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Inspirational East Asian

The afternoon came slowly, like a young blossom turning glory red in the dusk. The coffee shop was dark inside and time seemed to run slower, like the heat had taken time in hand and stretched it out. Outside the street was busy and chilled with cold rain, but inside it was gently warm, quiet, and peaceful. 

Avery finished pouring daidai batter into muffin tins, slid them into the oven, and pushed her short hair back from her face. She stood for a moment behind the counter with her hands on her hips. There were few people inside the Starbucks but since the rush was about to happen, she wasn’t worried. 

A handful of university students sat around a table muttering quietly about physics. She smiled at one as he looked up. 

A young mother with long black-violet hair sat with her baby, who was nibbling on a scone and laughing at the passersby outside the window. Avery waved to the baby. 

A very old man with a short white moustache sat in one of the leather chairs reading a book. It was small and red, and she knew what it was. He didn’t look up, but she felt like he was talking to her, smiling at her. She didn’t like reading but she knew if he started to tell her about this one, she might pick it up. 

It was early October but the weather didn’t know it yet. This was the latest in the year that the leaves had started turning. They usually began to dim, brighten, swell, and fall in mid-September and north wind to fill the streets by October. Winter always arrived on time, precisely by Halloween. 

This was the only Starbucks coffee shop in Kawasaki. During the autumn months, when the weather matched the mood and the color of the coffee, the tea shops started to empty and the coffee shops filled. All the current customers were Japanese, except for one of the university students, whom Avery recognized from her physics course last year. Markus was Russian.

The violet-haired mother drank from her paper cup. She’d ordered the pumpkin spice latte, the newest addition to the menu, and the first time the fall menu came out in Kawasaki. Avery had put out the sign only this morning and already she’d made three dozen cups of it. 

Avery herself wasn’t Japanese. She was a Taipei transfer student trying to write a dissertation and not die of starvation and overwork at the same time. She worked two shifts, walked home to research and scribble rough drafts, and jogged back to work. She rarely saw Meiya, the owner; just at the end of the month to collect her paycheck and in the early mornings when Meiya unlocked the glass doors. 

Avery rubbed at an invisible spot on her green apron. She pulled down her rolled-up sleeves and hugged her elbows, standing still, appreciating the quiet now offered. 

Autumn was late this year. She knew this because August had turned to September imperceptibly, and research turned into stride. The cold winds waited, pushed aside by warm summer breezes that swept down the streets and kept bedroom windows open. Last autumn she’d declared her major and got to work. This was how she kept time these days, by finals, quizzes, and dissertation deadlines. 

She thought about autumn and about change, and how the northern winds, sweeping down from Russia where Markus was from, always came, no matter how hard you prayed for October to stay.

With a sigh, she put her head down and started to rinse out the espresso equipment. The pause full of autumn and thinking had taken but two seconds.




The next morning dawned eagerly, and with it came the turning of the year. Avery could smell it in the air as she half-ran past the Tokaido Main Line and ducked under a string of paper lanterns outside a tourist shop. The lanterns were red, like the old man’s book the day before. The air smelled crisp, like old blossoms and young ice. The sky was overcast. 

“It’s going to rain,” she mumbled in Chinese, unthinkingly. 

“What?” said the old woman who owned the tourist shop. She spoke in Japanese. 

“Nothing,” Avery said, returning the language. “Apologies.”

She let out a sigh as she crossed the last intersection and caught sight of the familiar green-and-white symbol hanging amid thick characters painted on old wood. There was a picture of an ume fruit on the storefront next to Starbucks, soft orange and green together. The sign beneath read Canned Fruits and Vegetables. Umes are only eaten as pickles, if anyone eats them at all. Meiya once suggested an ume drink, but Avery shot her down. Avery had tasted ume before and Meiya hadn’t.

She nodded hello to Meiya and pulled on her apron. Meiya left soon after. Avery flicked the lights and machines on, warmed up the rooms by plugging in the portable heaters, and pulled her hair into a ponytail on the side of her head. 

The old man returned, with his little red book under his elbow. He came immediately to the counter and waited as a white woman ordered a pumpkin latte in fumbling, French-accented Japanese.

“Hello,” he said politely, nodding to Avery once the woman walked away with her latte. 

