Cold Coffee

Cold Coffee

A magic, a transparency, enveloped Rosette and Ian, pursued them in the bright airy coffee shop, a pleasure at life like a large down comforter, he holding two corners, she holding two corners. Talk that Saturday morning spun gaily around coffee, how nicely the beans shone like oily nuts, resting and clicking, sliding one over the other like a cheery band of Gypsies traveling the world just to see them—Rosette and Ian.

Then in a timorous voice like cheesecloth,

“I hate it, those beans crushed for my foolish pleasure,” said Rosette, forming that wry smile of the baker Donovan whose bread has not lifted properly. Knowing the harsh eyes of his best customers, the lawyers Clapham and Jurgen, who fancied themselves bachelors even though living with their father who wore a catheter, the father’s face like a cow’s with one horn, and the most confounding of them all, the former mayor himself, Charles Rendray, who once brought his lit cigar into the bakery, holding it behind his rumpus, a spirit of blue smoke rising as he surveyed the morning’s selection of glazed brioche like a sniper through glass. Donovan, so saccharine, singing now of the nearby mountains, feigning ignorance, beating and crushing stale loaves, soaking them in cream. And voilà! the best bread puddings in Tennessee. Rosette’s smile turned like a wax cylinder, registering sympathy not for the baker but for the fait accompli of these black gems scalded to foamy broth.

The barista measured carefully a handful of the friendly jinky clickers and spooled them into the grinder like jellybeans.

“Rosette, don’t be silly. These coffee fruits adore you. They are grown in high and faraway places. See how they sparkle!”

And the look in his eye, of a sudden, wandered to some lofty hillside in Tanzania or Columbia, some hot and dusty village in the shadow of a crumbling pyramid, sturdy shrubs, perhaps Ficus carica or Ficus palmata, pollinated by black wasps resembling old women, shading the little coffee bushes sagging with ripe berries. And he lumbered on, inventing new words it seemed to Rosette, the sound of the beans reminding her of rice rattling into the vacuum, the sound she imagined of angry hummingbirds upon discovering their favorite nectars dried and teeming with craven winter-stricken ants.

Cloaked against the air conditioning, her silken blouse a satiny purple, Rosette tossed aside her mantle of consternation, peeling it from her thin square shoulders like the finest wool from the belly of a pampered lamb. She lifted her hand to stroke gently the curve of her neck, pausing at a swollen follicle, and wondered aloud,

“Dear, do we need a new car?”

Though shielded from the lift of the right corner of her mouth, Ian perceived a change in her spirits. As if the butchering of those perfect little beans had released in her some primal urge. Why stop there? her unseen half-smile seemed to roar. The Toyota, after all, was two years old. And what about the Swanson’s new Volvo? Black this year, blacker even than the beans, which had traveled so far, crushed now into glassine shards, each a prick to the soul, each unseen drop of blood a tiny secret. And Rosette wanted to know each secret, to consume them all, to have her fill, and hadn’t they refinanced the mortgage on their garage flat just last month!

With the coffee drip drip dripping and the water snorting and coughing, Ian thought of his father who died with a tube in his throat, his heart a ragged bundle of twitching fibers, his lungs a reservoir of damp and bacteria. His mother playing tennis. And he imagined the little bacteria, slinking over and under one another, little gray submarines in a ragged black trench, jostling, thriving to choke and drown what was not theirs.

“I suppose we could look, perhaps start in the paper.” And he saw the other corner of her mouth lift as she sat and leaned forward, gazing at her feet, which he loved, which he lavished with lemon and lavender.

“Yes, I suppose looking is a good start,” said Rosette.

And suddenly her coffee spilled, puddling cold on the café table like some black stomach buried deep in the earth, its tentacles searching through the worms, the roots, the dirt, mapping their unseen lives, the residue of it all.

Russell Helms has had stories published in literary magazines such as Drunken Boat (forthcoming), Litro (audio), Versal, Bewildering Stories, Assembly Journal, The Moth, Soliloquies Anthology, antiTHESIS, Qarrtsiluni, and in the anthology A La Carte (2010, Main Street Rag). He was born in Georgia, is from Alabama, lives in Kentucky, and has traveled widely including volunteering in Ethiopia and Haiti. He is the coordinator of Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University.

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