There’s something ancient and hungry about Starbucks. Profit is hungry, and the siren is always watching.
A/N: This came out of a very long, slow day where I worked thirteen hours, cleaned a lot, and didn’t feel entirely human afterwards.
They have been abandoned. Profit has turned his head in disinterest, turned to other stores with better offerings. The Health Inspector has not returned for many quarters. There is grime under the espresso machines. There is milk on the walls, in the cupboards, smeared across the windows. The drains are clogged with Splenda packets and broken straws.
The Openers, abandoned by Profit, mill about the store, dull as coma victims, timers beeping unheeded around them. They are unperturbed. The Health Inspector is not coming. There have been no customers. The numbers flash red and huge in the corner of the drive-thru, inescapable–zero, zero zero, and 57.
When did they make 57?
Even those who were there no longer remember.
The headsets are heavy on their ears. Look–there is an opener, standing by the window, one hand hovering over her ear. She thinks she saw a sign of Profit. But it is an illusion. It is hope, and it is fading already. Her hand drops. She turns to her register. All the buttons are new to her. The menu she knows is gone; there is only the secret menu. There are no recipe cards. There are no customers, and yet there is never enough time to learn the new drinks.
She removes her headset, and then, in a panic, puts it back on.
It has been chanting for as long as she has worn it, and every new battery says the same thing: Change Battery. Change Battery.
It is driving her mad. She needs to get out of window, but the supervisor is in the back. The supervisor is counting the other till. The supervisor has been counting the till for an hour, over and over and over and over. It never comes out the same. The supervisor cannot leave until the money comes out the same. She says she is sorry. She is so sorry. She doesn’t know what she is doing wrong. Nobody ever taught her how to do this. She doesn’t know when she became a supervisor.
She is crying into the money. The money is wet. The money disintegrates in her fingers.
She sits, shaking, her fingers green and dripping with pulp.
She doesn’t know what to do.
Everybody needs a break.
She can’t gives breaks until the money is counted.
She hears Store Support rustling behind her, but she can’t turn around. She can’t leave the money. She has to watch the money until it all comes out the same.
She shapes the pulp with her fingers into approximate rectangles.
Will Profit accept this? Is this good enough?
All Store Support sees is a mess. The green will stain the tiles, he just knows it. He doesn’t care about money; he waits, anticipating, afraid and enraptured by the idea that the Health Inspector might visit. The idea that all his work might mean something. But he looks around, he knows–they will not pass.
The carafe sits, full, on the handoff point, and the timer is still. It returns to zero, unbeeping, as soon as it is ignored. He cannot find a thermometer. He does not want to waste a whole carafe, if it is not as warm as he thinks it is.
The smallwares are coated in white froth, and some are tinged powdery green. He takes them to the dish sink. He does not wash them. He stares at the knobs, lost, and turns away. There is crust around the knobs. He does not know which one is soap, and which one is sanitizer. He does not know why the sanitizer is red now. Nobody tells him anything.
Somebody is yelling his name. Now somebody else. His name echoes around him, a cacophony of needs he cannot fulfill. They need new smallwares. They need ice. They need help. They need to understand why all this is happening to them. So does he. He is pulled in different directions. He is being torn apart.
He returns the smallwares, unwashed, because he has nothing to replace them with.
None of them are labelled.
Nothing is labelled.
He scrawls dates on everything he sees, and they fade before he is finished writing them. He is holding a chai, pressing his dry black marker into it, 11:00, 11:00, 11:00. Chai spills out of the container, splatters on the floor. 11:00. He is guessing. Is it fading because he is wrong?
The girl in the window crawls under the rinse sink. She curls up among the pipes and tubes and thick black dirt. Store Support stands motionless in a puddle of chai, container in his hands, marker hovering over the blank date dot. Nobody is on front register. The supervisor carries wet green handfuls into the safe, climbs inside, shuts the door. She is the deposit. Her life will make up for the discrepancy. It is the only thing she can think of.
The mid shift is silent. There was never a mid shift. The mid shift is a dream.
The beeping of timers comes to a stop. Out from the freezer emerges the closing supervisor, frost clinging to the bags under her eyes. She brings a handful of pastries with her, puts them on the pastry cart with the others. The pile is getting larger. In the back, there are lumps of green and black inside their bags, unrecognizable. She checks “pull pastries” off her list, and makes a note (passive-aggressive, but she doesn’t care anymore)–put pastries away please!
The doors to the cold bar drain creak open, and a girl climbs out, streaked with rotten strawberry and half-blended chocolate chips, a molding lime clinging to her face. She flicks the lime away, and stands, and begins pulling mats. Store Support is standing on one. She pinches him until he moves, catatonic, out of his puddle of chai.
“How do we fix this?” she asks the supervisor. Chai is seeping through the cracks. The spicy smell doesn’t quite cover the rotted milk and the disappointment. She can’t mop, because the mop sink is gone. It collapsed long ago. She can’t take the garbage out, because the door is barricaded. The ovens are still on. The bathrooms are empty, and filthy. Nothing is prepared. Nothing is ready. The eyes of the opener under the sink follow her, accusing, as she wanders from station to station, as she tries to find somewhere to begin, just as she did last night. Her steps slow as chai sticks to the bottoms of her shoes. The pressure to fix all this bows her shoulders. There is so much left to do. If anything is skipped, the openers will be in chaos.
She only has forty-five minutes.
She wraps her arms around herself, clings to her own shoulders. She can’t stay past 9:45. Not today. Not ever again. She can’t bear to witness the whispered click of the doors locking, the lights going out, the bathroom doors-
She cannot think about that.
“Start with floors,” the supervisor says, face pale, eyes red-rimmed, fingernails digging deep into her clammy palms. “Everything will be better when the floors are clean.”
The girl takes a sanitizer rag, gets on her hands and knees. The chai is everywhere. Her arms are not long enough to reach under the cabinets. She wipes until the floor looks clean, and then drops the mats back where they were. The floor is already dirty again. She does not understand how this always happens.
The supervisor does dishes.
The supervisor does dishes.
The supervisor does dishes.
The girl puts front stocks in the clean dishes, and brings back the dishes dirtied by making front stocks.
She is halfway back when the locks click.
She drops the pitcher, and it bounces on the tile, chips of plastic and drops of mocha flying across the store. She does not care. She runs to the dish sink, reaches for the supervisor’s hand, her eyes are so wide they hurt and she is gasping already, she had run barely ten feet but she is gasping, she cannot do this alone-
-and the lights go out.
The Siren’s Eye opens.