“Good morning, sir,” Avery said, smiling. “Can I get you something?”

“Are the daidai muffins ready yet?” he asked. 

“From yesterday,” she said, pausing a little before speaking. She was still working on Japanese. “They keep for a while, though. I can warm one up.”

“Thank you.”

She moved to the display counter and turned the oven on as she went. 

“Daidai,” the old man said. “My father grew them when I was a boy.”

“Oh?” Avery tried to look like she was listening. 

“They are a sign of longevity. And resilience,” he said, tapping the counter of his book. “They can hang on the tree limb for many years without falling.”

She knew this. 

“They change color in the fall and in the spring.” He was using the more formal terms, and it made her listen more closely. Was he doing so on purpose? “The most resilient of all the fruits, and still they conform to the power of the seasons.”

“Yes. I don’t like autumn. I think it’s bossy.” He laughed. “I love summer best of all, and fall takes away warm sun and contentment and replaces it with cold rains. Fall is always grey.”

“You wonder why,” he said, smiling. “I love daidai. It reminds me of my father, and the crisp autumn mornings by the Yangtze.”

“I know what you’re saying,” she replied, trying to match his easygoing yet formal tones. “The daidai--” She paused as the oven dinged. “The daidai is stoic and still changes, like each year must. Why?”

“Young people are affected most by change,” he said, accepting the hot muffin in a paper bag. “When you are old, you do not mind so much.”

“That’s what you all tell me.”

He threw his head back and laughed. “But yes, Avery, you are right. Even the strongest things must conform. They must change. Basho wrote about change. He said ‘Another year is gone. A travel hat on my head, Straw sandals on my feet.’ Do you study Basho in school?”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “But that was long ago. I work in science, you know.”

His voice was trembling with age. “Science is full of change. You must learn to love the change in order to get anything done.” He tapped his book knowingly, raising an eyebrow, and went slowly to his chair in the corner. 

She watched him go, smiling slightly. She couldn’t help it. 




Morning turned away and afternoon rose up. The old man whose father grew daidais left by ten but returned mid-afternoon. He ordered an espresso with Costa Rica coffee beans and drank it slowly and read his book. Avery glanced at him from time to time but he never looked up.

Markus was back, with an armload of heavy books, without his friends this time. 

“Hi, Avery,” he said, reading her name tag. “You’re at Den-en, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” she said, making his pumpkin cold brew as she talked. “I’m in the science building mostly. I’m working on my dissertation.”

“That’s great,” he said, pushing a few bills over the counter. He spoke Japanese hesitantly. “I’m actually at both Den-en and Senzoku. Den-en for the humanities classes and Senzoku for the music.”

“They let you do that?”

“Yes. A professor back home wrote a good reference letter.”

“Well, good luck,” she said, and they both laughed. He sat down at a table and spread out his books. 

The new list of autumn drinks was only two days old, but Avery was already sick of it. She’d made almost forty so far; thirty-seven pumpkin spice lattes, one pumpkin cold brew, and one caramel mocha. She put her palms flat on the cool counter, her shoulders in a relaxed shrug, and let her body rest for a moment. 

She thought about the old man and his red book. She knew what he’d been trying to tell her, about change and not changing, autumn and spring. He’s a sweet old man, she thought. He was reading Mao. She knew it by the cover of the book; just a plain red. Avery was from Taiwan, a municipality of China. She knew The Little Red Book by heart. 

She swallowed. 

Avery straightened and went back to work. She’d paused just two seconds.

“Good afternoon,” a middle-aged woman said in Chinese. 

“Good afternoon,” Avery responded instinctively. “Can I get you something?”

“I saw that you have made drinks for the autumn,” the woman said, unzipping her heavy jacket. She had on an orange sweater underneath. 

“Yes, ma’am. We have pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin cream brews, caramel--”

“Pumpkin cream… brew?”

“Yes. It’s a cold coffee flavored with… well, with pumpkin,” she finished lamely. 

“Do you like it?”

“Yes. It’s good. If you like sweet things, though. It tastes-- er, it tastes like fall.” The woman was watching her closely. “Well, it tastes like a cloud, almost, a rain cloud but good, sweet and pumpkiny and not too thin.”

