Working a minimum wage job after graduating with a master’s degree is demoralizing on its own. But working at the same minimum wage job, at a coffee shop, on-campus at the very place you got said degree? Humiliating. At least it was for her, especially when they changed her work schedule (yet again), and she somehow became an “opener,” aka, had to be at the store at 5am to work until 2pm. Let us be clear: she was not a morning person. The free coffee wasn’t even enough, and most mornings she showed up with some kind of canned caffeinated beverage full of sugar and, allegedly, b vitamins.
The change to her work schedule hadn’t helped her sleep schedule either, as her insomnia liked to rear its ugly head the most when she needed to go to sleep early, but her body was too full of caffeine to fall asleep. So most mornings she showed up a few minutes late, dark circles on display, dirty hair piled high on her head, her face frowning as she tied the ugly green apron around her waist and started brewing the huge vats of coffee the college students and professors consumed throughout the day.
All of this she could have endured. But, as luck would have it, she was training a new employee, and he was a morning person. He always greeted her heartily, and far too loudly, every morning. He was eager to learn how to display the pastries correctly; how to brew the best coffee; how to clean the industrial garbage can efficiently. Every task kept him happy. Initially, she thought this was excellent: he can do all the grunt work, and I’ll “sample” pastries and drink my weight in coffee so I don’t throttle him before a customer even shows up.
Three days into training him, he happened to remark that she looked “tired,” and that she should, “try smiling, I’m sure we’ll sell more coffee that way!”
From that moment on, any chance he could, he told her to smile, or to “perk up!,” or, “cheer up!,” as if she was not his superior. Soon enough, he started getting customers involved in this game. Mostly it was the (male) campus bus drivers and (male) professors and IT workers who started to tell her to smile! You’re around coffee all day! Be perky at 5:30 in the motherfucking morning serving people shitty coffee while making $7.50 an hour! SO MUCH TO SMILE ABOUT. One bus driver in particular, who came in every morning at 5:37 on the dot, was particularly enthused about getting her to smile.
So, she smiled. And kept smiling. Every day, the smile came out, and felt like it was being embedded further and further into her face. Her jaw muscles twitched; her right eye started spasming. She started grinding her teeth; her insomnia got worse, and yet everyone told her that this was an improvement, somehow, that she “looked better” when she “just smiled, honey!”
After a solid month of forced smiling, and almost no sleep, she got to the store at 5am to meet her trainee. He was beaming. “I have something awesome to tell you!” he said to her. “I’ve been promoted! And the first thing I’m going to enforce is making sure that everyone is smiling and happy at all times. You’re at the top of my list, so let’s see that pretty smile!”
At 5:37, the bus driver walked in to see her standing at the register with a smile on her face. “Well now, don’t you look pretty today! I’ll have my usual coffee.”
She just stood there, looking at him with dead eyes and this scary, permanent smile. It didn’t look happy anymore, he realized; she looked absolutely terrifying. The rictus on her face was unnatural, repulsive, and no trace of happiness could be seen in her face.
It was then that he looked down, and saw her coworker’s body on the floor, with a small puddle of… is that blood? Oh fu--
She hit him on the head with a giant metal carafe of coffee. As he lay on the floor, blood pouring out of his head wound, as his vision started to go black, he saw her face one last time as she said, “Oh, honey, don’t look so sad! Remember: just keep smiling.”
Scent notes: A funereal wreath of white lilies and black orchids sprinkled with a dusting of graveyard dirt. A somber wake feast of dark chocolate drenched raspberries and a shot of dark rum.