September 25, 2018 by The Citron Review
by Rogan Kelly
Nicole works the morning shift at the counter: pours coffee for the carpenters and landscapers, the mechanics and drivers, Fire and Police, the county road crew that has Hanover Avenue all backed up this morning. This guy in business attire walks in.
She takes the Taylor ham orders while her grandmother runs the kitchen. Men line the bar and lean into the countertop that stretches the length of the shop and yearn. There’s an air to it all and the customers who sense but don’t partake, stay by the newspaper stand and the lotto machine and dream less lustfully.
And Nicole moves with a grace as though untouched by their eyes and desire—above the fray and the riffraff, her voice cuts thru the hubbub and general sound. To some she might seem a snob, too good for the joint or Jersey, the dust and din. And there’s an anger that rises in men who go down this thought-path, built from a want of what they can’t have. I sometimes sense it and fear for her a bit, but she disarms them all with her smile. Or just the way she keeps it moving behind the counter—never lingers, never caught.
She sees me walk in and deems it: I get to cut the line. My coffee regular already poured. I wait a beat for my egg and cheese at the opposite end of the counter, away from the dustup, closest to the door. Nicole glides over to me, coffee in hand. The other men notice the way she takes me in at the eyes, lingers there, leans. She always says, good to see you. The Jersey of her you pronunciation a kind of glory to me. I try to push her an extra dollar on the counter. Her hand pushes my hand back. I leave it in that middle place between the angels and us wanton men.
Rogan Kelly is a writer and educator, including a former D.C. speechwriter and special education teacher. He serves as Associate Publisher with Serving House Books. His poems have recently been featured or are forthcoming in Diode, Edison Literary Review, formercactus, Hobo Camp Review, Mojave River Press & Review, PIVOT and Shrew Literary Zine.