All Stories, General Fiction

When Normal Becomes Real by Harrison Kim

Everyone’s queued up in the cafe, a string line of heads, some with hats, waiting. It’s a fairly conventional straggle and Drew stands with it.  Good to have some order.  The line’s almost out the door.  Lights fall bright around him, with invisible music. Something by the Soul Twisters.  He feels a huge space above him, compared to his regular quarters. His official security man Cody stands assertive and blocks the view ahead.

There’s women in short pants and nose rings, old men with ball caps and whiskers, a teenager with his skateboard, Moms and kids. A whole circus line of coffee wishers.  No one bumps into anyone else. There’s a few stray coughs.

A man pushes through the door carrying a sack of lumpy items and stands beside Drew.  “Hey, I’m in a hurry, I’ve got a taxi waiting.  Can I go ahead?”  Drew says ‘Sure.”  Cody nods,  Drew steps back to let the man in.  Cody chuckles.  “Good move, Drew.  No hurry. He’s got to get some coffee before his sack of popsicles melts,” The pushy guy laughs too, head down.  Drew forces a grin.  Lots of time to look, see what’s around.  There’s many interesting and differently dressed people on the sidewalk, stepping down the side of the strip mall outside these coffee shop windows.

Cody and Drew are on a fifteen minute break from delivering potatoes.  Each man plays his part. Cody drives the truck and supervises, Drew loads.  It’s all part of a back to the community program. Cody’s a real tall wide fellow looks like a long legged frog with glasses, his bulk helps hide Drew from prying eyes. It’s Drew’s first outside coffee in quite a few years.

There’s panhandlers outside.  Cody threw them a dollar each, even though it’s not considered normal.  He says he’s supposed to act very normal, to impress Drew.  “But I push the envelope sometimes.”

Drew notices how everyone moves slowly here, down the line.  They hide their impatience, but he sees feet shuffling and eyes rolling “why is that old guy at the front taking so long?”

Each person’s asked numerous questions at the cashier’s desk.   It’s not simply a case of receiving a cup of black coffee.  The dosing size must be determined, and the brand of roast beans, the number of creams and the type of sweetener.

Drew observes hard working people at the counter,  “do you want double cups, or just one?” they all say. It’s like they have a script, they memorize it, and it becomes normal routine.  A daily ritual of serving.  As Drew inches closer to the till he feels more and more nervous.  He’ll be asked a lot of questions.  Questions are not his strong point.  But again, what a privilege to be out in a community in a line of his fellows!  The light goes beyond the windows here, as far as you can see. There’s sun on everything.  So bright.  Drew orders a coffee with cream. The yawning but smiling server lady asks if he would like big or small room for milk.  “Big is better,” says Drew.  He pays, keeps standing there.  The lady doesn’t seem to get his joke.  Cody motions him to one side, “the drinks are served over here, bud.”

“Wow,” says Drew.  “There’s even a pickup area.”

“They’ve got a workable system,” Cody grins.

It’s like a tunnel, this donut line, leading to a refreshment heaven, the light at the end.  The smell of baking and coffee, perfumes and hair spray mixes through the fast food air.  Drew takes his large Americano and stands over by the windows.

“Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?”  It’s a man at the table beside him, a guy about Drew’s age, with black square frame glasses and a long ski slope nose, looking up from a silver computer.

“No, just picking up a doughnut,” Drew says, with a too large smile.

The guy keeps peering at him “Maybe we went to the same school somewhere.”  There’s a faint realization in his eyes, he’s sure of something.

“I don’t think so.”

There’s a flash of light.  Drew glances behind him.  Someone else is coming through the door.  They just keep coming in and coming in.

“Well, got to get moving,” he says.

“I’m sure I know your name,” says the computer guy. “Or at least your face.”

Cody is at the front now, picking up some baked goods. He walks over and offers a huge muffin to Drew.  “One for the road.”

Drew holds the muffin monstrosity.  He swivels around.  It seems that now everyone is watching him. They’re all looking up over their cups, or behind their sleeves, or maybe from under their hats.  He senses the long reach of their eyes.   He notices the mens’ washroom sign.  He sidles to one side “I got to go in here a minute, Cody,” and he slips in with his giant cup and muffin and closes the door tightly.

