Melissa Reddish


The bird outside the window detaches its head to sing its open-throated song. The beak creaks open to reveal burnished light. Inside the coffee shop, the barista fills Styrofoam cups and stacks them into pyramids, castles, the familiar steps of the public library. The customers watch the stacking. Nobody reaches for their cup. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, tap their infatuation across the table. The spilled sugar trembles with their desire: private, unique, vital. A man stares at the blank screen of his laptop and waits for a message from the woman inside, the one who wraps circuits around her arms and sends him messages in ones and zeros. Today, order a caramel macchiato. Tomorrow, send your boss an envelope filled with sand. The barista is making everyone nametags so she can keep track of the regulars. She has left space so they can write down the thing that fills them most with shame. There are no children in the shop, to which everyone is grateful. (There is only one woman whose biological clock is ticking. She images fucking the man with the laptop and birthing a small, balding child with glasses and acne scars. She imagines dropping the child from a six-story window. She places one carefully shaved leg over the other and admires her red shoes, the heel a perfect point.) Outside, the bird has burst into a million tiny notes that scatter on the breeze. A man walks into the shop in a blue coat that is much too thick for the season. There is a lump near his heart. He removes a gray and black object with wires. He sets it in the middle of the floor. “Sayonara, suckers,” he says and runs out the door. The timer has already reached zero, so nobody panics. They are already in the process of happening— there is nothing to do but watch. Instead of detonating, the object sinks a hole into the floor. The hole is round and black and continues, down and down. The barista drops a Styrofoam cup of coffee into it. It falls and falls and falls and falls. The barista drops a muffin and then the cash register into it. There is no sound. The barista looks into the hole and wonders if infinity smells like burnt coffee. The teenagers can’t be caught looking at anything besides themselves. The hole is very large. The man with the laptop walks over to the hole. On the screen in 48-point Ariel font is the word jump. He does. The woman in the high heels follows him. Everyone else in the coffee shop forms a nice, orderly line and walks or jumps or spins into the hole. Each person does it slightly differently; after all, this is their last chance to imprint their identity onto the world. The barista is last. She dives into the solid black nothing, her arms a perfect V. She leaves all of the coffee behind. She hated coffee and now she doesn’t hate anything. Once all of the people are gone, the objects lose their permanence and begin slipping into symbols, shapes, colors. Nothing is hard-wired into meaning. The slipping continues until someone outside walks into the shop, and then everything is just as it was, including the hole, which is merely gathered space, nothing more.

Melissa Reddish graduated from American University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Petrichor Machine, Printer’s Devil Review, and decomP, among others.
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