By John Thomas Tuft
It is the kind of place that still has a little bell hooked over the door that jangles when customers enter…or leave. The sign over the door says ‘Ye Olde Pastry Plate’, but the locals all know it as ‘The Holy Barista.’ Antique cases hold glass shelves loaded with chocolate tarts, hand crafted petit fours, ravishing bear claws, cakes to die for, and a fine assortment of pies and breads. And cookies. Don’t forget the cookies. Behind the counter sits a vintage Oliver Safety Slicer that can take an entire loaf of crusty French or Italian and push it through in neat slices, the old motor grinding and rattling like a model T. A dozen small tables with checkered cloths and cast-iron chairs beckon hopefully. Along one wall sits a fine built in, sturdy oak apothecary cabinet with 178 drawers, that hold the mysteries and secrets to be inherited by each generation of communicants. Nestled inside each drawer is a white stoneware mug, an individual grail for those seeking to be known. The coffee is always fresh, the lights are always soft, the noise is always tolerable, and the smells warm and inviting; together making a music of their very own. All under the watchful eye of Nataya, the barista.
No matter where you place it, nor how you explain it, there was a moment. A moment when life began. All of life. And each life. Some say that behind it all, at the beginning, was the idea of life. Others say that behind it all, from the beginning, is the original story of life. Such are the humble mysteries that draw folks to this place. You can see the truth of it in the joy in Nataya’s eyes and the openness of her smile, as she weaves among the tables, hips swaying. She urges all comers to “Get up and get your mug. Mind you, there’s one over there for you.” And sure enough, though it may be chipped a bit, shelter a crack or two, there is one just for you. You hear it in her soft humming as she pours frothy cream into a dark canvas, magically creating designs with the palate of imagination and the skill of pure purpose.
The holy barista welcomes all to the laden glass cases, her “gospel of goodness and tasting good” as Nataya calls the delight of fresh bread and the wonder of the nectar of pastry. But, and hear me now, mind your manners. The last thing you want to hear the holy barista saying is, “You can hand a two year old a smartphone, but you will still hear screaming. If you’re not grateful for the gifts that you have, you will never be satisfied with more.” Humility is always the daily special on the menu at Ye Olde Pastry Plate.
Supplicants at the circles of celebration, some with slices of bread slathered with jam, some with a forkful of pie or cake, others breaking off a bit of cookie to dip in a steaming mug, look up in watchful greeting when the bell over the door jangles. One is the president of a bank, another travels about in his truck sharpening knives and scissors, a mother with small children hovers and sighs, an old couple exchange knowing glances—all watch the stranger approach the holy barista. A beauty queen holds hands with a nameless woman who changes the linens and cleans the toilets at a motel down the street. A homeless teen keeps the beat as a cowboy plays a melody on a guitar. The stranger sizes up the joint, confident that he alone pegs the atmosphere, paints on his most sincere smile as he winks at Nataya, “You’re sitting on a gold mine here, Sweetie. I can help you.”
“First of all, don’t ever call me Sweetie. Second, I ain’t sellin’!” said the holy barista. “No, I’m talking franchise, honey,” the stranger plows ahead, ignoring the warning flash in Nataya’s eyes. “A ‘Ye Olde Pastry Plate’ on every corner. You’ll be rich. People will be dying to know your secret. You’ll be famous!” Nataya takes a deep breath, never one to suffer fools. She uses her apron to dust some crumbs off the old slicer, then walks out from behind the counter and hands him a broom. “You want to help? Sweep up these crumbs. Wipe down the tables. Wash the mugs and put them away—in the proper drawers. Then serve these good folks.”
The nonplussed stranger protested, “But don’t you want more? More freedom? More attention? More customers? More of everything?” Nataya, the holy barista, grew very still as she drew herself up to her full height. “Look, sonny, I don’t care if you’re Facebook, Amazon and McDonald’s all rolled into one, with gravy and a side of slaw. Help, or get the hell out of the way!” It was hard to tell who was sadder, or more disappointed: the stranger or the holy barista. Both of them heard the little bell hooked over the door jangle as it shut behind him.
Words are magic, and writers are wizards.