Based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Andrew W. McElroy Is a Writer who is Exploring the world through stories and lenses.

Crosswords | Short Story

Crosswords | Short Story

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Every Monday at 8:17 am, he would arrive at the local coffee shop.

He was never a moment early or a moment late. He walked in the back door of the coffee shop, picked up a New York Times out of the paper stand, and shuffled over to cash register. He always ordered a small black coffee. He gave a soft smile to the barista and handed over $4.17 down in exact change. The barista would turn around and pour the small coffee. As he waited, he would tap his index finger and his middle finger on the counter. The barista handed him the coffee, as he tucked the Times under his arm, he walked over the cream and sugar stand in the center of the shop.

It was a small coffee shop that sat on the corner of East Blvd. and Main St. When you walked in the first thing you noticed was the creaky wooden floor. The second thing you noticed was the strong smell of burnt coffee. The small coffee shop had a counter with two baristas, a rounded cream and sugar stand in the center of the store, four small square tables pushed up against the wall and five rounded tables on the wall next to the front windows.

He would leave the Times tucked under his arm, as his shaky hands opened the lid to the coffee and discarded it. He would pour a little bit of cream, and stir in a single packet of sugar. He stirred it 17 times, to ensure the perfect mixture of coffee, sugar, and cream. He would throw the stir stick away and pick the coffee up and shuffled 17 small steps to one of the square tables at the front of the coffee shop.

He always sat in the corner table, unless occupied then he chose the one beside it. As he sat the coffee down on the table and edged himself around the table to sit in the black metal chair, he would take the Times out from under his arm and lay it beside his coffee.

Sitting down, he pulled out of his white button-down shirt pocket his eyeglass case and black ballpoint pen. His shaky hands would first pull the pen out and set it on the Times, and then he would pull out his red-rimmed glasses and slowly place them on as he would read the headline of the day. Usually, he would subconsciously shake his head in disapproval, however, on occasion when the headlines were about some conservative, he would have a soft half-grin come across his face. However, as quickly as it appeared, it would disappear as he opened the Times to the Art section and fold it back until all he could see was the crossword and hints.

He always would click the pen three times and lick his bottom lip as he read the hint to 17 Across. If there wasn’t a 17 Across, he would start with 17 Down. After he solved three of the hints, he would take a two-second sip of coffee, and quickly go back to solving the crossword. It would take him between an hour and an hour and a half to solve most of the puzzle. He would check his watch every eighth solution.

Some days, when the puzzle was easy and he finished quickly he would sit there staring at the creaky floor just before the cream and sugar stand. Only diverting his gaze when someone would walk into his focus. If it was a particularly hard puzzle, he would finish his coffee quickly and fiddle with the pen in his hand as he mulled over the hints.

When it turned 10:00, he would take his red-rimmed glasses off and place them back into the brown case, attach the pen, fold the New York Times up, and slip the eyeglass case in his shirt pocket. He would then use the edge of the table to stand up, pick up the Times with his shaky hands, tuck it under his arm, and pick up his empty coffee cup. He would shuffle back to the cream and sugar stand, throw away the coffee cup, a nod to the barista, and shuffle out the back door at approximately 10:04 am.

That is until this Monday morning.

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