Steam from the pot filled my flaring nostrils and delivered the odor of burnt coffee straight to my brain. Even by the low culinary standards of the convenience store industry, this java was long overdue to be changed. Perhaps the only things older than the coffee were the ancient hot dogs, infinitely spinning on that weird roller thing and waiting for the End of Days in hopes that they may be reborn as a higher form of sausage, like a bratwurst. It was food far past its prime, to be sure, but if one paid attention to the smells that permeated the atmosphere of the store, one could adjust their expectations accordingly.
I poured the burnt coffee into my cup, which was actually a small vase I had grabbed on my way out of my house that morning. An empty vessel I brought in with me meant it was a refill and would keep me from getting charged for a new cup. It was the most thought out thing I’d managed to do in what felt like an eternity.
The haze and fog that occupied my head were cut by the burnt coffee smell and a glimpse of the coherent world was let in. Wheels started turning as I began to try to get a handle on everything when I turned around and almost ran into an old woman standing directly behind me.
She was a haggard-looking homeless woman I had seen around town, mostly in alleys behind businesses, rummaging through dumpsters and trashcans. Under a wrap that was
somewhere between a blanket and a shawl, she wore a ragged dress and mismatched shoes: an engineer boot on the left foot and a cowboy boot whose ostrich skin hide looked almost as tough as her own on the right. Her hair was silver and wiry and hung over large sections of her face, obscuring the left side almost completely. An unfiltered cigarette in a long holder stuck out the right side of her mouth, clenched in the few teeth she possessed. A trail of smoke rolling off the end of the cigarette kept her head enveloped in a halo of toxic haze.
“Sorry, I didn’t see you there,” I apologized, still jarred and fighting to make sense of things. “Where did you come from?”
“I’ve always been here,” she replied calmly. She exhaled smoke forcefully through her nostrils, reminiscent of a bull keeping a matador at bay.
“Always?” I asked.
“Not literally always,” she replied.
“Since I’ve had to be.”
I pondered her answer for a time. My head already cloudy, her cryptic answers were not helping matters…at first. Then the clouds parted. It was as though the two confusing elements worked in concert to achieve clarity, like two negative numbers multiplying to become a positive.
“What day is it?” I blurted out.
“It’s yesterday,” she replied, still calm.
“Oh, shit!” I said. “Shit, I’m so late!”
“Late for what?” the woman asked.
“I was supposed to have a doctor’s appointment three days ago…which, I guess, is just two days ago now…right? Anyway, I missed it! I missed it, and I needed to go!”
“Calm yourself, Phil,” she said, taking a step toward me. “You made it.”
“I made what?”
“You made it to your appointment.”
“You did,” she replied. “You made it to your appointment, answered all the doctor’s questions, and she prescribed some anti-everything drugs for you, which you promptly started taking.”
“I’m on drugs?” I asked.
“You’re on medication,” she said. “It’s still settling in.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked.
“I have a gift,” she said, reaching up to the hair that hung in her face. “I know what has already happened.”
She pulled her hair back and revealed her left eye to me. It was completely white with a jagged scar that ran down the length of her face. It stared at me with no emotion, yet it wasn’t lifeless.
“I can see,” she continued in a raspy, overly dramatic whisper. “The past!”
“The prophecies were right,” I said, referring to the calendar full of appointments on my phone. “But what do I do now? I’m stuck in yesterday. I don’t even know how I got here! I want to go back. I need to get back. I need to get back to today.”
“Let the medicine help you, but don’t let it take your present away,” she said. “Leave the bean alone and sleep today. Sleep the sleep of a thousand lazy hound dogs and when you wake, you will find tomorrow and know it as Today.”
I stared at her.
“Sleep!” she shouted.
My hand opened and the vase full of coffee dropped to the chipped tile of the floor, landing in an explosion of black coffee and microscopic shards of glass. I followed the vase to the floor, dropping out of conscious instantaneously and sleeping as a thousand hound dogs would.
I woke up in my bed. I had no idea how I got there, and I really didn’t care. The events of my trip to the store were crystal clear in my head. I had done the thing prescribed by the chain-smoking homeless woman and gotten sleep. I sat up and found my phone on the nightstand to check the date.
Thank the gods, I thought, it’s today. It won’t be yesterday until tomorrow. The Natural Order has been restored.
I took my medicine and walked out of the bedroom. Patsy was in the kitchen and had just brewed a pot coffee. Perfect. It wasn’t burned or anything. It was good to be back in today.
Patsy filled me in on the rest of the events that occurred after my witchcraft-induced narcolepsy had taken hold. Apparently, she had picked me up at the store after they had called her to tell her I collapsed and had been babbling in my sleep about “homeless tomorrow hounds”. She had spoken to my doctor, who had set her mind at ease about side effects and the fact that they would pass.
Patsy told me all this as she searched cupboards and ended her story by asking me if I knew where a certain vase was. I told her “no” and then proceeded to tell her of the events (sans vase) that preceded the ones she had just told me of. She listened patiently and nodded, punctuating her reactions from time to time with “uh-huh” and “really” to let me know she was on board with the story. Truth be told, I could tell she was skeptical about everything, up to (and including) the vase I was lying about.
She doesn’t believe me, I thought, but that’s okay. She hasn’t really been herself lately. Maybe I’ll talk to her about this again someday, when she doesn’t have the head and arms of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.