The three of them sat in their favorite corner of Castle Café, by the cheap knockoff of Jasper Johns’ Map.
“I am so exhausted,” announced the one who had come up to the counter to order. As though I wasn’t, having spent the whole day before my shift rehearsing with the band and sending out demos. As though her companions weren’t, from having to listen to her all day. As though most people in the café, especially that near to closing, were full of beans and ready to go out raving.
“Oh, shut it Sandra,” said the one to her left.
Sandra picked up a spoon and pointed it threateningly at her.
“That’s a spoon, Sandy,” said the third one, playing with her ponytail.
“I can still use it on her; you see if I don’t.”
I couldn’t hear the next part of their conversation, as Dean had turned on the coffee machine. But the next thing I knew, there was a puff of pink smoke and the smell of sulfur, and everything surrounding me became exceptionally large and I was unable to move.
“Sorry, love,” said Sandra. “I’d aimed at Deb.”
“Where’s Jimmy?” asked Lucy, my manager.
“He left about five minutes ago,” said the one who wasn’t Deb or Sandra. “I heard him get a call from his sister. Something about a hospital.”
“Well, he’s left his phone here.”
“I’ll take it.”
Lucy sniffed and went into the kitchen. I could just about hear her asking Dean to lock up tonight as “that bloody Jimmy has bailed again.”
“Do you know his sister, Jenny?” asked Deb.
“No,” came the reply. “But I didn’t want that awful woman looking on his phone only to discover I’d been lying.”
Not long afterwards, she picked me up. I couldn’t believe how light I was, until I spotted in the mirror that I had been turned into a cup.
A cup that can still see, hear, and smell everything, but a cup, nonetheless. Hopefully, an empty cup.
“I’ll look after you,” Jenny whispered, “until I can figure out how to restore you back to being a human.”
She put me in her handbag, where I am surrounded by a wallet, some loose change, a couple of tampons, a bunch of keys, and a packet of Polo Mints.
“I could have turned her back,” I can hear Sandra saying, “but I don’t know how to turn him back. He’s not one of us. Different molecules.”
“Well, if you can’t,” says Jenny, “me and Deb definitely can’t.”
This last sentence sounded quite loud, and I realized that Dean must have finished with the coffee machine.
I hear a shushing sound, and then a rustling noise as my phone was put next to me, in the handbag. As was a second phone, presumably Jenny’s.
For some reason, I was grateful that the phones were put next to me, rather than inside my cavity.
By midnight, I was sitting on a shelf inside Jenny’s house, watching her and Deb debate how to return me back to human state. I’m grateful that they were at least discussing this as they could have just smashed me and moved on with their lives.
“We have got consciences,” said Jenny, who it turned out could read minds. Deb’s talent was fortune-telling and Sandra’s was “turning things into stuff” as Deb had described it. Sandra, however, wasn’t present at this meeting, due to Jenny’s fear that she might make matters worse.
“Fancy doing that in a café. Even she’d done it to me, people would realize who and what we were. We wouldn’t be able to go back.”
“Now is not the time, Deb.”
“I think I should report her to Grand Witch Manahan.”
“You just want to see her, cos you fancy her.”
They were squabbling like children. It wasn’t helping me in any way, but it was both fascinating and funny to listen to. And to watch, whenever either of them were in my eyeline.
“It may be worth us calling her anyway, to see if she can help with Jimmy here,” said Jenny suddenly.
I hope she didn’t say that because she’d read me thinking belittling things about their conversation.
“Not at all, young Jimmy,” said Jenny.
I needed to learn to not think anything.
Grand Witch Manahan was the tallest person I had ever met. She could have played for the WNBA. Except for her height though, I can’t remember the first thing about her, and every now and then I wonder whether she had intentionally wiped my memory of certain details. Especially as I have a vague feeling that this is someone I had come across before.
What I do remember is that Deb clearly had the hots for Grand Witch Manahan, and Jenny was beyond jealous.
“Is there anyone you need to tell that you won’t be coming home tonight?” asked Jenny, as the Grand Witch was brewing up a potion on the Aga, and Deb was playing with some cat who had just jumped in through the window. “Just think ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and if it’s a yes, I’ll see what I can do. I’m good with voices you know.”
No, there was no one to tell. I lived alone. And with all the sexual tension in the room, I started thinking, as I often did, about how much I wished Dean lived with me, or was with me now, or how ….
I stopped myself mid-thought, and just projected the word “no” as hard as I could.
“Very well,” said Jenny, as she picked me up by my handle, and placed me into what looked and smelled like an empty cat litter tray, but was referred to ceremoniously by Deb as the cauldron, whilst she poured some of the Grand Witch’s potion over me.
It was boiling hot and exceedingly slimy, but I couldn’t tell you what it smelled of, although it knocked the cat odor into a cocked hat.
The sludge was sticky, and it was almost like I could taste it at times, an unpleasant cross between haddock and toothpaste. The color was the sharp orange of Arizona in the Castle Café Map, and the hissing sound it gave off was reminiscent of my first-grade teacher’s coffee machine.
By the time the potion had cooled down, it was feeling impressively heavy and uncomfortable. Most noticeably of all, I was still a cup.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Jenny. “It won’t start working until sun-up.”
“Especially with the amount of newt-eye Manny put in,” said Deb.
Jenny looked displeased about Deb’s pet name for the Grand Witch, but smiled to herself when the subject of the flirtation snarled angrily at her new moniker.
“Before I forget,” said Jenny, changing the subject, “what are we going to do about Sandra?”
“She’ll be her own undoing,” predicted Deb. “Now could someone make me another coffee?”
“It won’t be as good as the ones Jimmy makes,” said Jenny, flicking on a machine. “And be careful where you point that spoon.”
The transition from cup to human was slow and painful, two things the transformation in the other direction had not been.
By nine o’clock, I was completely back to normal.
Jenny returned my phone to me, and I sent Lucy a text apologizing for leaving work early the previous night. Lucy sent a snarky reply, which she followed up with a politer message asking if I could come in for ten that morning. I replied saying I was very tired, but would be happy to.
Jenny parked her Prius in the parking lot outside Castle Café and was putting her hair into a bun. Deb looked at her watch as I sang along merrily to Katy Perry on the radio, and made no move to get out.
“You’ll never make it as a singer,” Deb joked.
“Good thing I’m a drummer,” I replied, smiling. Then, seeing as the chance had presented itself: “But what will be in my future? Will I be working at that café for the rest of my life or will the band start getting more regular gigs and I can be a musician full-time?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“She can tell you that,” clarified Jenny. “She just won’t. She keeps her predictions to herself. However, there’s something I can tell you which may make your life slightly better. I go into that café a lot, and it isn’t just your mind I can read. And that young Dean Sullivan chap feels exactly the same about you as you do about him.”
I smiled and got out of the car.
[Hugh Allison is a writer based in London, England. Hugh’s stories include “Growing Up with the Kindnarians” published in the anthology All the Small Things (Big Things Publishing), “The Last Days of Kaboom Kendall” published in the anthology Sheer: A Dark Fantasy Anthology (Aesthetic Press), and “Vacuous” published in the e-anthology Hollow World: Origins (Bamboo Forest Press). Other pieces have appeared in Cerasus, Frost Zone Zine, Nailpolish Stories, Short Story Town, and elsewhere. His poems have appeared in Departure Mirror, Poetry Plus Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, Riverbed Review, and Sundamaged. Hugh has also written radio plays, stage plays, and short films.]