Reaching for the window ledge, she pulled herself from the ragged couch and steadied her feet. Joyce had been slumbering again, though she did not know how long. Judging from the glances she received from coffee shop patrons, it had been long enough for her snoring to rip through the room and draw unwanted attention. She was not embarrassed. Sleeping in public was the least of her worries.
Not having showered in three months, her hair a virtual — almost literal — rats’ nest, Joyce was what could only be called in polite company a “person of struggle”. She was quite certainly wallowing in her own filth, her sweatpants bulging with corpulent, pasty flesh. She wore no undergarments and the stains of stale urine and a previous month’s menses blemished the insides of her thighs. The stench of rot and warm yeast would have filtered up into everyone’s nostrils if the aroma of coffee had not successfully permeated the store before her arrival.
She hobbled past the barista on duty, who pretended not to notice her. I just work here, he told himself. As she passed the counter and made her way into the bathroom, he turned to a co-worker and muttered just loud enough for customers to hear, “She looks like ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag today.” Then, as if by magic, he flicked his fingers over a Zippo and lit his smooth, crisp filtered Camel wide cigarette. He inhaled deeply, allowing every last carcinogen to find its home in his blood stream. The taste! The joy! This was the purpose of life!
Such pleasures were short-lived. Joyce emerged from the bathroom, a malodorous waft of caffeinated feces trailing behind her. She plopped a moist quarter on the counter — someone must have dropped it in the toilet — and demanded a mug of freshly brewed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Her voice was a low, raspy gurgle, but the barista had been dealing with Joyce for several months and recognized her drooling bubbles as words and demands. Why drink coffee? He wondered to himself. You know you’re just gonna piss yourself again, you fat bitch. As she walked back to “her” couch, his eyes filled with detest and bored a set of holes in the back of her skull. He wanted nothing more than to force her out, but he was powerless if no one would complain.
Crashing, bottom-first, into the well-worn couch, she spilled a splash of coffee on the way down. Along with the multiple shades of mustard on her jacket, this seemed to blend in nicely. She sipped the coffee and grinned a yellow grin with teeth contorting around her mouth like psychotic acrobats. Some of the beverage made it to her throat and some came back out. Joyce wiped her mouth with her scarf, then grunted a satisfied noise as though she were a pregnant rhinoceros. Perhaps it was time for a nap?
Indeed, it was. Everyone turned away, again trying to ignore the poorly-oiled chainsaw that came out of Joyce’s windpipe. Just another day in downtown Madison.