The Sadness of Coffee

Hunched figures in fast food windows, sitting alone, barely touching the tip of the cup with their lips. Nursing it. Hooded eyes darting to the door as others arrive and depart. Rain intensifies.
An hour before sunrise, alone in the kitchen, sipping and staring vacantly at a lopsided calendar over the stove. Stirring slowly and deliberately, as though mixing a potion. Laying the spoon down gently, as if there were someone else in the apartment not to be awakened.
Standing against a building, holding a steaming cup, watching cattle brush past, holiday shoppers with someone to shop for. Spilling some when a burly man bumps into him, refusing to apologize. A couple asks him to snap their picture. He puts down the cup, takes the camera, aims and clicks. They are satisfied, thank him and disappear. He stares at his cup, a tiny brown well amidst trash strewn concrete.
Jittery hands, quick, frequent sips in the waiting room, expecting news. Another hour passes. Impatient tossing of empty, crushed cup into trash. One more quarter needed for another bland machine grind. Do nurses carry change?
Browsing the aisle at a 24-hour supermarket, pondering whether decaf will let him sleep. Snow is piling up two days before Valentine’s Day. An announcement about a seafood sale blares over the intercom. He hates Valentine’s Day.
Perusing the stock market, the want ads, loosening his tie. His job interview did not go well. It is mid-morning at a near-empty Starbucks. He takes a long sip and decides not to pay for the paper which he got from a stand near the door. Seventy-five cents saved.
She nervously spills the sugar substitute packet across the counter, knows the kid near the register is watching her. She will prepare her latte, return to her cushiony seat across from the guy she sees every Friday night at this sprawling bookstore. This is the night she promised herself she would say something. She thumbs through In Style Magazine, glances at him. He is deep into his reading, so deep he reaches for and knocks over his cup. In a flash she is kneeling in front of him, wiping the floor with a napkin. She looks up and smiles. He is startled, younger than her. Reading The Road by McCarthy. Pretty depressing stuff, she hears herself say. He shrugs and helps her wipe up the mess. After a few moments, they are done and he thanks her awkwardly. She wants to say something more, but decides to return to her seat. Someone has taken it, an older woman with stretched skin, looking down blankly at her own coffee. She decides she will say nothing, remove her cup from the little table and find another spot. Take my seat, the young man says. But right then the kid sitting next to him leaves and she quickly fills that one. They are a foot apart. Both sip simultaneously, knowing as soon as they swallow, something must be said, something witty or insightful, light and nonchalant, something that will help fill this endless Friday night in this too-bright warehouse of books and browsers. – Joe Del Priore


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