Mama never came back to finish her coffee. It just sat there on the counter, the cup all fogged up and warm. Half full. Like it was waiting for someone to come on back and finish it up. It was the cup with the red and yellow daisies on it — the one with the chip in the handle so that every time Mama picked it up she’d say, “Damn this cup.” It was always the last one left in the cupboard. She’d sigh when she had to use it. I tried to throw it away once, so it wouldn’t make her so unhappy anymore, but she found it in the trash and the next day it was back in the cupboard making her sigh.
She fixed her coffee same as always — two sugars and me watching. Then she just stood there, holding onto that cup, looking out the window like she was expecting a package from the mailman or something. I didn’t see anything out there worth looking at that hard, just some old tires from Daddy’s garage and the big stump from the oak tree that got cut down. But she just kept standing there, moving her thumb over that chip in the handle, back and forth, back and forth. And she looked kind of funny. She said, “Damn this mug,” but it was different than usual. Most times, she’d let her voice trail off, but this time she said it with a period. Then she set her cup right there on the counter, and she told me that she was going to the store, and to be good for Daddy. She never left me home alone before.
Daddy says that things are like people. They have their own personality, their own style. Like his tools in the metal box that I’m not supposed to touch. Those tools are brave and shimmery in their box. Power tools, Daddy calls them. But that mug seemed sad and lonely, sitting there with no one but me for company, like it wanted to cry maybe. I pressed my fingers to it. It wasn’t hot, just warm. Some of Mama’s lipstick was stuck to the rim. I brushed my thumb over that chip in the handle and it was rough and scratchy.
Aunt Cindy always told me that I was special, a good girl. She even let me hold her baby once, and she never lets kids hold the baby. When Daddy finally came home, he took one look at the half-full coffee cup and asked where Mama was. I said, “She went to the store, Daddy.”
Then I started to cry real hard. I didn’t mean to, it just sort of slipped out. Daddy looked at me with soft, soft eyes, like he did that time mean Marty Johnson put gum in my hair and Mama had to cut it real short with her sewing scissors. Looking at Daddy loving me like that, it just made me cry even harder. I couldn’t help it.
Mama never did come back. I always thought she would, on account of that coffee, just sitting there on the counter. Mama always finished her coffee.
Daddy tried to explain once that Mama felt her life was like that cup with the chip in the handle, that it was missing something and she had to go look for it. “Daddy,” I asked, “couldn’t we help her find it?”
Illustration by: Jordan Wester