Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Coffee Maker

"Good morning," I droned, not looking up from my oversized mug of coffee. Steam materialized on the surface and broke away, shrouding my drooping head in a gauzy veil of columbian supremo haze. It rolled over my face like a fond memory, caressing my skin and tickling my ears even as it teased me. Even in my drowsy state I knew it was much to hot to drink yet.

She had put it there for me, as she always did. Although she didn't drink it herself, some unspoken sense of duty drove her each morning to make a pot of coffee she'd never taste. Through trial and error, we'd evolved from hot water faintly tainted with coffee, to a black mess slightly thinner than porridge and brimming with dark, course grounds - eventually finding the perfect balance and the perfect cup. All this time it was her hands and my tastebuds, working in tandem - a gastronomical symbiosis that served her need to provide and my need for a strong morning stimulant.

"Good morning," I said again, my tone registering a slight irritation from the lack of a reply. There was a hollowness to the sound of my voice as it bounced off the oak veneer of the kitchen cabinets and worn linoleum flooring.

We had remodeled the kitchen the same year we found out she was pregnant with our first son. "Easy installments" on our Sears charge card had stretched out for over a decade as the woodwork took on a patina of splashed grease from Friday night fried chicken and absorbed the smells of all her home-cooked meals she made over the years. The boys are grown now, with families and debts of their own but the cabinets remain in mute remembrance of the good times.

There were bad times, too. Besides the usual bumps and bruises - and occasional broken bones - rambunctious boys will suffer in their conquest of the world, our little family took a harder blow eight years ago when she came home from her doctor looking drained and visibly shaken. "It's just a little lump, that's all," she told the boys. But they were older by then and knew more about cancer from high-school science classes than perhaps we did at the time. We learned more than we wanted though, in those weeks and months that followed. She continued to put on a brave face as first the cancer and then the chemotherapy took turns eating her from the inside out. Her brave, bright eyes dimmed and what hair she had left faded to match the steam rising from my coffee cup.

"Hon, everything OK?" I asked a little more concerned now, but still refusing to open my eyes to the bright morning rays that pried at the corners of my eyelids with sharp fingers of brilliance.

The morning sun always floods in brightly through the window over the kitchen sink where the boys and I would join her to wash dishes and sing some of our favorite family songs. Sure, it was corny, and the boys would be mortified if their friends from school caught wind of it, but it was one of those family traditions that didn't get put away along with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Towards the end, it was one of the few things that could still make her smile through her fog of pain. When we saw her lips curl up despite the masks and hoses, we would sing louder still to drown out the beeps and hums from all the machines that clawed and bit into her like a hungry animal refusing to drop its meal. We stayed all night, gently holding hands deeply scarred and bruised from the endless succession of needles, and sang every song we could choke out past our tears. We were there, still singing quietly when she slipped away with an almost contented sigh, free from the needles and tubes, pain and bodily betrayal that had consumed her. My oldest son quietly left the room to make the necessary phone calls, while my youngest silently sat with his arm around me for the hour it took for me to finally let go of her hand.

There was no point in staying to mourn over that empty shell that served as her physical prison in those last few months, so I allowed myself to be brought home and with a tenderness I'd never previously known by them, put to bed by my two sons. There were no words exchanged. None were needed. In the silence we found solace and a bond beyond that of a father and his two sons.

It was the same silence that enveloped me even now as I finally relented and opened my eyes to the morning light to peer into my empty cup.


Blogger HeadCheese said...

Loathe as I am to be the first to comment on my own piece, I feel a need to clarify.

This is entirely a work of fiction, and while not based on any actual events, it is inspired by several.

The Coffee Maker (or "She") is of course based on my own wife, who brings me a cup every morning even though she can't abide the stuff, herself. There have been some health concerns lately, but they are more mysterious right now than threatening. My Mother-in-Law has been in the hospital for nearly a week at this point with breathing difficulties related to her former (your really mean it this time, right?) cigarrette-smoking habit. It is perhaps the view of her diminishment and vulnerability that most inspired my imagery of being eaten by some truculent beast. Unlike in the story, we all expect her to be back on her feet shortly. The boys are my own, projected to adulthood. We don't sing together as a family, but I bet I would enjoy it - especially if it gets the boys to help with the dishes.

Naturally, the narrator sees the world through my sometimes reluctant eyes.

I began the story strictly as an excersise. Literally, I typed the first line, not knowing what it would be about. As I sometimes do, I decided to let the story tell itself. With the introduction of a little back-story, the course was set, and I couldn't stop the cathartic tidal wave any more than I could keep my fingers from typing out the balance of the tale.

Please ... no more digital sympathy cards. ;-)

October 21, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is an exciting turn of events.I have always thought in your heart of hearts the door reading "this way out" was flashing it's sign ,brightly, and waiting,slightly ajar....
looks like you've walked through, are looking around and considering making this "writing tool thing" your own.
Just how far can/will you go?

October 22, 2004  

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