Behind him, he perceives shadows.  All the people outside of the door.   He’s finally alone, in the darkness.  He sees his own shadow form against the mirror.  He imagines his mother, his father, his brothers and their wives floating above him, waiting for him to lift his head.   He must flip on the light and face them.  Face their eyes, as they appeared, wide open before he shot them one by one as they stepped through that other dark entrance, the big double doors of the family’s suburban rancher twenty years ago on a streaming rainy night after he invited them all over for a party, but it wasn’t for a party it was to fulfill a prophecy.  To stop the apocalypse.

His brother Dan was alert enough to figure out the trap. He ran. Drew chased him through the garden, trying to aim the gun. His brother screamed for mercy before the final shot.  Six points of the star, six people had to die.  To save the world.  Now, after nineteen years incarcerated and recovering at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, he knows the truth.  He shot six people for a false prophecy.  A plan hatched within a sick dream, born from a biblical vision taken from the book of Revelation.  A plan gathered at random from all the flying crashing synapses within a deluded consciousness.  Cody stands alone in the dark bathroom with these thoughts.  Medication and treatment have shown him reality.  He shot those closest to him. How can he ever deserve to go out again after what he’s done?  To be even in the light?  He should remain in this darkness, with the whirling forms and memories around him.  That’s what he deserves.  To be here forever with the shadows of his family as they hurtle and twist through this enclosed space.

He understands that someone could recognize him out here in the world, an old school acquaintance, a neighbour, the computer geek.  It’s been so long, his face has loosened, dropped, and wrinkled.  But you never know.  Two decades ago, they called him the Marine Drive Family Killer.  No one appreciates that he finished his college graduation by correspondence at the hospital school, nor should that matter. He’s painstakingly carved a cedar jewelry box, to give to his 93 year old grandmother, the only surviving family member who wants anything to do with him.  That is of no consequence.  He’s successfully repairing small appliances in the Forensic Hospital vocational services program.  So what?

If that guy who barged in the donut line knew who he was, he’d think twice.  He’d never barge in anywhere again.  Drew quickly removes that idea from his mind.  No more thoughts about apocalypse.

He turns on the light, turns on the tap.  He draws some water from the sink up to his face, using his open hands.  He feels the water spread and fall between his fingers and the sink below, he feels the coolness.

He places the palm of his wet hand on the outside of the door, and pulls it away, he takes note of the imprint. He puts the hand back, drags it along the door frame.  He stops, looks down.

He must twist and pull the door knob, and step outside to Cody.  Walk past the customers, though the room may feel like it’s swaying. He must walk by the man with the laptop and the girls with the lip rings, glance nonchalantly over at the painted windows with their images of lattes and muffins.  He’ll put all trash in the trash can on the way out.  “It’s all about rehearsing,” he thinks.  “Act normal, til normal becomes real.”  Just like the servers here, running their coffee script, over and over.

Drew and Cody have several more orders to deliver before returning to the hospital. The truck’s ready to go.  Customers are waiting.   Time to walk back into the light.


Harrison Kim

Image by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay


10 thoughts on “When Normal Becomes Real by Harrison Kim”

  1. It’s interesting to look a second time for where the the darkness falls. I found it where he allowed the guy cuts. The denouement unfolded well. I’m sure it took patience to hold it back and not jump it sooner.


    1. It’s easy to get into patterns, depending on the environment. A prison style pattern is different from a work style pattern or the way we behave at a party. Fake it until you make it is interesting advice. At first, it seems artificial and odd, but you can become your act! Thanks for the comment, Doug H.


  2. Hi Harrison,
    This resonates with me as my wife has been out escorting many a patient who were going through the judicial system.
    She was never worried about them running, misbehaving or being violent towards her. Her biggest fear was a member of the public recognising them.
    Even though your story concentrates on one POV – It makes us consider another two.
    This is interesting and hopefully makes folks realise that an outlook of black or white is only for a coin toss – When you deal with people, no matter what, there are many POVs and tangents.
    All the very best my friend.


    1. There are some people that are not good to escort into the community, such as gang members; many people may be out to get them. That is dangerous work. Indeed, there are many POV’s in every situation, that’s what makes writing challenging but also very very interesting.


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