The smell of sugar encompasses incoming customers as soon as the short twinkle rings to announce their arrival.
I say “customers” because no one has ever left the “Coaxing Cauldron” with empty hands. When I say “sugar” I don’t mean that sour-rubber-candy smell that reminds you of a day-old stomachache. I mean that brown butter sugar intoxicating aroma that reminds you of the holidays or the early morning baking hours of your local donut shop. And that “twinkle”, not a typical bell with a single, chimed knock to announce the presence of a stranger, but a light series of small chimes that dance in a continuous melody that keeps going even after you’ve hit the last row of colored licorice in the back of the store. Next to the licorice wall is a glass panel, opening to a small kitchen where a man entirely too big for the space makes chocolate caramel cauldrons that will sell out before noon.
Pathos, with his bald head and bulging biceps dressed in a simple, tan henley and brown apron, stirs the melting caramel in a saucepan over low heat. The chocolate cauldron shells lay frozen on the marble counter directly in front of him. The mammoth of a man has two rules in his kitchen:
- Always create in small batches. Nothing truly special has ever been made in mass quantities.
- No candy thermometers.
Pathos cautiously pours the caramel with a wooden spoon into each small, chocolate, cauldron shell. He takes his time pouring the hot caramel into each chocolate shell and then hastening his movements in between cauldrons to avoid a drip. He doesn’t look up at the twinkling ringing through the shop and into his kitchen. Instead, he focuses on ensuring each pour of caramel finishes with a perfect swirl.
Ethos raises her voice slightly to wish her brother “Good morning” and silently announce the presence of bagels and coffee. Pathos continues his caramel swirling without pausing to respond. After dropping breakfast off at the cashier’s counter, Ethos walks straight to the back office, where she strips off her raincoat to reveal a long-sleeved pink, Planned Parenthood, shirt which she has paired with thrifted black denim and a used pair of black Converse. She ties up her waved black hair into a low-hanging bun. It takes but seconds for the fly-away hairs to escape and hug her cheeks. Ethos opens the small black safe underneath the desk and takes out a bundle of wrapped cash and coins for the day.
At the cashier counter, Ethos steps up on a small stool where she will likely stand for the next nine hours. Her blue eyes just barely peek above the irresponsibly large, gold cash register with an irritating number of knobs, keys, and pullers. Methodically, she recounts every dollar and coin three times. As she drops in the last penny of her third round of counting, another lengthy twinkle announces the arrival of her second brother.
“Good morning E, I wish you would wear literally anything else to work”, Logos greets his sister with a raised eyebrow and a practiced and perfected posh English accent. He is the same height as his brother, Pathos. But his figure is slender and his face is more pointed.
“It is pink, no? Pink, happy. Pink, girly. Pink, candy. No problem here,” Ethos gestures and pulls the bottom of her shirt out and away from her to give her brother and herself a better look. She offers a quick nod in approval, releases the bottom of the shirt, and shrugs. She hands Logos his steaming reusable mug; “And you don’t have to talk like that. There will be no customer for another hour at least.”
Logos takes the plain slate-gray mug and begins to loosen his burgundy scarf. “Still, we must try to not be political. We don’t want anyone coming in to feel offended and I am definitely not prepared to be, as they say, ‘canceled’. And you know very well that I can’t speak like anything but this”.
Pathos has finished his chocolates and comes out of the kitchen onto the main floor of the candy shop with a clean, white, warm towel in his burnt and calloused hands. He dries each finger so not a single drop of moisture is left.
“Logos’ Greek only comes out when he says ‘Moussaka’ or ‘Soutzoukakia’. He can’t help himself then”, Pathos comments in a deep, rhythmic voice to compliment his size. Pathos tosses the towel on the cashier counter and picks up his own reusable mug with its cork base and cream-painted top. In his hands, the mug looks fit for a child. He takes a quick sip before gesturing towards his sister, “Thank you, little E. Tomorrow you wear the ‘Save The Rainforest You Bitches’ shirt. Logos likes more”.
Logos sighs and rips off his scarf. He shakes his head along with black curls, which barely move from their designated position; “And now we come back to the conversation about employee uniforms- as always”.
Pathos and Ethos smile at each other. Ethos hugs the counter with her body, laying across the marble with her forearms tucked underneath. “No brother, you only come back to uniforms. Pathos wears same thing every day. And we in Berkeley. It is fine”.
Pathos’ eyebrows cinch together. “This not true. Sometimes I wear brown henley or off-white henley”.
Ethos remains in her “L” figure position and tilts her head to look up at the henley Pathos is currently wearing. “Is this not off-white?”, she asks without sarcasm.
“This is obviously cream. How do you not see this?”
The twinkling melody begins its serenade a third time to announce a new visitor.
Logos rolls his eyes at his siblings’ verbal tennis match and turns around to greet the first and extremely early patron of the day. “Good morning. I’m sorry, but we’re not open for another-”
Logos’ throat dries, catching the rest of his sentence. Logos, Pathos, and Ethos all turn towards the labored breathing coming from the doorway. Each set of blue eyes widen in recognition at the hunched teenager’s body facing them.
Sixteen-year-old, Lydia Goodswell, stands in the doorway with wet hair, her thermal’s sleeves pushed up to her elbows, and her right fist enclosed around a small knife with blood dripping from the tip. Small splatters of blood mix in with her freckles that have littered her nose since she was an infant.
Her voice shakes and quakes, “I think I need- help- and- maybe- a chocolate caramel cauldron- please”.
To be continued.
© ariannairwin.com June 2022