Coffee — by E.M. Vireo & Sue Pownall
Brunch. Eggs Benedict as usual. Jay had met his sponsor here every Saturday for a year. Good-looking family at the table next door. They reminded him of his own family growing up: upper middle class, with a teenage boy and younger girl, both well-behaved and neatly dressed. Jay would have been around the boy’s age circa 1990, with a similar height and build.
“You want a cup of coffee?” the father asked his son after ordering a cappuccino for him and a mimosa for his wife. “You’re not a child anymore. Might be time to try the stuff.”
When it came, the boy added milk and sugar and took a sip. Jay watched discretely, thinking about all that had transpired in his life since his first cup of coffee over twenty years ago: a failed marriage and a son of his own he hardly saw; hundreds of parties and a string of stale affairs; thousands of drinks and cigarettes and substances consumed; possessions acquired and sold and broken. A perpetual feeling of loss, warmed through on resentment. A life already lived, its opportunities nonchalantly squandered, its potential running on empty.
All since his first cup of coffee.
And sitting with his eggs on an old-fashioned chair, Jay acknowledged sadly that he’d still had a chance back then, and for a second, had a bizarre notion that if he had never had that first coffee, things might have been different, that he might have lived the life of another. But of course, it hadn’t been the coffee’s fault; he owned the blame entirely.
“What do you think?” the father asked his son, good-naturedly.
“I don’t like it,” the boy answered, making a face, and Jay remembered disliking his first cup too.
“I don’t get it, dad. It’s so bitter. It tastes awful.”
“Ha! See if you feel that way in five years.”
Jay cut into his eggs, allowing the golden yolk to ooze onto his plate. “Waiter,” he said solemnly, cup raised. “I need a refill.”
Illustration by: Sue Pownall