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“Coffee”

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“Coffee”

a short story by Drew Saint-Claire

***

On Sunday mornings, I walk to a coffee shop down the street from my home. I honor this ritual as regularly and as reverently as the churchgoers I pass on my way there. One of the things that has kept me from losing my mind living in this country is going on these walks and pretending that my neighborhood is like one in Paris. Sometimes I can really convince myself that I’m walking down the Champs Elysees passing all sorts of interesting and empathetic people. It helps. Otherwise, I couldn’t survive this walk. Otherwise, I’d walk past all these people and see them as I really do: as animals. I get anxious being around so many of them- moving amongst them- all without leashes. I keep my arms at my sides to appear non-threatening. I avoid eye contact. I don’t make sudden movements. If one gets too close, I stamp my feet around and yell incoherently. Not with my coffee in my hand though.

 

I always get my coffee to go. I can’t stay in the shop. I can’t keep pretending that long. I take my coffee back to my apartment. I’ve barricaded myself in here and I only go out for coffees now. I feel safe in here. I feel safe with the things in here. In my closet, I have an M1 Garand propped up against an orange winter jacket. I’ve never used either. The gun is my grandfather’s. He got it for fighting the Japanese. One night, he told me how he was ready to die fighting the Japanese- how he should have.

 

When I get anxious, I get the gun out of the closet.

 

I hold it how he taught me.

 

***

 

Every summer as a boy, I’d spend a month at my maternal grandparents’ house in the mountains of western Virginia. I spent them playing basketball barefoot and watching cartoons on the floor of my uncle’s living room. He had deer heads hanging on the wood panel walls. I like to think they watched cartoons too. One day during one summer, my grandfather took me and the M1 Garand back into the holler behind the house. We crossed a creek and sat empty Sprite cans on a fallen tree. The air smelled like heather and chèvre.

 

I was a good shot. He said I had the heart to kill; he could see it in how I looked down the barrel of the gun. At the time, I liked how that made me feel.

 

“Your momma was only able to have you- that’s why you’re like that. Shouldn’t a been trying at her age.” He looked at me. The sun was reflecting off his glasses so you couldn’t see his eyes.

 

I didn’t say anything.  

 

“Hit the rest of them cans, boy.” Then he spit on the ground and walked back to the house.  

 

I stood there and watched him cross the creek and open the back screen door. I stayed in the holler till the sun went down and my arms got tired from aiming the gun at the windows of the house. When I came back inside, my grandfather was peeling apples with a knife while my grandmother made chicken and dumplings on the stove. My grandfather looked at me and didn’t make a sound as I sat the gun down by the door. I had seen him looking out the window at me several times before I came inside. He had looked down at me looking down at him looking down the barrel of the rifle. All three of us ate in silence.

 

That night, I had a dream. I saw two images of myself. They were a little older, but I knew they were still me. They were wearing the same clothes: red flannels and blue jeans. One was holding a knife standing over the other one- the other me- who was crumpled on an oriental rug. There was blood all over the rug. There were deer heads on the wall. The me standing over the other me looked down at the other me for a while, then he looked up at me. He smiled with a mouth and teeth that were too big for his face- for our face. He asked what was wrong. His voice was deep; I felt it in my chest before I heard it in my ears. I asked him who he was. He said he was in charge now. He said that this one was holding us back, and he used the knife to point to the me on the rug, whose eyes were still open, staring back at me. I woke up sweating in the dark under hot flannel sheets. I told my grandmother about the dream and she gave me a small porcelain angel to set beside the bed. She muttered something about my mother and closed the door, leaving me back in the darkness.

 

I didn’t have any more dreams that summer.

 

***

 

My grandfather never got to die in Japan. He died many summers after he taught me how to shoot that gun, many summers after I had ever been back to western Virginia. In his will, he left me the M1 Garand and his flannel pajamas. I only wear the pajamas on the coldest nights of the year and I always make sure to take them off completely before I sleep with a girl. It feels strange if I don’t.

 

My grandfather never got to die in Japan but I can die right here. I can die defending my apartment from the animals roaming around outside, from the other me with the big teeth and the big knife. I can die right here defending my cup of coffee.

 

***

 

I used to work shifts. All sorts of shifts: janitor shifts, dishwasher shifts, busboy shifts, even coffee shop shifts. I don’t work shifts any more, but I still maintain the mentality of the shift- and it is a mentality.

 

The time in between shifts is beautiful. Behind you, the shift, in front of you, the shift- but the distance between them is immeasurable. As distant as Heaven and Hell, and equally as uncertain in what will come from either. Whole lifetimes could elapse in those days off, and they often did for me. I filled them with as many distractions as I could. I needed things to fill my hands, otherwise I’d drag them along the sidewalk and sharpen my nails into claws. There was a fire inside me at that time that needed gallons of cheap liquor to burn. I fed it, but the only heat it ever gave off were brief moments of warmth when I would cum on a waitress’s thigh.

 

It was a poor fire.

 

***

 

I always get a small black coffee. In my days as a barista, I respected the men (all of them men) who got small black coffees. It was like their proof of practicing some vow that they would take the least and do the most with it- bringing their black coffees to formica tables to pound away at their computers for hours, unaware that, to me, they were like monks sitting around with prayer beads, fasting from the stale cheese danishes to accomplish their easy toil. They turned their coffee into something- it was artisan alchemy, hand-roasted and sustainably sourced from Sumatra. I wanted to be like them, so I made the decision to drink black coffee in every circumstance I felt I couldn’t treat myself to something nice- which is often.

 

I drink a black coffee so I can smoke a joint with it at the same time. I want my mouth to be resinous. I want to dissolve the paper cup I’m nursing with this acid I’m culturing in my mouth like a vinegar mother. I want to develop a taste for the bitterness, to really know it, because I know I’ll taste it often. I want to taste it and not grimace- to swallow it down with the same face I made when I looked down the barrel of the M1 Garand that summer. I want every girl I kiss to taste it too- and to spit it out- like my cum. I’ll make sure I’m not wearing any pajamas.

 

I put the coffee cup up to my lips and sip.

 

It scalds me. 

 

I put the coffee in the refrigerator. It feels cold and dry in my apartment all of the sudden, so I start up the stairs to get my winter jacket. Before I do though, I go back in the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove so I can make some tea.

 

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Written by dstclaire

September 7, 2016 at 9:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I saw some good commentary on the crushing depth of existence within open, transparent society [a reference to the place outside of one’s own space] I am pointing toward the meaning behind walking to the shop and acknowledging no one or anything but the fact that I want a damned cup of coffee. Dream sequence left me pretty lost after that.

    dharrell

    September 8, 2016 at 4:53 pm


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