This happened on a Tuesday. The street as they say was empty (although it clearly wasn’t), when the barista called out what sounded like a Small Denise.
A large man with a limp and a neck brace and a purplish burn or bruise or birthmark across his face—Big Bruce, we called him—came to the counter to collect it when, strangely, a small woman at the last moment stepped in front of the man.
She told him that she was the drink’s namesake, and she wanted to know who was responsible for this. She complained that the coffee shop was stereotyping, profiling, making fun of her. Her voice was such a mousy whisper of a squeak that we could hardly hear her over the steaming milk and grinding beans.
“Look, Denise, if that’s even your name,” the manager said after being called from out of the back room where he had been in the middle of a texting war with his ex. “We built you a booth with a high chair and a parking spot for your tricycle. What, now, could be so possibly wrong with the drink?”
She said that she wanted to be a Mexican mocha, and the manager said, “But Denise, you’re white, probably white trash.”
She said in the very least that she wanted to be some sort of fancy Americano and he said, “Please, Denise, you just arrived from Bulgaria. You’ve been in the country what, a whole sixteen days? No offence, but you’ll probably be the first mail-ordered bride who gets returned to sender.”
She said that she deserved at least a little thing, and so the manager took a well-chewed, flesh-colored wad of gum out of his mouth, plopped it into the drink and poured in some hot water. He called the new drink a Small Denise with a Wad of Gum and Some Hot Water.
But nobody ordered that drink, not even Big Bruce.
The coffee shop was seriously considering taking the Small Denise off the menu when Jesus, the modern miracle-worker with latte art, had the idea of building a fence around the drink, with barbed wire, guarded by miniature dogs (not real dogs, of course, but mechanized dogs) so that the customers had to work really hard at sneaking the drink out.
People everywhere, suddenly, couldn’t stop talking about the Small Denise and how important it was for them to have, to drink down first thing every morning, to pee out later. They were obsessed, if not dehydrated. Their lips were chapped.
Other coffee shops started making knock-offs, calling their drinks Midget Denise, for instance, which was offensive, we thought. They called them Little Person Denise and Munchkin Loser Bulgarian Woman-Child with Hairy Upper Lip.
Our manager finally suggested a round up. He thought we might collect all the drinks and send them back to Bulgaria, along with Denise, but that was stupid.
Although many drinks in cups that looked much like our own were eventually confiscated, there were too many drinks by now. There had been an absolute infiltration of the Denise drinks and their knock-offs. And besides, people these days had their own espresso machines. They could—and did, quite often, in fact, or so we heard—make their own.