Fiction: Harlot's Way
Updated: Feb 5
This was a piece of "flash fiction" a sort of get in quick and write about something and leave, which I've read publicly a number of times. For coffee lovers it may be funny. The politics of it I currently find problematic. The idea that a coffee company would try to reconstitute a coffee with the moniker of "Harlot's Way" and build their brand around the oldest profession--while plausible and silly--seemed to me in the modern lens to be objectionable. The last time I read it publicly I felt like it didn't come off well. For your enjoyment.
Harlot’s Way – published by Word Riot in 2009
Asleep on the counter, my hand a pillow for my head. A dream of another fix of a bag of dark chocolate covered espresso beans. I want a hundred lattes with extra foam. I want espresso, double black gold espresso. I want Juan Valdez to piss hot coffee into my mouth and I want to gurgle. Yes, gurgle it all. I want peppermint lattes, breves, cappuccino, frappaccino, double, triple, red eye, Sumatra, can-you-say-Yukon-Gold-five-times-fast. I want it all now, I want to feel the caffeine rip open my eyelids and slide through my small intestine till it explodes. The valves of my heart – to steam the soy. My liver swimming in the grains of cocoa beans. Quieres mas? Yes, Juan, give it to me, I am ready. I am agape when you are unzipped. Ready, when, you, are.
“Excuse me. Sir. Excuse me? Can I get some service here?”
“Uhh, what’s that?” I say, waking from the nightmare.
You wake up in Harlot’s Way. This one is in Seattle, off the Puget Sound. Or you could wake up in Denver, store number 10023. Maybe in Pittsburgh store 571. Atlanta 13332. Downtown. Uptown. Rest stops. We’re where the mom and pop store used to be. Next to a Kultura’s used books in Barcelona. Down the street from Claude’s Bistro in Vienna. Take a left off NJ turnpike, exit 25 next to the BP. Can’t miss it. We’re everywhere, taking over. We’re there. You know you’re feenin’.
I work the graveyard shift where junkies and caffeine addicts stop by for their fix. I’m their pusher. Small little flagship of the Sound. The sun sets over the ocean. The sun rises over the city. I pray the rays will turn to lasers, and pierce that fucking needle, sending it to tumble and impale the earth.
“What’s that?” I say again. It’s exactly 2 hours before the rush hits. One hour before the sun rises again. Yes—graveyard shift, FAB. Truly. You’ve been feenin’ and I got your fix.
“I need two double tall cappuccinos with soy.” Only his face (for now) with the pained expression of his order and something else coming into focus. He is just a man. Wooly steel beard, small beady eyes. I blinked hard, twice, trying to figure why he was wearing a checkered red flannel that (BTW) went out of style when KC took a shotgun to his dome.
“Whatta you mean?” I said, and waited for him to begin speaking.
“What I mean by that question (that you have now blundered) is that at Harlot’s Way, owned and operated by us, me- in Seattle, Washington, a “Coffee Whore”—that’s the way I like to see it—is that a tall cappuccino is okay, that part I understood—yes, wonderful job, you got the size and type correct—Bravo—but the rest you bungled, we always place the number of shots at the end (not like that other imitator-hater-overstater-coffee-impersonater.)” He was frazzled, corrupted, bruised and misused in front of me, waiting ever-patiently, hoping I would relent, yeah right. In the darkness of the dank Seattle night, under the throbbing halogen chemicals floating down towards us we are basking in:
1. The chemicals of the halogen lamps, mmm yummy! 2. The photos of various harlots from around the world: a. In Kenya they look more like National Geographic pinups b. In Amsterdam they look professional. c. In Romania they have bad teeth. d. In Saudi Arabia their shoes give them away.
These photos are blown up with the jingle that says:
“Harlot’s are the oldest profession in mankind; maybe you should try our coffee too?”
The original slogan was, “Harlot’s coffee: because hookers aren’t the only ones who screw.” They then tried, “Try our harlot, everyone else has.” When that didn’t fit up to the “marketing plan” they chose, “You like your Harlot hot, but we’ll serve it any way you like.” Again, ex-nay on the slogan-ay (or however you fucking do Pig Latin). They went with what we have now, please- do understand- we still elicit our fair share of sneers, jeers and tossed beers from those without the ability to chuckle at what we’ve mentioned under the buckles.
3. A full stock of frothing and brewing implements that are encased in shiny black leather.
4. A ceiling where (if you look up) it will take you by surprise, for the multi-colored lace stockings. They are torn. They are tattered. They are taken tortuously seriously to appear as awful as possible, just to shock you.
5. Cookies, chocolates, sponge cake, bagels, raspberry wedges and countless other breath mints raining down upon us from every angle.
6. Formica, lots of Formica, baby.
“Alright, well, then I want that what you said.” His chest heaved and blithered at me. I was going to ask him whether he wanted shots of soy or soy milk, light soy milk, chocolate soy. I was going to snap away at him. Let it fly. Take my wand. Take my stockings, please. See the garter belts on the window. Yes, those. Lick the dust the lace, pull the elastic and snap yourself. Please. Get it or get out. I don’t have time, it’s 4am in Seattle and I have over an hour till the sun gets another chance to topple into me. Another chance. The rays come screaming through. It’s another day. One hour and counting, till I can walk out.
“Well—” I say about to start and feel him up with my looks. My eyes focus on his cane. The angle of his arm holding the weight of his body on the right side. The beads of his gray eyes gone soft. Time moved too quickly for him now. The crumpled Andrew Jackson in his hand. The attempt. This small attempt to shake hands with the past. Coffee to be calculated in a small, morning effort. One generation rises while another falls brings the furious efforts to change our minds.
“Could you please?” he says, “just the coffee.”
And I say, “Yeah—I can do that.”