Monday, 4 August 2008

Brownies and Coffee - A Cafe Story

From the counter Sarah could survey The Coffee Pot café. Now that the lunch time rush had finished only people who enjoyed their afternoon tea came in. Either side of the door the three lattice-framed windows let in the early summer sunshine. Watching the odd dust mote float in its golden rays caused her to wonder about her daughter and whether she had enjoyed her break time that day, playing in such wonderful light. Sarah heard a sweet giggle from across the room and noticed how a young mother was playing the food train game with her toddler, who waved her hands in the air excitedly. Both were smiling. How long ago it was that I did that, Sarah thought, memories of years past replayed before her eyes in the beams of light cast on the empty tables.
Sarah checked her watch, it was ten to three. Making sure that no customers needed her immediate attention she popped her head around the kitchen door. There was Rachel busy scouring pans, utensils and baking trays in the giant sink, Johnny was stripping away the used baking parchment and putting it in the rubbish bags as well as wiping the surfaces. The kitchen was closing for the day. Her husband was wrapping up the day’s cooking in cling film and putting it in the two large fridges at the back.
“Michael, it’s ten to three,” she called to him from the door.
The man with mousy brown hair and sea blue eyes turned to face her with a tender smile. “Right you are, my love. I’ll just change and then I’ll go and pick up Amy.”
“She should have received a report from Mrs Norris today so double check she has it.”
“Will do,” he replied ripping off his apron at the neck by the Velcro tabs.
“Bye, Mike.”
“See ya tomorrow, Mike,” chorused Rachel and Johnny.
“Bye, guys, good work today,” Michael hung his apron on the side wall, put on his coat and headed towards the door. “I’ll see you at home, love. I’m making spag bol for tea,” he briefly explained as he met his wife at the counter. He did a quick mental count of the few small groups of customers whilst his hand sightlessly sought the car keys in a drawer beneath the till.
“Okay. Drive safely. I should be done by five so I’ll wait for you outside.” Sarah kissed him goodbye and watched him leave the café for the school run.
***
After the family managed to fill themselves on Michael’s delicious spaghetti Bolognese each took to their regular activities. Michael took care of the washing up, Amy went to her room to finish homework and Sarah took to the accounts of the day as well as organising future stock orders.
Michael remembered he hadn’t got Amy’s final primary school report and so he went upstairs to retrieve it. He met her pink flower and blue star decorated bedroom door and gave a gentle tap.
“Mum?”
“No, darling, it’s your Dad.”
“Oh.” Even from behind the door she sounded disappointed. “What is it Dad?”
“Erm, do you want reason one, two or three?” Michael replied playfully.
“Ugh, come on in then.” There before him sat Amy at her desk, hunched over a paper booklet full of questions and images; her pencil was already being chewed upon.
“So, how’s it going?”
“Okay. Just maths homework.”
“Good, no problems then?”
“Just a few with division but I managed to work it out.”
“Good girl. Now, your Mum says you should have a report from Mrs Norris?”
“Oh yeah, it’s in my bag.” Amy put her pencil down and went to her bag behind her bedside and pulled out a yellow sheet of paper. “Here it is,” handing it to her Dad.
“Thank you, your Mum and I will look over this tonight. So…are you looking forward to big school?” he asked sitting on the end of her bed.
“I guess so.”
“That didn’t sound very convincing Amy. You want to tell me anything?”
Amy looked up, worry in her eyes. “It’s just…well, I hardly ever see Mum any more. I know I see her at tea and in the mornings but…she hasn’t even taken me shopping for my new uniform yet and…well, it was you who took me for the open day not her. It’s always you taking me down to Brownies. Mum’s always busy.”
Michael felt a sense of relief not to hear the word bullying. “Oh, darling, come here, let me explain something to you.” He opened his arms and lifted her gently up onto his knees. “Listen, Amy, you know Mum and I run the café, don’t you?”
“Yeah.”
