Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Coffee Shop

She had a headache. That must be it. The sun hurt. She had a headache, and all she wanted was black coffee. She put the laptop on sleep, memorized the exact position of everything on her table, picked up the mocha, and hurried to the bathroom. Occupied. Shit.

The bearded guy who always sat at the table across from the woman’s restroom nodded at her sympathetically.

“I don’t have to go,” she said and then wished she’d ripped her tongue out instead. Her head pounded. Why did he sit there every day? Pervert.

She glanced at her table. Nothing had moved. Laptop lid ajar, her red coat neatly hung on the back of the chair, mittens on the table, purse on the floor. Well, she should go get the purse—her life was in that bag.

The bathroom door opened, and the skinny woman slid out, the woman Miriam called Twiggy, all bone and skin, thin hair plastered to her skeletal head, clearly an anorexic. Miriam stepped around her, closed the door, locked it, poured the mocha down the toilet, flushed it, ran water in the sink so it sounded as if she were washing her hands, opened the door, stepped out. 30 seconds. The bearded guy caught her eye as she emerged and seemed to be saying, nicely done.

What was nicely done? Peeing quickly? She checked her table again. Everything was still there. She went to the refill station and pumped French Roast into her cup. The acid smell hit her with the second pump. It was too strong. She couldn’t repeat her pouring-coffee-down-the-toilet routine again, so she switched to free trade decaf, filled the cup the rest of the way and was just sitting down when she realized what a mistake the decaf was. She had a headache. She needed caffeine, 100 % caffeinated brew. French Roast was better than half decaf. She couldn’t think; it was the headache.

She slumped back in her chair, looked at her sleeping screen—at least it was black—looked at the other regulars, refugees from the chaos at home, people who used Java Joint for their office, all of them bent over tiny screens, nobody talking, not even the young couple, both of them improbably blond and fit. Everybody feeding their twin addictions, caffeine and the screen. That made her relax about the decaf. The bearded guy saw her pump it, probably thought better of her for not mainlining caffeine, even if he didn’t know she’d just poured a four-dollar mocha down the toilet.

She shifted just enough so she could see if he saw her.

Well! Yes! The man had no subtlety. He had turned his chair so he faced her directly from the other side of the room, and whenever he looked up which, luckily, he was not doing now, he would see her. And if they looked up at the same time, their eyes would meet, they would both smile as if slightly embarrassed and more than slightly interested.

After a few minutes he’d get up, come over, apologize for interrupting her, say he’d noticed her, they were here at the same time every day, and he wondered, well—what would he wonder? He wondered if she’d like lunch, if she’d like to go for a quick walk, if she’d like to go back to his place, if she’d like to read the novel he was writing. God, not that. Probably some sci-fi hairless alien sort of thing. She definitely did not want to read his novel.

But what if he wanted to read hers?

Well, that’s another matter, isn’t it? An intelligent, like-minded reader would be a boon. He’d have to understand how very first draft it was. But, yes, that was an idea she would entertain. Definitely.

She drank a long swallow of coffee. Delicious. Just right. Felt better already. She couldn’t really tell it was only half strength. She cradled the cup with two hands as if her fingers were cold, rested her bottom lip on the cup, sipped, and raised her eyes to look across the room. The bearded man—she hoped his name was John—such a good, clean name—caught her eye, smiled just as she knew he would, and stood up.

The Beginning.

© 2011 Kathleen Coskran

Monday, December 12, 2011

Boy on a Curb

The boy was sitting alone on the curb in front of his house. He didn’t look particularly alone on that Minneapolis street with all the bungalows lined up neatly behind him, the grass mowed, the hedges trimmed, the gardens weeded. Not as symmetrical as that last sentence makes it sound, but neat nonetheless, tamed, civilized.

He sat there—alone—unaware of the comfort of his block, ignorant of the men who cleared the land, sawed the lumber, fired the bricks, roofed the houses on days too hot to breathe. He hadn’t been there then and didn’t care now. He just sat on the curb in front of his own house with the rough cement hard on his skin, and his bare feet shuffled under the leaves in the gutter.

And, no, he wasn’t bored. We always assume that fifteen-year-old kids who sit without moving, with that blank look on their faces, are bored. He wasn’t bored. He wasn’t sad. He was frozen, stunned, dazed. He couldn’t move. For the first time in his life all he wanted to do was to be still, very, very still.

He’d known her all his life. Janey. As plain as they come, but a little while ago when she grabbed his hand, he had a weird feeling, really weird. Now he was almost afraid of her, close to mad at her. She touched his hand, he grabbed hers, they looked at each other a second too long, and then he stuck out his tongue. “Bleah!” he said.

Bleah!” she said and moved closer.

They laughed and did it again and again and again.

And now the boy is sitting on the curb, not moving. Bleah? he thinks.

Yes, she’d said, Yes.

© 2011 Kathleen Coskran