Coffee for Two

Coffee for Two

By Kyle Rader

 

 

 

It was that damned coffee.

Why did she have to buy that specific bag on that specific day?

The question plagued Russ. It loitered inside his mind for the past thirty years, never giving him a moment’s peace.

They’d married young; high school sweethearts. In that particular era of time, this was commonplace, expected, even. Russ had gone to work at the mills, joining fifty percent of the males in his graduating class of seventeen. He started out sweeping sawdust and worked his way into the assembly room, where he pieced together chairs for two dollars an hour. She’d taken on a job at a national bank in Faberly, which was a forty minute commute both ways. He’d indulged her in this, though he’d rather that she stayed at home playing homemaker. But, they’d no home of their own at that point. They both still lived with their parents as they scrimped and saved to buy the four walls and a roof that they’d make their own. To say it was difficult would have understated the fact to the point of becoming insulting.

Some of his friends at work teased him about it; about how he wasn’t a real man because his wife made more money at her job than he at his. One day, a short, angry man named Cross swapped his work apron for a pink, frilly number. The entirety of the mills had a long, hard laugh at him that day. The laughs, robust and biting at first, grew more somber as the day went on, until most had decided to take pity on him and let him be. Except for Cross. Every fifteen minutes on the nose, Cross would cup his hands over his mouth and scream “Betty Crocker” and laugh himself breathless.

Russ kept his head down and focused on his job, trying his best to keep the hard lump in his stomach from rising.

He couldn’t explain why he followed Cross home that night. Nor could he explain why his hands were purple with bruises and why dried blood flaked off his clothes when he woke the next morning.

No one breathed a word about it when Cross arrived to work with a broken jaw, eye socket and nose. In fact, no one dared to speak a negative word to Russ ever again after that.

After two years of working and living separately, Russ and his wife were finally able to afford their shared dream. Some people dreamt of moving to the big city, Boston, or even up to Portland, to make something of themselves. Others wanted simpler goals, to take over the Bait and Tackle shop, to settle down and breed. For Russ and his wife, their dream took the form of a four bedroom, two bath house right on Crystal Lake.

And for a while, things were good.

Turmoil doesn’t wait for the opportune time to push its way into our lives. And so, it struck Russ when he least expected it.

His wife had been promoted several times over at the bank; the resulting influx of cash allowed them to have some of the finer things in life. A big tube television set, matching leather recliners, and two new cars were just a few of the items they’d been able to buy and afford at the same time.

Another was freshly ground coffee.

His wife had been showing for four months; their first child. They’d quarreled over her taking time off from her job to rest. Russ felt that she was risking the baby’s health by not slowing down. She felt that it was good for the child that she remained active. The topic, one that they had both grown to loathe, had a habit of coming up each and every morning at breakfast, resulting in the two being cast into the same boring play with the same lines and cues that did not resolve anything.

The love they’d felt for each lessened each and every time they went through their routine.

By the time that fateful day rolled around, Russ awoke with the same hard lump in his stomach.

His breakfast was cold; she hadn’t bothered to wake him at the normal time. Russ reacted to the little act of passive-aggression by calmly rising and walking his plate to the trash can, where he let the entire meal—plate and all—tumble out of his fingers.

She turned her back on him and watched the water of the lake ripple against the wind.

The coffee beans were kept in a cartoonish jar that was shaped like a cow, winking while it sipped from a cup of its own. Russ hated that cow. He made a point to remove the head roughly and place it on the edge of the counter in the hopes that it would fall and shatter.

This would’ve given him such joy. But, it never happened.

The spider had been hiding in the middle of the jar, packed tightly amongst the beans. Whether it had been there since the beginning, after the beans had been harvested and processed in a country in Central America that Russ couldn’t find on a map, or if it snuck in when Margaret, their local grocer, emptied the sack into her bin, was a mystery that would remain unsolved.

It jumped onto Russ’s hand after hitching a ride on his second spoonful. It was about the size of a quarter; bright green with yellow legs. Russ didn’t comprehend the situation at first; he glanced at it quickly and turned away, lost in pent-up rage before realizing the gravity of the situation. He shrieked; a full-on feminine wail, dropping the spoon and squashing the hapless arachnid. A puddle of tiny yellow and pus coated the palm of his hand. The sight made him gag. He stuck his head under the faucet and drank cool natural spring water until the urge subsided.

His wife heard the commotion and rushed over to him. In her concern for Russ’ well-being, she failed to heed the carpet of coffee beans that had been laid out on their hardwood floor. Her foot slipped out from under her the second it touched them. She fell forwards towards her husband, screaming his name.

Russ turned just in time to witness the granite corner of the kitchen island silence her mid-syllable.

They buried both wife and unborn child in the same grave three days later on a cold October morning. The town pastor went on for some length about the mysterious ways in which their God worked; the autumn winds swept dead leaves of reds and browns into the open grave until the casket wore a shawl made from them.

Russ only drank instant from then on. Three cups, every day.

He couldn’t bring himself to drink the real stuff ever again. Whenever he tasted freshly brewed coffee, it filled every part of him with regret; regret of things left unsaid, and of feelings unresolved. For Russ, the over-processed, burnt plastic after-taste it left in his mouth was far preferable.

At least he couldn’t taste his tears in the instant.

 

 

The End

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