Behind the Counter

by Whitney Waters

I stood as if on stage, making drinks
and taking orders, surrounded
by the juicer juicing, the blender
blending, the high whistle and gurgle
of milk frothing in a pitcher.
A conductor, I’d set
them all into motion—scooped
the frozen fruit, ground the espresso
and tamped it down, fed each carrot stick
into the juice chute and watched pulp fly
like sawdust from a wood chipper
as bright orange juice tumbled out
of the spout. I emptied all

the pulp and grounds into a compost bin,
hauled it out at night. We kept it latched,
the key on a kitchen spoon because,
the manager said, we didn’t want anyone
to get the food inside. When I opened it,
rotting banana peels and moldy
orange rind stewed with summer heat
floated up. I couldn’t imagine anyone—not even the feral
cats in the parking lot— wanting it.
Inside, women with full shopping
carts scolded me for juicing their celery stalks
with the leaves still attached
(it tastes so bitter that way), preached
about juice cleanses and cure-alls.

At the end of the night, I cleaned out the
pastry case—threw muffins, croissants,
bagels, into a black trash bag, all that
dough and crystalized sugar piled
together like discarded Christmas toys,
vacuumed crumbs from beneath
trays, shined the glass doors
so all the smudged handprints of the day,
that ghostly residue of touch,
couldn’t be seen the next morning.

Whitney Waters is a poet and lover of the outdoors who lives in Asheville, North Carolina. She teaches English Composition at Western Carolina University, where she earned her MA in English Literature in May 2020. She is currently an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College.