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To Soothe Ravaged Throats

There are six drinks in the World's café. The first is coffee, which is strong enough to lift freight trains and is singlehandedly responsible for the workload in organic chemistry. Only college students who haven't slept in four days, engineers, and those who wish to be "real men" drink the coffee of the café.
The second is ginger-cumin red tea, which has no calories, six essential nutrients, and tastes like amber tapped from backyard tire-swing trees blended delicately with the impact of a middle class on China's economy. Drinking red tea stains the teeth and lips permanently, like a status symbol or an advertisement for beauty.
The third drink is blood. It contains the cobalt blood of crabs, the iron-rich beta-hemoglobin of field mice, the hemolymph of giant sea clams and a thousand other fluids, harvested from circulatory systems across the worlds. There's a stir-stick in the glass, to whisk out the stringy fibrin clots. Perfectly prepared it tastes like freshly minted halfpence.
Next on the list is a blank space, which is the fourth drink. The blind barista will push an empty cup out across the counter. Whichever patron did the ordering sips solemnly at the nothingness, and sometimes smiles, and sometimes frowns, and very occasionally orders another.
The fifth is a stiff brew of fallen hopes, vague dreams, and small pains. It is more bitter than the black coffee at the top of the list, and staves off sleep for longer. There is a note by the price on the menu board, written very small, that warns, "Due to liability issues, you waive your right to commit suicide upon drinking number five. The Management." Some customers do not notice this sign.
The final drink is water. It's free, unique among the menu items at the World's café. The customer is, however, given the option to bring this water to someone else. The water can go to the French tourist sitting on a lifeboat waiting for rescue, or the young tribeswoman whose life has narrowed into praying her milk won't run dry, or any of the hundreds and hundreds of infants and toddlers and mothers and fathers and teenagers who would give anything, anything at all for a drink. And then, knowing all of this, the valued customer must pick one. The sightless man behind the counter stands and smiles, listening to the person on the bar stool across from him trying to deny all of the clamoring voices but one.
Nobody ever orders the sixth drink.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 26th, 2011
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