Monday, 26 Jul 2021

Café Isolation

Hazel Feldstein

Café Isolation

Drinks Menu

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the mornings, evenings, afternoons;  

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…”

                                        T.S. Eliot

Small Coffee with Half and Half………$Zero Days in Quarantine (Currently Unavailable)

Robust and classic: distinct notes of normalcy. Reminiscent of the past. A hint of big changes to come.

I stayed late on the last day of school. There were people to say goodbye to, books and memorabilia to take home, promises to see each other soon. After all, it was only meant to be three weeks. At my coffee shop, I ordered the same drink I’d been getting every day for the past 4 years.

“A small coffee,” I held my reusable glass to-go cup across the counter. “Can you put it in here please–“

“I’m sorry,” the barista interjected. “We aren’t taking personal cups anymore. Don’t want any cross-contamination.” She smiled apologetically. “I can still give you this discount, though.”

Triple Shot Latte………$Your Hope That It Won’t Be That Bad)

Made at home with Dad’s Espresso Machine. An echo of luxury. Makes up for lack of style with availability. Not bitter, yet.

For the first week, I woke up early to make full breakfasts every day. Fried potatoes, eggs sunny side up. My latte art was getting rather nice. I spent hours in my garden. I learned solitaire and listened to endless podcasts. My best friends came over. Just because school is out didn’t mean we had quarantine. It couldn’t be that bad if it was just the three of us. Seemingly small risks to protect our mental health.

My friend got an email from the garden center with the papers that said he was an essential worker. How mulch and flowers were essential was beyond me. His parents offered to pay him to stay home. It wasn’t in his summer plans to stop. So he kept working.

“Please tell him he can’t come over anymore. It’s just not safe.”

For ten years I had seen him almost every day. I cried after I got off the phone. 

Pineapple and Berry Smoothie………$A Higher Baseline of Everyday Anxiety

Cold. Fruity. Easy to swallow. Sweet but not sugary. Tangy with a bad aftertaste. A bad source of daily vitamins.

Being alone isn’t as bad when you have material objects. So I took to the internet and bought a replacement for the loss of my friends: a personal blender.
I put in frozen pineapple, strawberries, and raspberries. Then I added the things I’d lost; The days I’d gotten to joke around with friends, my sense of safety in all places, my trust in the government to take care of its people.
Water it down and coat it in honey. Blend till unrecognizable as separated pieces. Chug and repeat till the blades give out.
Take what’s hard to swallow and make it liquid, because you have to accept it somehow.

Ginger Beer……………..$It Can Always Be Worse

Spicy. A different kind of burn. Non-alcoholic, so you’ll remember it the next day. It doesn’t go down smooth and it doesn’t go away.


My headaches haven’t gone away for days. My nose was stuffed, I couldn’t seem to clear it. I was scared that I was sick and putting everyone at risk. I catastrophized that this would be the end for me.

My baby sister was tested for the virus. She went into the office for a strep test, but the doctors thought it would be best to check for coronavirus too. They said the coronavirus was “going around.” Oh, how words belittle fears. Merry-go-rounds “go around.” Viral videos “go around.” A virus attacks, takes, and devastates.

I had been so focused on my fear of leaving everyone else behind that I did not stop to think about being left behind myself. I had imagined myself being poked and prodded with cotton swabs, strapped into a ventilator alone. But now burned into the back of my eyelids is her young face behind a mask, gasping for air.


Hazel Feldstein is an incoming first year with the Oberlin College class of 2024. She lives outside of Washington, D.C. in Falls Church, Virginia.