Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”
I arrive at Lyon Street Cafe with my laptop, intending to reach a word count—not find a story.
I order my cup of guava tea, eyeing the lemon poppy seed bread for later. If I reach 300 words by 8 o’clock, that would be my reward. By 9, I want a completed draft, something I can revise into my September post.
I settle in and started typing. Click, click, pause. Stare into the distance, hoping that syntax and structure will come after another sip of tea. Eavesdrop on the table beside me and wonder if they’re Calvin students. Click, click, sip again. Through the glass back door, I notice Tori on the porch, painting and talking to a friend in the damp dusk light. Don’t get up, you’ll lose momentum. Click, click—
Several things happen at once: ba-boom. Flicker. Shatter.
The room is dark. And only a few yards away, the glass door has become shards on the floor.
I have never been in a public place so silent. Almost forty people, listening—through the space where the glass was—to the rain batter the trees. I had not noticed how many people were in Lyon Street that evening. I had not planned to notice them at all.
Tori and her friend are still on the porch. My eyes anxiously snap to their position, but they remain at their table, seemingly unconcerned by the events of the last minute.
Silence turns to chatter turns to noise.
“They didn’t put this in the training manual,” mutters the barista.
My housemate calls, checking on me and reporting on the outage at home, but I can only decipher the contours of her words. Forty people are calling their families, their friends, their roommates, asking if this is more than just an isolated storm.
I find a text from my roommate from a half hour earlier, explaining that she won’t be joining me at Lyon Street tonight. A girl from her nonprofit had needed a ride, and Jules was off to help. I murmur half-prayers, half-worries that they’ve reached their destination.
The noise slowly dims back to a coffee shop’s usual hum. Students return to their laptops. Friends return to their conversations. How normal this is, I think, except for the fact that we’re in the dark.
I reopen my glowing laptop and start typing down the conversations I overhear. If I can’t focus on what I came here to do, at least I can record what’s around me.
The table next to me asks if they’ll ever get their order. I cringe along with the barista as he responds: “Dude, our espresso machine lost power.”
Aided by iPhone flashlights, the barista and a middle-aged man (a regular? an employee of the bakery next door? I never quite determine) start to sweep up the glass on the floor.
“I feel like I’m getting Punk’d right now,” says the barista. “But I just want to get this glass.”
The rain is still coming, and all of us are still waiting. Waiting out the storm, waiting for what happens next. Other customers are searching weather forecasts on their phones, trying to understand the patterns and predictions. But no one has a definite answer.
The barista stands at the counter and clears his throat. The strange silence returns.
“There’s a tornado warning, everyone. We have a basement with Nantucket Bakery next door, and so we’re going to move everyone down there.”
Confirmation, or at least a definite version of events.
Those who grow up around tornadoes respond in two extremes: confidence and caution. Some, having lived through siren after siren, note others’ panic with laid-back amusement. Tornadoes have come before, and they’ll come again: no big deal. Others, having lived through siren after siren, head downstairs without questions. I tend towards the latter—Iowa’s tornadoes and news stories have cemented my cautious nature.
So, as the barista and the bakery staff started to channel us towards the basement, I follow them downstairs without much fuss. Tori and her friend stay behind.
We stand in disorganized lines, glancing at the bakery and coffee stock around us. Condensed milk. Enormous bags of flour. Shelves and shelves and shelves.
“Anyone know any camp songs?” Awkward laughter.
“What were you planning on doing before the power went out?” Buying a gift card. Writing. Hanging out with friends. Working on an assignment.
Finally, the barista and bakery staff announce that the warning period has finished. We return upstairs, and I talk for a while to Tori and her friend. Person by person, group by group, forty turns to thirty turns to ten.
I drive home in a quiet car, navigating the darkened streets and non-functional streetlights. Home, too, is dark, and my housemate and I cobble together lights and candles for a night of Clue.
I had expected to come home with a completed piece, not material to write from. But in the chaos, I was writing. Watching. Trying to compose events into verbal forms. If I had written what I came to write, I would not have had so much to notice.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.