“I will have that. Thank you.”

“Of course,” Avery said, taking the woman’s money and moving toward the machine. “Thank you.”

As she filled a glass, she thought about what she’d said. A rain cloud? She smiled and shook her head. That was inane. But it made her think. She looked up at the ceiling as she made the drink. 

“A cloud?”

Pumpkiny and sweet. Suddenly, she wanted to have one. Describing the drink made her crave it. Perhaps this was what the red-book man was talking about. Avery handed the woman the brimming glass and said “Enjoy.”

“Thank you.”

As she walked away, Avery watched the window. It had begun to rain gently, almost sleet, and the sky was the color of whipped cream, tinged with greyish orange. She linked her hands together, made sure no one needed her, and walked to the window behind the counter. She stood before it, hand pressed up against the glass, and watched it rain. 

She’d always hated the rain ever since she attended a year of university in England. It rained two-thirds of the year and that summer she applied elsewhere, and ended up in Kawasaki. She was happier here, but rain made her remember that awful year and forget why she was working for anything. 

But as she watched the rain come softly down the busy street, mixed with cold winds and pumpkiny clouds, Avery wasn’t sad. She wasn’t quite happy, but--

The old man was leaving. She waved to him as he walked to the door, and he saw her watching the rain. He waved the red book at her and gave her a thumbs up. The sky moved above the street, milky white and brushed with the colors of red leaves pulled from shedding trees and tossed by the wind. 

As the old man pulled open the glass door, she heard him say “Autumn is full of change, but it is not always grey.”

October 10, 2020 15:52

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23 comments

Avani G
16:44 Oct 11, 2020

You never disappoint me with an ending, Zilla. Your stories are just so fabulous and amazing, I'd call you the Goddess of Writing.

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A.G. Scott
22:42 Oct 10, 2020

Beautiful descriptions, wonderful metaphor, although I'm quite sure you've heard that about 179 times. No glaring problems with the words themselves, and the story itself is put together well. I must ask, though, is this creative nonfiction label proper? Unless this is something you overheard in a Japanese Starbucks, I believe this is more of an inspirational, slice of life piece of fiction.

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Niveeidha Palani
13:51 Oct 12, 2020

Hi Zilla, like Avani, you never dissatisfy us with your stories. Another great one by Zilla! As I read your opening sentences, I did notice that you added a couple of commas where it wasn't necessary. For instance, the comma after "slower" isn't necessary. The same also goes for "mid-September" where the comma needs to be removed. There were a couple of words, however, that you needed to add a comma. 1. After, "With a sigh" there needs to be a comma. Hmm, I wonder where it was done on a mistake, or it was deliberate. You've use...

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:31 Oct 11, 2020

I really need to write a story set in Japan sometime, there’s just something so aesthetic about the place. Anyway, this was cute, digestible and was filled with beautifully vivid descriptions, though I think you know that already. I’m learning to appreciate the slice-of-life genre more, and this one showed me that the conflict/tension is there but just more subtle. Anyway, keep at it! 😙

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Scout Tahoe
17:00 Oct 10, 2020

I do not go to Starbucks much, but just by reading this you made me want to go. Your descriptions were wonderful as always and the only thing I caught was what Peachy already mentioned: "A young mother with long black-violet [hair] sat with her baby." I really like how you describe the people in the shop. Avery notices them all and seems to have connections with them. The man with the red book caught my attention. He's interesting and I like the way he talks. Whenever I go to a coffee shop I overhear something interesting or see the base...

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Zilla Babbitt
13:40 Oct 11, 2020

I don't either except for special occasions, like when I get a gift card for my birthday. I fixed the hair slip-up. I love the old man with the red book! I modeled him sort of after the teachers in older Japanese and Chinese books. Even the way he talks is like the dialogue in those books. I agree, coffeeshops are magical places. Thanks so much!

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Scout Tahoe
14:01 Oct 11, 2020

You’re welcome! Ahh gifts cards for coffee shops are amazing.

