Burritos in the Dark

A flashlight wanders about the room, and another, maybe in Natalie’s hands, near the machines. Her face is a moon. The espresso machine functions for a little while longer, that part that makes us warm. Orders are made. Natalie smiles like she never does when the lights are on, and everyone else has gone invisible.

I pull my headphones off, ears free to see, because I expect the staff to ask everyone to leave the building—because that would be safer. Back into the cold near zero. Below, maybe, but the snow’s pretty in headlights and blue in the shadows.

At least I’m sitting in a corner. At least I never need the mains to power the laptop. At least I’m not trying to write by hand. That would be annoying. And I’m thinking this is something greater than the strip mall, greater than the block, the way the power cycled before cutting out before never coming back. No transformer bang, no surprised gasp or broken glass. Held air remains warm. I assume the traffic outside makes its own rules.

In the office next to the café, a power supply warns everyone the world is in mourning. My eyes adjust. I can see a man across the café by the light of his phone. Maybe he hasn’t noticed, yet. Headlights slash across the table tops and dart between the chairs, a driver seeking safety now the road is open for road warriors and wolves.

The baristas discuss travel, cultural immersion, and learning languages. They talk about affording their own skis. But renting is okay. It’s the cost of a movie ticket each time. And when the world ends, you get to keep these things.

The machines have run out of steam. No one is coming in now. No flickering OPEN. No tail lights parked by the doors. We’re a dark hole by the side of the road, nothing ever here. In a mystery, someone winds up dead once the light comes back. Weak sun. Ice fog. On my right, a coat is being zipped—up—funny I can tell which way. The detective asks everyone to think about footsteps, which direction they went, the weight of soles, the width of gait. Everyone says the same thing. No one went anywhere. A couple bought burritos with cash and went from register to door with flashlights in hand like they trained for this sort of thing. Everyone else waited like cats—for any sort of scurrying.

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