A Llama for Passion

The Prompt for this story comes from storyaday.org, by Julie Duffy. The prompt was to write about a conversation with a llama in a coffee shop. I thought that was strange, but I went with it, and I actually really like what I wrote. It could have been ridiculous, but I think it turned out really sweet. Anyhow, hope you enjoy it.

I normally don’t come into coffee shops; I can make good coffee at home and save money. But when I walked by this one just now, I couldn’t believe what I thought I saw: A llama, dressed in a flowing blue dress with pleats and long wide sleeves, sitting at the table by the window, looking out onto the street. She smiled and waved when she saw me staring.

“E- excu- excuse me,” I say, stepping up to the barista at the counter. “Do you know there’s a llama in your shop?”

“Oh, yeah,” the girl replies; her nametag says she goes by Lotte. “She comes here all the time. Orders an iced coffee and stays for at least an hour.”

“You don’t find that– odd?”

“Well, it is kind of odd when she orders the iced coffee in the middle of winter.”

I sigh. “Nevermind. I’ll have a chocolate cappuccino, please.”

I pay for my coffee and, overcome by curiosity, approach the llama. She sees me and smiles, the corners of her mouth lifting and her flat teeth showing in front. Her fur is light brown and appears well-groomed. Everything about her appearance suggests affluence; I could swear I saw that same dress on a mannequin at Saks Fifth Avenue just last week; I remember it distinctly because I stopped to admire it. I can’t afford dresses like that; I just enjoy looking at them. I decide the dress is just as good an ice-breaker topic as any, and I tell her I love her outfit.

“Thank you,” she says.

“You come here often?”

“Nearly every day. You’re not a regular here, though. Have a seat,” she says, gesturing.

“Thanks,” I say, and sit in the chair across from her as a server brings me my drink. “No, I don’t come in here very often. I think the last time was probably five or six months ago, when I decided to get drinks for all my co-workers.”

“Where do you work?”

“Oh, I did work for a magazine back then. Assistant editor. They– laid me off.”

“I’m so sorry.” The llama effuses empathy somehow, even with her non-human features. “Do you have a new job now, I hope?”

“Sort of,” I say, asking myself how much of my personal life I really want to share with a llama. “I’ve been doing freelance editing for self-publishing authors.”

“That doesn’t sound like it pays much.”

“No,” I confess. 

We sit in silence, sipping our drinks, for several seconds. The llama finishes her coffee and sets the empty cup on the table. “I’m a talent scout of sorts,” she says.

“Oh.” I have to think about how to respond. “Do you– find much talent sitting in a coffee shop?”

“You’d be surprised.”

I certainly would be. 

“You have a talent, for instance.”

“Oh? How can you tell?” I try to keep the skepticism out of my voice, but I probably failed.

“You can see me, for a start.”

“What? Can’t everybody see you?”

“Not everybody. Only those who need me.”

“Oh. I need you now? What could you possibly do for me?” I can’t believe I’m arguing with a llama in a dress!

“Oh, it’s not a question of what I can do– it’s what you can do.”

“And that is?”

“Would it interest you to know that before you saw me through this shop window I wasn’t wearing anything?”

“No!” I stand up, half-tempted to throw my coffee at this smug-looking apparition. “Why would I want to know that? Who– whe– what are you?”

“I suppose you could say I’m the manifestation of your deepest passion, but you’ll notice I didn’t say I didn’t exist before you saw me, only that I was naked.”

My cheeks grow hot at the thought, which is ridiculous, considering a llama should be naked. And in a field, chewing on grass, standing on four feet. Not sitting in a chair, sipping coffee, in a coffee shop, wearing a dress that it would take me months to save up to buy.

Lotte finds us at our table and smiles at the llama. “Was the coffee to your liking today, Dan?”

“Yes, as always.”

“It’s always a pleasure to see you here.” Lotte’s practically gushing, and the llama fans at her face as if the compliment has embarrassed her.

“Dan?” I can’t help blurting out, once Lotte has left us.

“It’s short for Dandelion.”

“Oh.” Then another thought occurs to me, and my eyes glance Lotte’s way. “How come she can see you?”

“Ah, she was one of my first projects. Discovered that her passion was to work in a coffee shop.”

“She does look happy,” I have to admit. “What was she doing before that?”

“Ah, that’s not my story to tell.”

I suppose not. “So, she can see you, and I can see you… Can anyone else here see you?”

“Yes and no. You’re not talking to an empty chair, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

There aren’t many other people in the shop, but as Dan has just indicated, none of them seem to find it strange that I’m talking to someone they supposedly can’t see.

“I just look like an ordinary person to them,” Dan explains. 

“Okay…” That seems logical. No, it’s not logical! Nothing about this whole situation is logical! 

“I know this must be very strange for you.”

“You can say that again. Look, I’m done with my coffee, and I really should get back to work.” 

“That’s a lie. You’ve barely touched your coffee, and you don’t have a job.”

“I do so have a job! Freelancing doesn’t mean I just laze around all day!” She’s right about the coffee, though.

“Do you enjoy your work?”

I shrug. “It’s alright.”

“But it’s not your passion.”

“Alright then. Why don’t you tell me what my ‘passion’ is?”

“I can’t do that. But I think you realized what it was as soon as you saw me. Think about it. What was the first thing you noticed about me?”

“Other than the fact that you’re a freaking llama?” I shrug again. “Your clothes, I guess.”

“And there you have it.”

“You mean, fashion is my passion?”

“Is it?”

“Ha. I can’t afford to be fashionable. Never could.”

“But you dream about it, don’t you?” Dan gets up, and walks– on her back legs– to the garbage, where she disposes of her coffee cup. When she comes back, she simply says, “Think about it. And if you see me again, let me know how things are working out for you.”

I nod, mute, and watch her leave; the bell tinkles above her head as the door swings closed behind her. I watch out the window, but there’s no llama anymore. Just an ordinary-looking woman, tall, with long brown hair, and wearing a flowing blue dress from Sak’s. 

“I will,” I murmur after her, as she disappears around the corner.

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