At one point I had the idea of doing a series of vignettes centered on, as Julio would say, “all de girrrrllls I loff beeefour”.
Here’s the freshly revisited version of one of those lost episodes, wherein our protagonist has his memory, and his coffee, steam-ulated by a lovely barista.
#376 – The Coffee Girl
What would you think – I wonder – if you could read the expanse of my mind at this very moment.
Now – as I watch you move so delicate, so fluid, from the counter to the cups to the machinery on your left. What would you think of the way I studied the soft curve of your hips or the supple roundness beneath those slim black chinos? Or the inner tremble that shook my heart and lungs at the twinkle of those mysterious violet eyes. How would you react to my hand, sitting atop yours, absorbing your very being, soaking in the soft light that seems to radiate from your face, diffusing like the dawn all around you?
I haven’t pictured you naked, as required as it may be by cliché and overbearing sexual conditioning. Although I do remember being entranced by a half-turned stretch for filters on the top shelf, which resulted in the silhouette of the perfectly rounded contour of one soft breast held gently by your shirt and your apron, both displaying the utmost care in handling that sublime natural treasure.
We locked eyes for a brief fraction of a second, long enough to fire my memory and put you in her place, in a different time, a different place…
Suddenly, as sudden as the rush of caffeinated air, laced with the golden umber of roasted African berries, this existence drops away and I stand in a different coffee shop, fifteen years removed, before the green-and-white comfort of a Starbucks on each corner, to a place of youth and bravado and egotistical surety mixed with the remnants of teen angst and social awkwardness. A place where grungy ‘hippies’ with blond dreadlocks and chin-beards recited bad poetry, and dirty 20-somethings with bass guitars in long black cases, still thought they would change the world with rock n’ roll. A place where I spent my afternoons, reading great literature for the sake of pretense, wrapped in the love of words and ideas.
I see you there, looking just as delicate, but acting hard-edged, joking and rough-housing with the boys, but going home alone, to lovingly remove your menagerie of stuffed animals from a floral-print duvet in the room you’ve slept in since you were seven years old. You smoke weed on Saturday nights and give out cheek-kisses at the bar when you’ve had too many vodka-7’s. You have a black rose tattooed on your left shoulder, but you wear Tigger pajamas and pigtails to bed.
I’ve become your best ‘guy’ friend. I take you to foreign films and dusty cafés and cook you blackened Cajun chicken when my parents are away and we drink wine coolers and ride our bikes through the park and go to the bookstore on Sunday afternoons in the rain. We talk on the phone every night and when you finally move into an apartment with a girl from our High School Volleyball team, I help you move in and then I worship you silently from your mothers old plastic-covered couch while you make out with some douchebag snowboarder from the Kootenays who showed up at the housewarming party.
You cry to me later, with your head in my lap, sobbing as I run my fingers through your hair, chocolate silk and light-as-air.
We share music and make each other mix tapes. You buy me books full of art from the four corners of the earth and love the stories I write – for you, always for you – and we talk all day, every day – you complaining about how all your boyfriends fall short, me silently vowing to never let you down.
You get depressed and, despite my best efforts, you wallow in self-doubt. You plan a trip and you go away, leaving me for months, without a word, without a smile. I get a postcard from Scotland saying you wish I was there. At some point it becomes true. It hits you that I’ve been there all along, quietly pining, hopelessly waiting for you to make the first move. You come home. You buy a flowered sundress and get your hair cut short like a flapper girl in that silent movie we saw. You talk to our friends and find out where I’ll be on a Friday night in June.
You come to the party, looking just for me, to tell me what you’ve learned and what you’ve seen and how I make you feel.
What you will find is me. Me and some blonde-headed twat who was slightly less drunk than I. She was also drunk enough to make out with me in the hall. Pull me into a back bedroom and pull off half of my clothes. That is where you will find me, drunk and blind, with one hand up her shirt and my tongue in her mouth.
You’ll cry, say nothing, and we will quickly drift apart. I’ll never know what you saw, or how you felt, until a decade later, when a song on the radio reminds me of the road trip we took to Ohio. I find you on Facebook or MySpace or SpaceBook or fucking MyFace, and see you happy, married with kids and 15 pounds heavier, but just as entrancing as you were at 19. I stare at the pictures of you and your friends and your family and feel like a Doctor staring at a mole. I feel ashamed. Dirty and ashamed for invading your life without me. And I’ll realize that our being together was never meant to be.
Still, here and now, all I can think of is how much you look like her. The one I never saw get away.
And I wish, as we locked eyes for that brief fraction of a second, to brush my lips against yours, feel your breath whispering through those lush cherry daydreams, and have you be her, fifteen years ago.
As I slip back from an alternate past to the unreliable present, I think about you blowing on my coffee as you fade back into the ether of my memory.
You thank me, pass me my muffin and a dollar thirty-eight change, which I drop in the tip jar with a clumsy smile and a tiny piece of my heart.
I take my coffee, smile and nod, and remind myself to find a different corner to get my coffee from.
By lunch, I’ve forgotten all about you both and I daydream of my beautiful wife and my beautiful children. By midnight I’m asleep and dreaming of nothing at all.