Steaming milk, pouring shots, the hiss as the teapot fills. Thwack! Coffee grounds tumble from the head and into the rubbish. Dockets start to pile up as she attempts to keep up with the incoming orders.
“Coffee up. Table 12”
She pushes the tray to the front off the stainless steel bench and spills the flat white onto the saucer. Her hand reaches out and grabs the tray clamping it to the spot as she attempts to redeem the cup and saucer.
She says to her runner releasing the caffeine to be delivered to the waiting , impatient crowds. Rocking back on her heels she tries to take a large deep breath, to gather her thoughts and get back into the zone. This particular Sunday is no busier than another so why can’t she ride the wave. Why does she feel like she is trying to swim against the current?
Slugging down a large cold water, her chest tightens and she tries to breathe her way back to normal. Those small slips of printed paper start to overlap as they feed out of the printer. She can’t see beyond them and through the window into the world. She knows there’s an olive tree that needs pruning right outside the cafe window but it isn’t there for her this afternoon.
“Kate! Are you okay?”
Her boss shouts at her from the register in between customers.
Turning towards the voice, she takes a moment to focus and take in her surroundings. The coffee head slips from her hand, clanging as it hits the concrete floor, freshly ground coffee splattering across her shoes. She slumps against the milk fridge behind her, her hands steadying her body.
She can’t speak. Words are too much effort just now though she manages to shake her head. No, she’s not alright. Kate is not alright. Kate needs all of her strength right now to remember to breathe and stand at the same time. Multi-tasking is not her agenda right now.
The voice is out the with all the other sounds in the cafe, the low levels ambient music of some nameless Ministry of Sound cd, young families enjoying their babycinos, and her boss now one step in front of her saying something at her. Saying her name at her. It takes a few moments but she’s pretty sure it’s her name that’s being said.
Two arms reach out and lift her upright, pulling her, guiding her behind the display fridge and out through the kitchen into the storage area. Kate is directed to sit. She can feel the rigid plastic grid of an upside down milk crate through the seat of her jeans.
“Oh great, it will be filthy”
She somehow manages to think between the clouds of pain that have filled her brain.
The pain is like dozens of large hollow needles being pushed into her chest all at once. Grabbing her hands between her breasts doesn’t help but she can’t think of what else to do. The kitchen hand has been stationed to keep an eye on her and his nasal teenage voice keeps saying “Breathe” as he sneaks in a durry on this impromptu break.
“Fuck off. You breathe” she thinks but can’t find the voice to say.
What seems like an hour later the restaurant manager walks into the alley with an annoyed tone says, “So what’s up with you?”
Kate doesn’t answer but looks up towards him. Her grimaced face says it all.
He only gets a puff or two out of his cigarette before he throws it to the ground twisting it underneath his shiny leather shoe to extinguish.
“Someone call an ambulance”