A while ago I submitted a story to NPR’s Three Minute Fiction. I happen to think that it’s probably the strongest short story that I’ve written to date, but it didn’t even get a top mention. Oh well. I’m posting it here for your enjoyment :)
“The yushe?” asked the barista with the garish tattoo down the length of the front of her throat. Xavi just nodded at her, and held out three one-dollar bills.
“Thanks,” he replied, taking the money. Something on the ground caught Xavi’s eye, and he bent over to pick it up. When he had stood back up, the barista was holding out nine cents change. A frown briefly crossed her doubly-pierced lips when he dropped only the change into the tip jar. Less than a minute later, he had his tall double-shot no-whip mocha in hand, and was looking for a seat. He saw a workmate in the corner, head buried in one of the local free weeklies. “Hey, Ramon,” he said, coming over and sitting at the table, placing his briefcase on the floor.
“Hey – oh, Xavi,” Ramon said, looking up, “what’s up?”
“Eh,” Xavi shrugged, “just getting my morning brew before heading in.”
“Yeah,” Ramon half-nodded. He looked back down at his paper.
“Whoa – great.”
“What’s that?” Ramon’s head jerked up.
“Her.” Xavi was pointing.
Ramon looked. Scanning the ground by the the front counter was a tall, disheveled looking woman. Her clothes were well-worn, fraying at the edges. She was wearing too many layers for this warm summer’s morning.
“What about her?”
“Hang’s out on the corner of 15th and Market, sells that homeless newspaper most days.”
“You say so,” Ramon said, “looks like she’s looking for something.”
“Probably this,” Xavi held up the item that he had found: a card with ten punched holes in it, “Grande drip, extra room” written on it.
“You gonna give that to her?” Ramon asked.
Xavi shrugged as he tapped the card on the table.
“Thing is,” Xavi blurted, “ a couple of weeks ago, I was on a lunch date with Dianne – you know, from HR? As we were leaving Spago’s, that woman shoves that fishwrap into my face. So I dig out a five – that’s all I had – and asked for some change. Woman starts whining at me in front of Dianne, about how she doesn’t have any change, and can’t I just spare the five. We ended up just walking away – she wouldn’t even take my five when I tried to give it to her.”
“What happened after that?”
“Nothing,” Xavi shrugged, “at least not with Dianne. She never called me back, won’t talk to me whenever I go up to the seventh floor.”
“Wonder why,” Ramon sighed as he watched the woman slowly leave the cafe.
“So do I.”
Ramon stared at him. “You really don’t know, do you?”
“Wish I did,” Xavi was turning the punch card over in his hands, looking at it.
“At least turn it in so that it’ll be here for her next time. That woman probably has to save up just to get her coffees,” Ramon had put his paper down. “Gettin’ that eleventh one for free would probably make her day.”
Xavi frowned. “Another date with Dianne would have made mine.” He ripped up the card and dropped it into his half-finished mocha.
Ramon gaped – then pursed his lips as he folded his newspaper and started to gather his own half-finished drink and napkins.
“Where are you going?” asked Xavi.
“Heading in early.”
“Well, hold on and I’ll…” Xavi started to reach for his briefcase.
“No,” Ramon was shaking his head. He nodded at Xavi’s mocha, bits of white paper floating in the dark brown liquid.
“Enjoy your drink,” he said evenly before he left.