“Well it’s actually quite complicated to run, it’s not just about making food and selling it to customers. We have to control money, stock orders, calculate everyone’s wages at the end of each week, ring people up about orders and all sorts. The café can’t work unless either I or your Mum does the more complicated stuff. Also your Mum can do it a lot better than I can. As for the open day you know your Mum wanted to come with you, she really did. But Diane, fell ill at the last minute so your Mum had no choice. It was an unfortunate one off. If she didn’t go in, the café wouldn’t open and that café is what earns the pennies to pay for all your pretty clothes and things.” Michael paused, rethinking his discussion plan. “Look, I’ll have a word with your Mum and see if she can at least pick you up from Brownies each week, hey? And I will remind her about taking you shopping for your new school uniform. Would you like that?”
“Yeah, thanks Dad.” Amy gave him a big rewarding hug.
“Just remember, darling, that your Mum and Dad do love you, very much, even when we’re not around.”
***
Later on, when Amy was in bed, Michael rejoined Sarah in the kitchen.
“How’s it going, love?”
“Erm, do you want the good news or the bad news?”
“Good news.”
“Well, we’ve made a slight increase on our income since last month.”
“Okay, and the bad news?”
“With the rising cost of eggs, flour, milk and so forth it just about manages to cover the cost of our next order. I think we may have to consider raising our service price next month if we’re going to cover costs of ingredients. I haven’t even considered our energy bills in all this yet until I receive them through the post.”
“Okay, so what does this mean in the long term?”
“Well, we either raise service prices, lower wages or simply become unable to make enough food each week to cater for the numbers we serve.”
“Sounds to me like we need an extra small income to cover the costs you’re talking about.”
“I can’t think of what other services we could offer. We don’t have enough staff to operate a delivery service let alone a spare car and that would bring in fuel costs which have already gone up.”
“Don’t worry love, we’ll think of something.” Michael laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Oh, by the way, would you mind picking up Amy from Brownies tomorrow night? It’s just, you’re starting to spend more time with these figures than her and she’s feeling a bit neglected.”
Sarah gave a weary sigh, resting her head in her hands. “I know, I know, but someone has to do them otherwise nothing works. But you’re right; I’ll try and make a bit more of an effort.”
“Good, well you can start now whilst we see how our daughter has done in her school report,” Michael offered with a pleased smile waving the yellow paper in front of her.
***
Standing by the family car the following evening Sarah waited with other parents for the Brownie group to finish. Beside her was Kim, whose daughter Fiona, also a Brownie, was best friends with Amy. Just as a pause began to evolve in the conversation the town hall doors opened and both mums looked out across the small car park. A group of young girls emerged wearing yellow jumpers and brown body banners, most coated with badges for completing tasks. Amy and Fiona were deep in conversation when they made it across.
“It’s just so awful,” Fiona whined openly as each girl hugged their parent, Amy more animatedly than usual and with a big proud smile on her face.
“What is?” Kim asked, slightly dubious.
“The council, they’re a bunch of big meanies.”
“Why what have the council done?”
“They’re closing down the hall. They’re going to renovate it totally which means no Brownies over the summer. It means no Brownie camp!” Amy answered miserably.
Sarah began to cuddle Amy closer in an attempt to hug away her sadness at this loss and agreed that the council were meanies chucking out such a favoured and popular local group.
***
“Right girls, let’s all welcome the latest member of our group, Amy’s Mum, who will be known as Snowy Owl. She has kindly offered to host us in her café throughout the summer. This means that we may yet be able to prepare for our summer camp in August. A round of applause please for Snowy Owl.” Everyone gave an excited clap towards Sarah who stood quite timidly behind the counter.
“Thank you all so much. Now, tonight girls I am going to teach you how to make a fruit smoothie.” Amy beamed a big smile at her Mum who grinned back, equally happy.
So the Brownies were held at The Coffee Pot and when autumn came agreed to remain there even after the town hall renovations had finished. The café was safe from financial difficulty and so was the relationship between a daughter and a mother, who was lucky enough to find that balance between family life and business.

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