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Ooh , wonderful story! Just one thing, though, you wrote, "A young mother with long black-violet sat with her baby". I think you meant, "A young mother with long black-violet hair", right? Anyways, it's the season to drink chai. I'll see you in some strange tea shop created by another mind, floating in Cloud Nine. -Peachy

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Echo Sundar
17:32 Oct 20, 2020

Wow! I love this story, all the descriptions are absolutely amazing, your on the leader board for a reason! And in my opinion, (to each their own) I really love the beginning, and just the whole story in general and I wouldn't change a thing.

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Kylie Rudolf
02:52 Oct 20, 2020

Great use of similes!

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Joshua Bellinger
10:41 Oct 19, 2020

Lovely story, but I really do take issue with saying that Taiwan is a "municipality of China." That is simply not true. Obviously this is a politically charged issue, but only because the Chinese government has turned it into one. Taiwan is not China. Not in any way. It has its own democratic government, its own money, its own passports and its own army. Nor would anyone be caught dead reading the little red book in Taiwan. The Chinese that moved there in the late 1940s were fleeing from Mao. Not followers of his. I see no good reason to be ...

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Julia Boddie
16:50 Oct 12, 2020

Nice story. I love your stories and totally agree with your bio!

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Princemark Okibe
06:38 Oct 12, 2020

How you always manage to write at least a story for every contest amazes me. I am trying to find the time and maintain your kind of consistency. Your writing here was professional and expressive. You did away with unnecessary conflict and suspense and used the space to give your characters and setting life. You made me feel as if I was with Avery(strange name for a Taiwanese) in that shop observing her daily life.

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Maggie Deese
21:08 Oct 11, 2020

This was wonderful, Zilla! I love the dialogue and the small but very meaningful conversations. Your characters were lovely, as always, and a joy to read about, especially the old man. Well done! Also, I tried chai latte for the first time and can I just say that I am in love?! I completely understand why you put that tidbit about yourself in your bio.

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Jude S. Walko
07:03 Jun 04, 2021

I hope you don't hate me for this, but I wait all year for those pumpkin spice lattes. I probably drink them by the gallon-loads, come every fall. :)

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Avery G.
01:44 Oct 13, 2020

Wow, this was good. I was attracted to it, well, because the main character was named Avery. It was so well written and just beautiful. You never disappoint with all your stories. Great job, as usual, Zilla.

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Zilla Babbitt
02:13 Oct 11, 2020

I dislike the first few sentences and I'm thinking of changing them. Any ideas? I also think I've written multiple stories over 2K words recently. This is new. Usually, I barely make it over the minimum and struggle for length in anything. I'm working on another one right now (a reworking of an old story) and it too is going to be a nice medium length. I'm kind of proud of myself.

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A.G. Scott
05:38 Oct 11, 2020

Since you asked specifically, I'll take a closer look. 'The afternoon came slowly, like a burn on cold skin. The coffee shop was dark inside, and warm, like the heat had taken time in hand and slowed it down by half. Outside the street was busy and chilled with cold rain, but inside it was gently warm, quiet, and peaceful. ' Sentence 1: 'a burn on cold skin' sounds nice (the words themselves), but in my opinion, doesn't work for several reasons. For one, it's cold and wet outside. For two, if we're talking about burning, the difference...

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Amany Sayed
03:14 Oct 11, 2020

I-er-um- How could I, a meager writer compared to you, recommend something? You must be mad. Though all us writers are, no? Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was really cute. I found myself oddly realting. Only at one part though, when Avery spoke Chinese and the Japanese woman was sorta offended? I was in Lebonon once and spoke English and someone thought I was saying something else. Awesome job, like, well, always!

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Zilla Babbitt
13:42 Oct 11, 2020

Sorry, what do you mean by realting? Might be a typo. One of my teachers from a long time ago told a story when she went to Israel and asked for hummus, the chick pea dip. But 'hummus' there is 'humus,' pronounced hoomus. They led her over to the aisle with vinegar because she was asking for 'hummus' which is vinegar there. I thought it was funny at least. Thank you!

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Amany Sayed
14:00 Oct 11, 2020

Oops, relating. Haha, that's some story! No prob!

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Martin Buckell
08:52 Oct 11, 2020

Interesting comment Zilla, you seem such a prolific writer. I too barely make it over the required word length but I wondered what your writing process is..... Are you a 'pantser' or a plotter? Has a change in your process helped you over the 2K mark?

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