Coffee

With the third sip of heavily sweetened tea, Jordan reaches down and puts her hand on his thigh but it was not a gesture of closeness even though they’d made love a half hour before.

She’s supporting herself with that hand, she’s trying to stop the swaying. Her eyes are half-closed and words that mumble out of her slack mouth are half-formed, incoherent, and inaudible even to him sitting close.

He gently holds her wrist so he can catch her if she falls backwards. He doesn’t know what drug she’d decided to take before she met him that causes her to alternate between sexual mania and this catatonia.

Suddenly, Jordan inhales sharply and her eyes open wide, she focuses now on the coffee shop, aware of where she is and that she is with him.

“It’s so strange, scenes from my past just merge into this, bad things that happened in a place like this. But I’m glad to be here, with you. I’m just so tired,” she says.

Jordan fades out again, her head tips back and her eyes half close, but she returns more quickly. He can’t tell if it’s a heroin nod, or if very potent TCH is overwhelming her balance. She met him saying something was wrong with her contacts, so he suspects pot was her drug of choice but strains of pot are now so powerful.

Dinner had been exceptional. Chicken fried lamb neck on a bed of spiced grits and honey with spiced carrots and dill; a stuffed trout, roast chicken thighs with the fat crisped and served with potato gnocchi that puffed with flavor of butter, and squash and arugula. Each course was expertly served by a tall Eurasian beauty at a tiny restaurant Jordan had heard about and wanted to try.

It didn’t matter how the evening ended, if Jordan would spend the night, if they would make love again, if he just took her back downtown to her apartment. The meal itself, at a place Jordan really wanted to go but probably would not remember, was worth the visit to town.

*   *   *

Tommy is dressed in black leather. The long trench coat is supple and has a wide belt. Tall boots lace nearly to his knee, but for affect, yes, have four large silver buckles along each calf. The black leather vest is laced up the sides but open over a long-sleeved black T-shirt. The chain that hooks each end to his belt loops low along his thigh.

Tattoos splash up and out of the neck of his T-shirt, up his throat and neck but stop short of a face that is so handsome he might once have been on the cover of a trashy semi-porn romance novel. Now, long blond hair hangs in a pony-tail halfway down his back bedraggled from the incessant rain.

Tommy sits next to a couple whose first meeting was online. Now, finally, for the first time, over coffee, “what is” greets “what I imagined.” On the other side of him is an informal job interview, a man in a sport coat advises a younger man in a nice plaid shirt with a parka over the back of his chair. A brief case disgorges a resumé to be carried back through the rain and put on a pile.

Tommy is wearing his leather resumé, his eyes dart around the coffee shop, measuring and evaluating the rest of us, his CV is the backpack at his feet displaying a life story in scuffs and and patches that start conversations that end in strange bedrooms where his dangerous beauty is currency for whatever is offered: food, shelter, a few hundred bucks, maybe a watch or a broach lifted when his benefactor goes to the bathroom, to be pawned at one of the shops down on Third Street.

*   *   *

Chelan is very pretty and thin and her hair is a golden chestnut with streaks of gold and is shorter in back, it’s cut so it follows the angle of her fine jaw down below her chin  but not quite to the points of her collar bone, her hair is thick and shiny and hangs heavy, swaying when she changes expression so it is in constant motion.

Sarah is the same age but not as polished, thick black hair hangs loose on its own, not completely in control as it is pushed back over ears, strands constantly pushed back using fingertips as a comb.

They talk as if they were once fond but now nearly-forgotten acquaintances, maybe sorority sisters from five or ten years ago, roommates as college.

Sarah says words that bring a succession of dramatic facial expressions from Chelan, her fine jaw underlining perfect hair that stays intact for all these animated expressions, wide-eyed-wide-open-mouth surprise followed by deep frowns, everything expressed as if a text punctuated with exclamation points. OMG!

They stand to leave and Sarah pushes her hair back over her ear with her fingertips again and hands Chelan a card or a note. Chelan with her hair streaked with gold looks at it and then calls up an expression as if she is in great pain, as if the gesture itself is about to elicit tears if not sobs because she’s overwhelmed.

But thankfully this passes and is replaced easily with a smile as warm as the January sun, followed by a quick kiss on the cheek as she looks at her watch and affirms her need to say good-bye.

*   *   *

William struggles to climb out of the Town Car, as if his hair is dyed so black to hide that he is many years older than most would choose as a driver. But he can’t hide the stiffness of his tendons, the brittleness of his bones, as he takes the bag from the pilot with three stripes on his sleeve.

The small bag does not go over the lip with the first effort and the airline captain winces as William puts more effort into the second swing so the bag tumbles into the trunk. The captain gives a small shake of his head he knows William can’t see. Co-captain easily puts his bag beside the first with one hand while carrying a briefcase with the other and walks around the car to get in while William reaches up stiffly to close the lid.

William turns about so the left side of his face is now visible. It is offset from the right, it hangs slack, inches below where once it had been. He might have suffered a stroke, given his age, but as he continues the turn it’s apparent that the black stem of his glasses going back grasps only his head, and the too-black hair ends in a ragged line above where his ear would have been if he’d had an ear.

The droop of his face is not from a stroke but flesh and skin are no longer supported by a cheek bone, now missing, or a jaw, destroyed and removed. Flesh droops like theater bunting down the side of his face.

It was a ferocious impact when his previous Town Car was hit on the driver’s side door by a pick-up jacked so high the bumper cleared the door bracing and came right through the window as it sped through the red light in an effort to get home two minutes earlier and before traffic piled up at the bridge.

About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon
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