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A Month Before the Sun

A Month Before the Sun

Jason Heller

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The cup. I see it now: white, made of paper, steaming. I’m eager, for some reason, to get to the bottom of it. To empty it, despite the heat of its contents, as quickly as I can.

There’s a secret at the bottom.

But I haven’t been handed the cup yet. I’m still in line. Slacks and jeans, neckties and do-rags, stockbrokers and bike messengers. I’m at the tail of a winding serpent interrupted here and there by the human-sized segments of the absent, and the room is fogged with steam from its breath.

Amid the fog I catch the flash of the big white teeth of the woman behind the cash register.

“It’s my resolution,” she tells me soon after, “to start believing in the human race.”

“I believe in its existence,” I say. I stare at the scone in my hand, still sterile in its plastic.

She laughs. Those teeth. Smooth on the surface, imperfectly angled. Like each exists in its own time and intersects her smile where it pleases.

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“That’s not a whole lot of faith,” she says with a frown distorted by gravity.

“Yeah, well. We are talking about the human race.” I don’t know why I’m trying to act so tough, so bitter. There’s no one to impress. This hasn’t happened yet. 

The line finally drags me to the register. Her smile hovers just inches in front of me, nothing around or beyond it. Her hair is straight yet played with. There’s a premonition of wrinkles around her eyes. She’s tall, broad, strong—her bones frozen under suntanned skin.

She’s not afraid.

She’s not afraid yet.

“Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?” she says while making change and passing my order to the barista next to her, a squirrelly girl with disintegrating dreadlocks.

“I don’t.” I pick up a scone from a wicker basket on the counter, the scone I’ve been holding the whole time. “You?” 

“It’s my resolution,” she tells me, “to start believing in the human race.” 

The cup is still in my hand. Only it’s another cup. A later cup.

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I’m standing in line again. She’s at the register again. I haven’t ordered yet. The cup is still part of a tall, telescoped stack next to the register, waiting to be isolated, a latent cupness that can’t yet hold anything, let alone its own existence.

“Hey, it’s you. The faith guy.” Her skin is February pale. It’s long before the sunburn, a month before the sun.

“Ha. Yeah. That’s me.”

“What can I make for you today?”

“Can I have a large black coffee?”

She leans across the counter, her teeth close enough to snap shut on my lip. “You can have anything you want. I mean that. Anything.”

I think I’m being flirted with. I can’t separate the signal from the noise. I have a girlfriend. I try to sift through the input, but the woman’s bangs now hang across her eyes like a shampoo-and-cappuccino membrane.

“Okay.”

My gut curls into the shape of a possibility. It’s too early in the morning. Especially a morning like this.

“I tell you what,” she says after handing me my change. “God, I’m acting like I’m in fifth grade. When you’re done drinking your coffee, look at the bottom of your cup.”

“The bottom of my cup?”

She doesn’t answer but turns to whisper in the ear of her coworker, who glances at me through her dreadlocks and grins. A woman in a suit stands next to me, waiting for her coffee to be made, a pinch of impatience deforming her face.

I’m so flustered I forget to leave a tip.

I turn back.

It’s too late.

The cup is in my hand, more liquid now than solid.

I turn it upside down to look at the bottom.

Hot coffee pours out toward the floor.

The bottom is blank.

No number.

No time.

Nothing.

“Faith.” Her teeth don’t move. “The faith guy.”

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I circle the wobbling globe of hot coffee, hanging there in midair and steaming in every direction, like a black hole, a blind eye. An afterimage of a sun that’s been stared at.

And I get back in line.

All rights reserved to Jason Heller

Illustration by Jarad Jensen.

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