Twenty-something Joe stepped out of his townhouse into the sun. Spokes of light bent their way around the few marshmallows in the sky and brushed the skin of his face. A faint breeze kissed his lips. A few townhouses down, a car alarm bleated; as typical a city morning as one gets. In the city, there’s always a car alarm going off.
Joe and his neatly trimmed beard slipped under the cover of his knit beanie. It was still Spring after all and the sun wasn’t getting up so early that he was awake ahead of his morning coffee. In reality, Joe was never awake of his morning coffee, which is why he was outside this morning to begin with. The young man’s day never really started until that bitter black elixir slid down his throat. What is consciousness? Coffee, if you ask Joe.
The millennial took a step off his porch and stumbled as if he’d missed the step entirely. He grabbed the porch railing before slipping down the stairs entirely. Was it a lack of coffee? As his brain caught up to real time, Joe realized the earth had moved. Something had rapped against his eardrum but the nearby car alarm had drowned out the sound. Had there been an earthquake? A sudden volcano appearing downtown? Another thump followed by a blunt crash set off another nearby car’s alarm. Could this be the beginnings of an alien invasion? Joe would be ill equipped to deal with that before some black sunshine.
As Joe stepped onto the city sidewalk, he noticed a few other people looking around in confusion. An old woman across the street chided her chihuahua for barking up a storm, probably triggered by what Joe assumed to be explosions. Whatever was going on, Siri would probably know. Joe dug into his peacoat pocket to wrangle his phone. Another boom came, then another closer boom, and Joe’s phone tumbled out of his hand and into some dog shit someone neglected to police.
He knelt down and debated grabbing his phone with his bare hands. He reached, then drew back, startled by the sound of a wave of city dwellers rounding the end of the block. They were running from something, their eyes intermittently thrown behind them to escape the inevitability that followed them. Joe was right in their path.
The phone wasn’t that important right now. He could always get a new one. What’s a grand on a phone even though you can barely pay the rent? A barely-affordable artisan coffee every morning dulls those kinds of blues. Joe stepped back onto the steps of his townhouse to avoid the rolling sea of fear.
“What’s going on?” Joe yelled to no one in particular as the mob raced by.
A disheveled man, not homeless, just uncaffeinated rang out, “They’re blowing up all the coffee shops!”
“What?” Joe shook his head. It sounded like one of those unimaginable things, like insurrectionists rioting in the U.S. Capitol.
“All the coffee shops are blowing up!” the broken man threw his hands in the air. “Probably terrorism! Argh!” he finished as he was swept away by the force of misery in company.
It took a few moments for the words to percolate. “Terrorism? Coffee shops? How…how will the economy function?” Joe asked himself rhetorically. After all, that was exactly the point. No coffee, no workee the popular meme goes. Nobody will want to work, even less than usual after the recent worldwide pandemic. Businesses will crash. More people will become homeless. Damn, only the stock market is safe; that keeps rising no matter how bad the news gets.
Joe looked in the direction he hadn’t heard any explosions. Maybe the shop on Galveston, he thought. Boom. Joe cursed himself for never asking his parents for a Keurig. But it’s just that making your own coffee takes so long and you have to make sure you have all thirteen ingredients. There was never much more in Joe’s kitchen besides a few cans of PBR, a bag of quinoa, and some organic veggies.
Another explosion, off in the distance. The thought of going out to the suburbs to find coffee had crossed Joe’s mind. Now he crossed it off his list. He backpeddled up the stairs. His soul protested the possibility of his routine grinding to a halt. How could he possibly press on?
Suicide was a solution, of course. Joe wasn’t trying to take such a sensitive issue lightly but it did seem a more reasonable option than living in a world without coffee. (He figured why would they stop with just the cafes? They’re probably burning all the coffee bean trees, too. Damn them, damn them to hell.) A world without coffee – the young man couldn’t help but think how wrong everyone at work was until he’d finished that first cup. Could he face coworkers that were wrong all day long?
Another throng of people rounded the corner, panicking like wild animals, totally not realizing they were using up whatever energy reserves they had. Your body can only remain in fight-or-flight mode so long before coffee is required to sustain the fight against horrible bosses. Of course they didn’t know what else to do, though, their brains weren’t really awake yet.
Neither was Joe’s. Surely something could be done about the situation. But what? The answer lie in caffeine but the caffeine was gone. No doubt someone was making a run on energy drinks right now and that might help in the short-term, at least until their adrenal glands died. However, it is a fact that energy drinks are not that ethereal, dark, bitter(sweet) liquid that is like a new lover in possession of that X-factor, that undistinguishable thing you would die for but cannot explain what it is. What to do then? What to do?
Joe’s neighbor, Tina – an Earl Grey swilling throwback to that second, embarrassing Woodstock – stepped out onto her landing next door. She pitched narrow eyes at the crowds running to-and-fro.
“What’s going on, Joe?”
He was about to explain when a forty-something man wearing a tweed jacket ran up Tina’s steps and put a pistol in her face. “You got coffee, lady?” he bellowed.
“Yes! Yes! I have a little bit..” Tina grimaced as she pointed through her door. The man shot her in the chest and stepped one foot inside her townhouse. He stopped and looked at Joe.
“You!” the murderer locked on. “You got any coffee in there?”
“No! No coffee in here!” Joe answered. Tina’s assailant shot Joe in the chest as well.
A lump formed in the young man’s throat, like the one you get when you’re in love, but not because of love. Peeling his hand off the gunshot wound, the hipster observed the crimson flow of his internal world. A cascade of life poured out of him.
Joe considered this. Coffee – so seemingly essential for life – pales in comparison to human blood. What is caffeine next to red and white blood cells, platelets, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, sugars, and of course, water? Sure, coffee can raise your blood pressure, but what if you’ve got no blood? It seemed to Joe that he never really valued what really made him tick. Why do people always ignore the fundamentals?
The question of suicide had been answered for him. He had spent his life a squirrel. The Universe provided the traffic.
Joe’s vision blackened like a dark roast. He crumpled to the ground in a heap with nothing to pick him up.
*Author’s Note – I admit I pun-ted the finale to this story. In my defense, this story was written completely caffeine-free.