Coffee Terms of Terror

Magic in the Backyard is a site I enjoy for the poetry snippets and the very pretty layout. There are also quite a few writing prompts there, one of which is Free Write Friday, and this week’s prompt made me think of a sketch written some time ago for my creative writing class. It doesn’t technically qualify for the prompt, since it wasn’t free-written, but I thought I’d share it on this blog. Enjoy!

Could also be titled: Help! I’m at my first day of work!

Coffee Terms of Terror
by Maggie Flynn

“Sometimes you get people asking for a Café Misto, which is just half coffee and half steamed milk, or a half-caf- which is pretty easy, just half-decaf and half-regular coffee…

My panic is rising higher with every name Lee rattles off. Asking her a question shouldn’t be a problem, but overwhelming nervousness on my first day can’t be clarified through inquiry. I’m behind a counter with an espresso machine, two terrifying rows of syrup bottles, three different vats of the most popular syrups, paper cups, sample cups, recipe cards, a pastry case, six different tea canisters, and the cash register. And that’s just the front counter. Behind me are the sink, the ice container, the iced tea pitchers, the blenders, the Frappuccino mixes, the coffee brewer, the coffee grinder, and several drawers with packaged pastries and snacks. I’m going to have to learn how to use all these to keep the Starbucks running smoothly for the few hours I’m here. Fortunately, Lee’s going to be here, so if I make a mistake, it shouldn’t affect things too much.

The downside is that any mistake I make will have an audience.

“You have to get the milk correctly aerated when you steam it, or it’ll be too foamy and the latte won’t meet weight standard. And be careful holding the pitcher or the milk will get everywhere.”

Since my palms are sweating, I have a feeling that I won’t be able to hold the milk pitcher with the necessary care. The steam wands sticking out from the bulk of the espresso machine aren’t too terrifying in and of themselves. They only require the touch of a button to operate, but of course that operation becomes complicated when Lee asks me to steam some milk. I have to wipe my hands on my apron before I can take the pitcher, and when I take the thing my hands feel physically detached from my arms. They’re steady, but I don’t have any control over them as they raise the filled pitcher.

When I press the button to operate the steam wands, there’s a loud roar and the milk sloshes up the sides of the pitcher as though it’s trying to escape. I can already tell that this stuff will not emerge from the steaming properly aerated. I’m certain Lee knows the right technique, but I’m sure she’ll only tell me to practice if I ask her. So I keep my mouth shut.

“Okay, I think that’s enough for now. You’ve seen how to make most of the drinks. I’m going to be going on break now- just tell people you’re new and take it slow.”

Pacing back and forth seems to be the key to surviving these fifteen minutes- that and wiping imaginary syrup stains off the counter. The more rhythmic my pace, the calmer I feel. I can steam milk adequately, though it took me a few tries to get it right. I know where the coffee is, and I know how clean the steam wands without burning myself. I can make iced tea and Frappuccinos, though I’m still relying on recipe cards for the latter. I can survive for fifteen minutes alone behind the counter. Hopefully I won’t even have to tell people it’s my first day.

A customer walks up, and I plaster on a cheerful smile. Whatever he’s ordering, I’m ready to hear it.

“Can I have a grande red-eye with room?”

Certainly, if only I knew what that was. I’m going to have to tell him I’m new and that he’ll have to explain it to me. To delay the inevitable, I grab a cup and scribble on it. I dither with the register menu and realize I can’t find the drink listed anywhere. By this point the man has his wallet in hand and an impatient look on his face. I take a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, but it’s my first day. Can you tell me what that is?”


5 thoughts on “Coffee Terms of Terror

  1. For the simple fact that I have had soooo many first day’s at work, because I did a LOT of job hopping in my youth, I really could appreciate your story and how you captured it all so well. I had flashbacks! lol! =) Great addition for the prompt!

    I am so happy you wrote for me and FWF! Never hesitate to post because you think it does not follow the “rules’, ok? =) If my prompt inspires your pen, no matter what form it is in, then I want to read it. I’m glad to have you join us and I hope to see you back next week. =) Thanks again!

    • Even if it’s a retroactive inspiration? 🙂 But thanks so much! I work pretty much all day Fridays (it’s where I’m at now… though not the place described here) so I’ve never had the chance to really participate- and as a result didn’t move it. But thank you so much for checking it out! It means a lot. And I love your writing prompts, even if I don’t always get to write for them- they get me thinking about stuff for stories all the time.

    • Unfortunately I don’t have anything written up for that, but I can tell you the guy did know what was in the drink and that he did tell how to make it. He was a bit bad-tempered about it, but it wasn’t anything too atrocious. I heard much worse on the cash register 🙂


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