The walls are a splotchy yellow. They feel unfinished, hastily painted maybe, but inviting in a way. They host a patchwork of paintings. Some rest in heavy, ornate gold frames; some have naked canvas edges. It is a roughly even mix of skillfully and amateurishly executed art, not one likely designed to be hung adjacent to its neighbor. Seemingly random pillars and doorframes dissect the space, a skeletal version of the quaint Craftsman house it may have once been.
In the front room is a large counter with a cash register and a whirring espresso machine at one end and a glass display of decadent desserts at the other. Next to the register sits a glass vase, half full of crumpled bills. A handwritten index card taped to the vase says “401K.” In the opposite corner sits a squat table with a built in screen, a rather dated Pac-Man console.
A hodgepodge of armchairs and couches, and wooden tables with mismatched wooden chairs is unevenly distributed throughout the shop, atop oriental rugs and hardwood floors. Most of the seats are taken tonight. In any direction, half a dozen laptop computers can be seen, open and glowing amidst a clutter of large hardbound books, binders, papers, plates of half-eaten food, and mugs likely full of caffeinated liquids.
One laptop is open but doesn’t appear to be turned on. Two men and a woman are seated around the old table. One of the men talks animatedly about his latest idea. He’s thinks they should use a Norplant-like system to deliver Ritalin to school children, he says. His red tennis shoes match his backpack. The woman scribbles absently on the open newspaper in front of her. The men go back to their reading and the computer screen remains dark.
A ceiling fan turns steadily overhead, creating a strobe effect as each blade passes under the light fixture in the ceiling. There is a steady whine from the espresso machine in the distance.
A group of six or seven women have pulled chairs from some of the tables and congregated in a circle at the back of the shop. They are intent in their discussion and don’t seem to notice their surroundings. One woman in a pink and black striped shirt is doing most of the talking, occasionally wrinkling her forehead intently. She and her companions are significantly older than the rest of the shop’s patrons.
Across the room two women sit by themselves at a table that could probably hold six. Both have computers in front of them, but only one is paying attention to hers, the screen reflected dully in her glasses. The other woman talks on her cellular phone, her eyelashes fluttering every time she speaks. She stares at the ceiling while the other party buzzes in her ear.
A man with his baseball cap turned backwards stares at the wall instead of at his open notebook. He sighs and adjusts his glasses on his nose, absently turning a page as though he had read it. He begins fiddling with a stray lock of his dark hair that’s stuck out from under his cap. A heavily worn paperback book rests on his small table – the spine says Organic Chemistry. The book is turned toward the other chair, currently occupied by a rumpled backpack.
One table seems shoved into a corner of the back room. A woman in a striped red headscarf sits facing the room, using her lap instead of the table as a writing surface. She seems hunched, huddled there under the yellow light of the table lamp, her bare feet up on the adjacent armchair. She blows her nose noisily and resumes her work.
The man with the red shoes discusses polygamy and the Church of Latter Day Saints with the other man at the table. The woman twirls her platinum blonde hair absently. Not long after the two of them leave and the other man is left alone at the big table. He fidgets and tries to concentrate, repeatedly taking a highlighter to the pages in front of him.
A large, five-paneled bay window reveals the patio outside, and the busy street beyond. White orbs of light seem to float on the bushes, their lampposts hidden by overgrowth. A marquee for the mortuary across the way glows obscenely in the darkness. Near the window is a large painting, an abstract mess of color that seems an attempt at impressionism. Beneath the painting sit two women, their books spread out on the table in front of them. They talk intently with one another and the books are forgotten. One woman absently holds a pen in one hand, but it is nowhere near her paper.
Loud voices erupt over the dull murmur of the shop, growing to a cackle and subsiding just as quickly. The circle of women have finished their discussion and turned to gossip.
A man in a leather jacket walks into the back section of the shop, scanning the room for an empty seat. He sees the woman in the headscarf and walks toward her. She looks up and smiles. He sits across from her and they begin speaking in another language.
In the wide door frame that opens to the center section, another man sits with his computer. He carefully lifts the teabag from his cup, squeezes it, and sets it in a waiting smaller cup. He laces his fingers behind his head and stretches briefly before returning his attention to the screen.
The man with the backwards hat brings his backpack from the chair to the floor next to him and begins to rifle through it. He pulls several small objects from the pack and drops them into a waiting plastic cup. He sighs again and begins flipping through his book, again twirling the lock of hair on his forehead.
A woman in the middle section of the shop begins to pack up her belongings. Two newcomers circle her table like vultures over a carcass. She buses her own dishes and leaves, several bags in tow.
The man in the leather jacket moves to the table where the man with the highlighter sits, but he talks across the room to the woman in the headscarf in their strange, rapid-fire tongue. She takes a sip of a drink the same color as her scarf and looks down at her books.