No one understood about the avocado shortage. Or, those who simply accepted it were harder to remember. Those who were incredulous, who felt that there HAD to be a supply that was unaffected by the record heat-waves in Mexico stood out more clearly as they recounted their shift on the patio, smoking, drinking, complaining, sometimes suggesting moving to a different venue, but they were lazy with the heat lamps, complacent. They knew the winter should be colder but were happy to sit beneath the empty boughs of the apricot tree.
Will and Anna were hooking up, but everyone was pretending not to know because the entire staff had been individually sworn to secrecy. At some point they would start grazing fingers under the table, holding each other’s eyes, disappearing at the same time, and then everyone would start talking about it, and it felt good, as a group, to gossip about the timelines between when it started and Will’s last breakup, to be a little cruel, a little judgmental as they anticipated an end date over rounds. There’d be consequences, even if those two couldn’t see it yet. They were still in that phase where everyone in the group could see the spark between them, could get a little horny on its warmth.
So when Anna got pregnant, they all felt partially responsible, laughing uneasily that week she jokingly suspected. A few of them crouched on the sticky floor outside the handicapped stall the night she took the test, the others smoking with Will behind the dumpster.
The next morning, management held a meeting to discuss why the restaurant was no longer buying from the nearby farm. The soil had been overplanted, stripped of its nutrients, would need a few seasons to rest, or at least to be reallocated to clover or mustard, species that would replenish, not deplete. Last year’s harvest had been anemic and riddled with holes from the bugs they refused to spray. Will snorted that what do people expect when they demand organic. Everyone averted their eyes from his, which were red-rimmed and hard.
She announced she was keeping it on a Sunday as she set the tables for brunch, swapping vases of wilted daisies for square-potted succulents. Her, they found out a few weeks later, Anna texting from the doctor’s office while they crowded around the wait station. Will had driven her, which they thought at least was a good sign. Everyone whooped, hugged, beamed at each other then muttered, fuck, man, a girl, can you even imagine? Then again, it was hard to think of having kids at all, what with everything, and they didn’t want to spoil her news with their cynicism.
By then they were always running out of kale too, the California crops decimated by the drought, the fires. Anna had morning sickness, the bad kind, but the day bartender would make her tonics with grated ginger and local honey, and they would massage her shoulders and tease her that as soon as she started showing she would get the best tips. She craved apricots from the tree, but it was too soon; white flowers drooped in the warm spring, their petals swept off the patio each morning.
Will was not himself. He snapped at the line when his entire ten-top wanted the sold-out wild salmon special, though he’d been standing right there by the soups when they’d call out the 86. Before every shift, he’d ask the sous chef about the avocados, and when she told him no, he’d laugh, harder with every passing day as if it was a long-running joke, left after cashout without even staying for one shift drink. Anna was down to two days a week, carrying low, and they assumed he wanted to get to her place, but sometimes she would call the bar to see if he was still there because he wasn’t answering her texts, and then everyone would speculate about what he was doing, or possibly even who, and shake their heads about poor Anna. Though really, what had she expected from a guy like that.
Anna stopped working completely the week before she was due, her feet too sore and swollen in the dry heat; the summer monsoons were late. Finally, one night after the kitchen closed, it began to rain, then flood, then hail, beating the ripe apricots from their branches, and they all stopped their side work to watch as a muddy river rose and snaked across the patio.They cracked the windows, opened the doors to let the damp breeze clear out the lingering sweat and perfume of the customers, the stink of meat, fumes from the grapefruit cleanser mixed with bleach.
The new host stood in the doorway, shivering, and Will came and stood behind her. He teased her about the way she jumped with the thunder, how the hairs on her arm stood on end with the static, grazing them with one finger as proof, and she blushed, and he laughed, and no one could remember the last time they’d seen him laugh like that. When someone went to ask her to finish the roll-ups, both of them were gone, the moons from their sweating pints of cider still sticky on the bar.
The next morning, they all gathered the smashed apricots off the bricks to make sangria with dusty bottles of wine left over from some long ago wedding. Half a dozen boxes of avocados arrived as they were setting up inside, stacked by unseen hands beneath the empty tree. The chef made a staff meal of chips and guacamole to celebrate before the shift, and they sat on the patio, waiting to be served, drinking sangria out of coffee mugs and enjoying the lightness the air after the rain. They would all remember it as such a nice day, at least until the avocados were cut open: the fruit was brown and separating from the rind. They had already begun to rot.
After completing her MFA at the University of Montana, Amelia Morand has recently returned to her hometown of Santa Fe, where she will continue to serve as Senior Fiction editor with CutBank Magazine. Her work is featured or forthcoming with apt, Brevity, Lunch Ticket, and Hobart. You can follow her on Twitter @AmeliaMorand.