Jake stood at the register, feet aching from a long day in the lodge coffee shop. Snow had been falling all day and he just wanted to go home. One after another of his coworkers had called in to say they couldn’t make it through the ice and snow to Copper Mountain for work. He lived in the ski village so he didn’t have an excuse and so had worked from opening until well after lunch.
He was just about to close up after the last batch of post lunch skiers left with their coffee for another round of afternoon skiiing. As he turned to pull the open sign cord to close for the day, the door to the cafe opened, the sleigh bell jangled as the door opened to the timid push of an elderly woman with mousy grey hair sticking out from a snow-dusted knit beret.
Jake was just about to say he was already closed for the day, when he caught the slight limp in her gait as she struggled to navigate through the glass door. He sighed to himself and stepped to the register once again and prepared to help this latecomer.
His father always said his compassion had been his undoing. Jake perpetually rescued stray animals and helped others to his own detriment. He’d once given his monthly allowance to a panhandler who had a convincing story of woe.
The older woman stood in front of him and blinked her large grey eyes as she examined the menu board and his rainbow apron.
“I wonder if you might be able to make me a hot chocolate, please,” said the woman in a pleasant Saskatchewan accent. Jake wasn’t Canadian but he recognized the soft upper-midwest lilt in the way she pronounced her As.
“That will be $4.75,” he said.
The woman produced six dollars from her turquoise purse. “Keep the change,” she said.
Jake bent to retrieve the milk from the refrigerated cabinet below the coffee maker and began prepping the woman’s drink.
“Would you like to hear a joke?” The woman asked?
Caught off guard, Jake looked up from frothing the milk. “Okay.”
“What did one saggy boob say to the other?” she asked with a mischievous glint in her eye.
“I have absolutely no idea,” said Jake.
“We better perk up before people think we’re a pair of nuts!” The woman laughed as she delivered the punch line with glee.
Jake set the chocolate sauce bottle on top of the espresso machine with a bang and laughed a real belly laugh. His first all day.
“That’s hilarious!! I wasn’t expecting that,” he said. “Thanks for the laugh. It’s been a long day.”
“Tell me about it,” she said. “This godawful snow just keeps coming down. I think everyone needs to have at least one good laugh a day.”
Jake felt a little lighter and not quite so guilty for being a compassionate sucker. “Let me tell you one,” he said.
With Christmas just around the corner, the little fake tree on the counter reminded him of a joke he’d heard in high school from the guys at school. It was a little off-color but his customer didn’t seem to mind a little baudy humor.
“What do a priest and a Christmas tree have in common?”
“Tell me,” she said expectantly.
“The balls are just for decoration!”
Together Jake and his last patron shared another belly laugh.
Jake walked around the counter and hauled open the heavy glass door for the woman as she limped out and on her way.
The heavy wet snow was still falling. His feet still ached, but somehow the day seemed a little brighter.
This short story is part of a daily 36-minute freewriting exercise I’m committing to. I used the following prompts:
- Character: a barista
- Action: blinking
- Setting: a snowy lodge
- Phrase: “His compassion has been his undoing.”