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Mini Sledgehammer: Sweet Pea

The Mini Sledges are back in 2010, and as fun as ever! Thanks to Sweet Pea Baking Company for hosting last Saturday’s event.

Justin Searns happened to be in the cafe studying for a medical school exam and decided to take a break for the writing contest…and he won! Congratulations!

Prompts were:
in a cafe
“I’ve never felt sorry for…”
a mechanic
digging through the trash

The woman in front of me in line has a tattoo across the back of her neck; its color is thick like india ink.  I try not to stare but the rareness of art in the early morning makes it impossible.  It’s an oak tree, all one shade of black, ominous, and wonderful, and impetuous.  I focus at the root of her tattoo.  The gnarled branches spiral up and around the edges of her neck towards her ears that are staring back at me, and I’m sure if we were to have a conversation it would be reckless.

She rubs her elbows self-consciously as we slowly shuffle forward in lockstep with the other patrons. I’m guessing she’s in her 30s.  When she reaches her hand to the back of her pocket to grasp the chain leading to her wallet, I notice her fingernails.  They are coal black.  Not from nail polish but from somewhere underneath.  Like she has blood made of motor oil.

I’m new to this town.  Haven’t met many people yet, and I’ve found if I sit long enough at a café on the weekend, one of two things will inevitably happen.  Either I will lazily watch other people go about their days until I feel a sudden swell of community, or I will talk to strangers.  Today, I am inspired by her tattoo and the second option seems more likely.

I wait to test the water until after I order and we are both standing waiting at the counter.  She is drumming those coal black nails against the glass display. She is not impatient, rather she is trying her best to mimic the rhythm going over the stereo in the kitchen.  We make eye contact and smile as I ask her if she knows who the band is.  Neither of us do, and she continues to tap her nails as I look at the other strangers in line and quietly whistle to myself.

By happenstance, there are only two seats left open and we find ourselves sitting together, armed now with nothing but time, one cup of coffee black as her nails, and one cup of tea, british as my mother.   We forego the usual where are you from charade, and I embark straight on the quest of asking her why the beds of her nails look like polished onyx.

She works as a mechanic she says.  At a car shop down the street.  Her shift doesn’t start for awhile, and she is relishing the slow start of a weekend day.

“I didn’t realize there were mechanics who work on Sundays” I say.

“We found that it’s better for business” she responds “Since everyone hates that time crunch of trying to get their car in to be seen like they are squeezing their toddler in for a doctor’s appointment.  It’s less stressful for all of us.”

She owns the space around her well.  And I decide to counter her argument.

“But when you are busy at work, you miss out on the wonderful sadness that Sunday’s have to offer.” I reply.

“I’ve never felt sorry for Sunday’s.” She says scratching the back of her neck at the root of the oak tree.  “They always feel stressful, and it is clearly the most pretentious and overrated day of the week.  That’s why god chose it as her day.  Or maybe because god chose it is why I don’t like it.  I’ve never made my mind up about that one.”

Outside on the street, the two of us are distracted by a stray dog digging through a tipped over trashcan.  We watch as the café owner strolls outside to shoe him away from the other customers sitting outside in the sun.

We finish our coffees, as our conversation dwindles, and she hurriedly clears her dishes as she glances at the clock.  A simple head nod from the both of us, and she is out the door.  I am left in the sunlight streaming through the front window, back to the business, of feeling community with strangers.


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