Cycles are dependent on human nature, and I’ve developed an unfortunate one. When in need of the lifeline that is a functioning cell phone, mine is, well, unavailable. Yes, history repeats itself. If only we could manage to prepare for it. This is all to say I was lost, with a dying cell phone.
I parked and escaped into the first available coffee shop, which happened to be a brick-sided powerhouse in the caffeine market. Not my first choice, or even my second, but I’m happy to enter one in a pinch. Reliant on a soon-to-be-dead GPS to get me to my first interview as a freelancer, designated a pinch.
I ordered a black coffee and asked to borrow a pen and paper, all within one “I might be fucked, oh please don’t let me be fucked” breath. It got the attention of the person taking my order. As a rule, I don’t flirt with baristas, bartenders, or really anyone who’s paid to stand behind a register and wear the facsimile of interest and openness. This is entirely because of my own time spent working behind bars, pouring shots, wiping tables, and never perfecting my “fuck off but pay me” tone. This does not exclude friendly conversation. We got to talking and I explained why I was nervous to find my way to this meeting—dripping from caffeine sweats or not. They wished me luck on my interview, pointed out a spot at the drink counter to transcribe my directions.
Bent over, eyes tracking between screen and paper, a familiar prickle danced down the exposed skin of my neck. I looked up. The invasive squeal of wood sliding atop concrete punctured the polite dining room hum. A middle aged man dressed in plaid abandoned his table and approached, one hand digging in the front pocket of his jeans. I didn’t trust his determination in my direction. And I definitely didn’t trust whatever was in his pocket that he was desperate to get at. I checked the clock. I only had five minutes.
There was no time for patience. I put down my pen and turned to meet him.
“I’m sorry but I’m on a deadline.” He deflated, edges of a well-kempt mustache sagging. He took another step forward, this time without the smile.
“This will take just a minute,” he said, pulling his hand out of those manually faded jeans.
“I don’t have a minute.” He ignored me.
“I’m from the Society of Men for the Betterment of Calhoun. We want to make the lake safer for women.” He opened his hand, extending a rectangular piece of plastic toward me. It sat in the open air. “We’re hoping that these noise makers will make you feel more comfortable in the area past dark.”
I looked from him to the “noise maker.” There was something about the color, the sort of baby-blue you see inside beach homes and picnic baskets. I envisioned his society debating the shade, arguing about which one was feminine and approachable before manufacturing. If only they’d cared about the distinction between sentiments of safety, and the reality of safety. Nothing about this encounter encouraged either. The blatant irony hinged on ludicrous.
I grabbed it, releasing a singular, unchecked cackle, and threw it down on the counter between us.
“Thank you for the rape whistle. Now, as I said, I’m busy.”
He flushed, nostrils flaring, jaw clenching. I can’t say for sure which part of the statement riled him, but I suspected it was the use of rape. For a moment I thought he might hit me. I stepped back, realized for the first time how much taller he was than me. But he relaxed, straightened. Calm. His gaze took a sharp drop, following the lines of my body down and then back up.
“Here,” he cooed, spit slapping my cheeks, “You should probably take two.” He dropped a second, easter-egg pink whistle on the counter to join the other.
“One black coffee.” We both turned to the wide-eyed barista setting down my order, apparently aware of the swollen moment they were interrupting. The stranger turned on his heel and walked away. I did too, ignoring a sting that felt like retreat. My time was up.
I made it to my meeting on time, frantic, but not because of coffee indulgence.
Everything said and done, standing in the open sunshine of an early autumn afternoon, I couldn’t help myself. I blew into the offending rectangle. A comical whine trickled out. None of the pedestrians turned to my apparent cry for help.
That week Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I thought about those cycles, their design and upkeep, wondered how blowing into a dumb fucking kazoo might break them.
Header image is by Carson Materson @carsonmaterson