The Mug – Katherine Haley

The mug is everywhere. It comes in an endless amount of shapes and sizes, colors and patterns. You can own one, twenty, one hundred, and so on. The mug can contain coffee, or tea, or hot chocolate, or alcohol depending on your poison. The mug exists inside and outside of the home. It can be glass, ceramic, paper, or plastic. The mug is an endless world of creativity and difference. To some it can be worth everything, and to others, nothing.

In the case of Annie Holloway, one mug, one particular, amazing, influential mug, is what inspired her to open her own coffee shop. Nicks and scratches lined its plain white, ceramic body. Light pink stains in the shape of fingertips delicately kissed the mug. Annie imagined these as the fingertips of a stranger that once dipped them in red paint and picked up the mug without a thought. In her mind, the pink was the result of a failed attempt at removal. The mug itself was insignificant to the eye, but to Annie, it was immaculate.

It had caught her eye through a thrift shop’s window on her way to the drug store. She’d never been inside this shop before, and honestly, it made her a bit uneasy. Old items always had that odd effect on her. But, she couldn’t keep her eyes off of this mug. It pulled her into the shop as though some powerful force had inhabited her body. She picked it up off of the crooked, blue table and let out a deep sigh of relief. This was it. This mug would influence the design of her coffee shop. It didn’t need to be perfect, but it needed to be structured and it needed to have character.

Through many battles with the insurance company and the real-estate agent and the boyfriend of three years, the mug remained on Annie’s kitchen countertop as a symbol of the inspiration she felt the first day she saw it. After particularly difficult days, she would pick the mug up and breathe that same sigh of relief she had let out when she first saw it and know that it was all going to work out.

After two years’ worth of work and many instances where she felt as though she would never accomplish her dreams, Annie’s Coffee Shop, known simply as “Annie’s” around town, opened its doors to many brand new mugs.

The design of Annie’s was clean and simple, but with touches that made it feel like home. The walls were a light blue, so light they were practically white, the floors were a dark hardwood, so dark they were practically black. Light brown, wood tables were set up around the room, displaying perfect nicks and scratches that gave them unique character, but also allowed them to fall into flawless line with each other. The chairs held paisley patterned cushions with the perfect amount of comfort. The walls were adorned with metal art pieces and hand painted pictures. The bitter smell of coffee mixed with the sweet smells of caramel and cinnamon wafted through the air, drawing customers inside from the bitter cold. Soft music from any calming genre played in the background, quiet enough for customers to hear themselves speak, but loud enough that it was never drowned out by the constant multitude of conversations.

The counter where customers ordered coffee, picked out their treats, and met the famous Annie was made of glass. This glass box held extra coffee grounds, displayed baked goods, and additional mugs.

And, of course, within its own glass box within the glass box, sat the mug. In her curvy handwriting, Annie had labeled the mug “My Inspiration,” hoping that others would see it and use this inspiration in their own lives, to create their own dreams. A young, dark haired man would often stare at the mug from across the open room. Annie lways hoped what he wrote on his yellow notepad was something worth reating, much like her shop. She rooted for him, like she rooted for all of her customers.

Annie’s was more successful than Annie had ever imagined it would be. It became a place for high school and college students to do homework, for friends to casually meet, for first dates, and second dates, and twenty-fifth dates. Other people referred to Annie’s as their home away from home. Enough people expressed this feeling to Annie, that she made a dark blue sign with curly white text to hang on the wall stating: “At Annie’s, you’re home.”

However, as the college students graduated, and the high school students went on to schools in different towns, different states, the population of Annie’s dwindled until all that was left was a handful of regulars and the occasional somebody looking to try something different. The only constant was the mug.

In order to gain her business back, to entice the new high school and college students and anyone else from her town, Annie tried many different tactics. She created new coffee flavors such as coconut caramel and cinnamon raisin, but those failed the taste test. She introduced happy hour deals like “buy one coffee, get a free cookie.” While this brought it some additional business, it didn’t create enough. Annie even extended her hours to 11pm in hopes of catching the late night coffee crowd. All these tactics worked a little, but not enough to make an impact.

Annie left her store each night feeling more frustrated than the next. She would send her workers home early so she could take out her frustration without judgement by smashing, mashing, and crumbling old cookies and pastries into the garbage. At home, she would pick unnecessary fights with her boyfriend over things as little as a drop of pancake batter on the floor.

However, each morning she would return to her store feeling more hopeful, as the first thing she saw as she walked in was the mug.

The mug had remained by Annie’s side through it all. It was always there, giving off a dull gleam from the florescent spotlight that shined upon it. The mug was everything and more to Annie, which is why she always tried to keep it in the best condition. Every Wednesday, she would take it out of the glass case and polish it. She would always take notice of the faded pink fingertips, smile, and take a long deep breath.

This particular Wednesday, as she was polishing, the fire alarm blared through her shop. Annie forgot about the cookies in the oven as they transformed into burnt, black lumps. She put the mug down and ran to her oven.

Annie was so distracted that she didn’t notice that, due to an unfortunate miscalculation, the mug missed the counter. Though she didn’t actually witness it, in her mind, the mug fell to the floor in slow motion until it finally connected and shattered into millions of pieces.

Three days later, a new coffee shop opened down the street. The owner used to be one of Annie’s regulars. He sent her a note on that yellow notepad of his saying it wasn’t personal, it was just business. The location, the price, and the time were all right. Annie couldn’t help but take it personally, though. However, she still sent him a note of congratulations and welcome.

Katherine Haley is a recent graduate of North Central College where she studied English with a Writing Focus and Organizational Communication. She enjoys reading, writing, and photography.