Coffee, Black

coffee and cigaretteI first drank coffee when I was in love with a silent, handsome painter back in college. He was, I believed, fascinating and mysterious in ways that made up for his not ever talking. We would cut class to get a cup of coffee and there we’d be in the campus diner; cute couple, dead silent. I, gripping my coffee mug, would peer, concentrated, into the black depths of, not of his eyes, but of my own coffee. Staring into my coffee postponed the moment, any moment, when he and I would need to talk. He never said a word. Then again, neither did I. For some unknown reason, I could never think of a thing to say to him. With anyone else I could chatter on carelessly. But this guy’s muteness cig smokeseriously affected my ability to parry a gambit. Coffee filled the deep voids in the meeting of our minds.

To be fair, his crutch, in these situations, was cigarettes. I wasn’t the only one biding my time between speaking opportunities on our dates. He had a Jean Paul Belmondo capacity to infuse cigarette smoking—lighting up, inhaling, exhaling and holding the burning cigarette—with intense existential meaning which was thrilling, if it had not been so vapid.   

Coffee was my crutch, my prop. Nothing is more fraught for a young man than a pretty girl staring into a cup of coffee. It can serve all meanings. I love you madly and am speechless. I hate you thoroughly and am speechless. I am speechless, beautiful, and reflected in coffeeI am staring into my coffee.

Coffee, black, has sat in my hands at every meridian, good or bad, in my life. Coffee, black, in mahogany corporate meeting rooms; I could always stare into its cold dregs when my copy was being lacerated. Coffee in an echoing room, impervious to the fact that someone, or some cherished belief, was dying very slowly in another room. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Coffee, black, with every friend I have ever bumped up against and, too, with every person who would ever, one day, betray that friendship. Coffee has been my innocent bystander to all human encounters. Coffee, companionable, silent, has been beside me always; but no confessionals here today. I could tell you things, but I won’t. Cold, empty, I set my blue coffee cup beside a pint of cadmium yellow. Enough!

Excerpted from full essays at Flying Falling Floating.

Surrealist painter and writer Mary E. Carter shows her work (including goose girls, chicken ladies and not so winged creatures) at Flying Falling Floating. The former advertising copywriter is also a published book author.

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