevieve would bet anything that they were the only clean clothes he owned. The only ones without holes, too. The poor kid.

     She finished her tea and gazed out at the window. The rain was beginning to let up and some yellow rays of sunlight glimmered in the windows of the library, bank, and theatre across the street. The charcoal-black pavement, the little crocus and ivy garden in front of the library, the ginkgo trees lining the street with their green fan-shaped leaves, everything was still soaking wet, but the birds were singing. Genevieve sighed.

     It really wasn’t the kid’s fault. He’d been born of poor parents, in an obscure little town somewhere in the mountains, with no opportunity beyond a job at a café. Her heart was moved with pity for him. She wished there was something she could do. But of course, there wasn’t. Because if she gave some help to this one kid, people would start to think she was out to give help to everyone, and she’d be locked into some sort of society or trust fund. It is a shame how much people will assume.

     Genevieve stood and took her mug to the counter. She decided to give the skinny barista a generous tip. Not fifteen percent, and not twenty, but a dollar! A whole dollar; that was almost a seventy-five percent tip! Genevieve deposited three quarters, two dimes, and one nickel into the tip jar on the counter. The skinny barista, hearing the clink of the coins from where he was eating his lunch in the back room, came out with an apple in hand.

     “Thank ya much, Ma’am!” came his voice, muffled between bites of apple.

     “You are very welcome, young man,” she smiled as warmly as she could and gathered up her things to leave.

     Just before she slipped out the door, Genevieve paused and looked back at him. He was partially hidden behind the espresso machine, critically beholding his own reflection. She shook her head ruefully and began to turn away, when –

     “Gosh darnit,” the skinny barista said to himself, “that’s what I hate about apples. Ya always get peel in your teeth!” and grasping a toothpick from the little glass dish on the counter, he cleaned between his perfectly whole, clean teeth.

     Suddenly noticing Genevieve standing on the threshold, on the line between inside and out, he straightened and grinned, showing those oversized pearly whites of his. “Anything I can help ya with ma’am?” he asked uncertainly.

     “No, no…” Genevieve’s voice died on her throat. “I-it’s just, the apple peel.”

     And she walked out of the café.

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