The Coffee Shop

by Dodd Ellsworth

There is a line of four people. The line is going the wrong way—perpendicular to the counter instead of parallel. Must be out-of-towners. I stand in purgatory—half perpendicular, half parallel, wholly displeased. They form a right angle with the serving surface. I form a wrong alliance with the probability of beverage commerce. A middle-aged woman sees my discomfort. “Doesn’t the line go this way?” she says, pointing along the dessert case. “Yes, it normally does,” I say. Ten adult feet move. Parallel now.


I order a decaf Americano. Then I grab a plastic-wrapped brownie from the display and announce my plan to eat it. The young woman takes my six dollars and gives me back a quarter and a dime. I feel cheap tossing thirty-five cents into her tip jar, so I pocket the coins. I’ve spoken to her several dozen times, but I don’t know her name. She knows more about my affinity for sweets than anyone in the world except me. But even if I come here every day for the next thirty years, and we grow old together, her serving and me eating, I’ll still know more. It’s like a limit in calculus. She’ll never get there.


I sit on a blue leather chair that’s catty-cornered without a corner. It’s cornered against an imaginary line. The line extends infinitely. It has no final resting place. It is ignorant of distance and dates. The feel of newspaper in my hands. Dad still reading on the couch with the brown dog at his feet. While I sit in a make-believe corner.


Dodd Ellsworth moved from New York to the Great Smoky Mountains in 2015 to trade in the concrete life for the imaginative. He still concretely types computer code part-time to make a living, but is far more interested in putting words together and playing jazz piano. A lifelong student of music, he is currently recording his first CD of original compositions. He continues to take writing classes, with the goal of producing enough quality work for a book of creative nonfiction.

About The Coffee Shop—This was adapted from a longer essay of mine. I wanted to highlight the internal conflict between control/rigidity and freedom/expansiveness.