One morning I was early for my lecture, and hadn’t eaten, so I walked over to the student co-op café. There was a young woman there whom I’d seen before, setting up. Otherwise the place was completely empty. “Hi, how are you doing?” she smiled. I smiled back. I asked for the tea of the day. We don’t have anything on the go right now, she responded. What would you like the tea of the day to be?
How about this Earl Grey? I pointed to a bag
What’s the difference between that Earl Grey and this Earl Grey? She pointed to another, fancier tea beside her.
I don’t know.
It’s all the same price, she went on. Today. If it’s the tea of the day, it’s going to cost $1.50. And we just decided it is – the tea of the day. She smiled again.
There was something confident and serene about her, as if already at whatever age she was – twenty, maybe? – she’d figured out already the thing that takes most of us years. How to be happy with herself.
I ordered a piece of quiche and as she warmed it, she talked.
I don’t like sweet things for breakfast either, or at least most of the time.
I like jam, still. But sometimes just a piece of toast and cheese.
Or an egg.
Or an egg.
My dad always used to make me these smoothies, she said. Then her face got this far-away look, as if she could still see them. We were five kids. He’d get up early and make five smoothies, every morning. With protein powder. I loved the smoothies but hated the protein powder. You gotta have it, she pitched her voice lower and talked out of the side of her mouth. It’s good for you. She laughed. I guess it was.
I laughed too. I make my daughter smoothies sometimes. Although occasionally she makes them for me. Does your dad still do that?
She glanced up with a look I couldn’t quite fathom. I don’t live at home anymore.
No. I just meant: even with you gone, do you think your dad makes those smoothies for himself? Maybe it’s a ritual. For remembering.
Maybe. I don’t know. She looked thoughtful. Then brightened. I’ll have to ask him. Here you go. She handed me the food.
I paid and went to sit down, looking out over the campus, my back to the young woman and to the counter. The music was some kind of alternative stuff, lots of synth and guitar and corrected voice. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her walk over to another part of the room, and then the music went dead. A minute later, something else came over the speakers. An old James Taylor song. She’d put it on, for me. Or maybe, for her dad.