The Seasonal Menu
They always say that a man who really loves you
Knows how you take your coffee, but
I've never blamed you for not knowing.
I could order your drinks at anycafe we visited,
The house blend, or a caramel latte.
You were consistent,
sturdy, dark, like your coffee,
easy to satisfy and plain.
You never knew what drinks I would order,
No matter how many times we sat shoulder-to-shoulder
at Vienna's bar.
Irish mint frappuccinos, hibiscus herbal teas,
Or strong black coffee with sloshes of simple syrup
poured in while I laughed
I too, am like my coffees and teas.
I am loud, bold, I am the seasonal menu;
The one consistent thing about me is my frequent inconsistency
You knew this. And so you never ordered my drinks for me.
You never pretended to have such privileged access to the inner workings of my mind.
As to know what I would want.
I admire that.
But now, when I sit at Vienna's front window alone,
avoiding the plush leather booths
Where we sat
on the same side,
When even I don't know what to order for myself
I wish that someone understood me well enough to know
what I want, and
I wish that, just once, you had known me well enough to order my coffee.
“NEVER PUT OFF UNTIL TOMORR”
Misty rain dotted the pavement, edging down the street. It wetted a row of five white mailboxes, which guarded five white fences. Enclosed by the calm white sameness of the fences were five yards, with gardens sprouting pansies and petunias and pink primroses, each groomed in an orderly manner and kept tamely within the boundaries of the gardens. Looming over the gardens stood five white houses. Rain-washed siding gleamed around the straight blue window shutters and doors. A white poodle sniffed primly at a petunia in front of the third house.
The rain continued on its path down the street, blind to the five white houses. As the droplets splattered onto the sixth mailbox, the tempo of the shower increased to an allegro, pounding on the gunmetal grey mailbox of the sixth house. The faded red plastic flag screwed to the side of the box stood at an angled salute, parallel to nothing. Once-white paint peeled from the greenish wood of the fence posts surrounding the yard; the gate stood ajar, creaking in the breeze. Untrimmed grasses, quivering beneath the weight of the rain, poked up their uncertain heads; flowers spilled wildly from the garden box, encroaching upon the frazzled green carpet of grass. The shutters, once blue, were now a dull grey. The front door was dingy, unwashed. A stray cat lounging in the reckless flowerbed bristled as the rain dampened his tangerine fur.
Inside the sixth house, the rain could be heard drumming away at the roof. In the back bedroom of the house, the occupant of an old wooden bedstead stirred at the sound, sighing in her sleep and tossing about under the motheaten coverlet. The rain crescendoed. The girl in the bed groaned and pressed a pillow over her frizz of orange-red hair. The rain would not be ignored. With a huff, the girl sat up and slung her legs over the edge of the bed. She shoved her feet into matted house-slippers before trudging along the corridor toward the kitchen.
Through the speckled glass of the dirty kitchen window, the girl watched the rain sluicing down across her overgrown yard. The cat had meandered in through the cat-door and stood dripping at her feet, spatting out his frustrations with the weather. She leaned down to ruffle his fur, but he prissed away before her hand reached him. Slowly, as if rheumatic, she straightened, scratching her rump and sighing. “Something to eat, I suppose,” she muttered to no one as she began sifting through the pantry. She grasped about until her hands touched the cotton sack, the glass container. Then on to the refrigerator: the carton, the tub. Firing up the stove and retrieving a pan from the rack above her head, she began to cook.
“Wally,” her voice echoed down the corridor, “you want a pancake?” The cat’s face reappeared in the doorway of the kitchen only momentarily before he disappeared again through the cat door, deciding he’d face the rain and the wildflowers before he’d eat another of her meals. She shrugged, plopped a blob of butter into the pan, and began mixing the batter in a chipped ceramic bowl. Flour, one and one half cups. Sugar, one third… or was it two thirds? No matter, that seemed like enough. Swirl in the milk, sniff it to make sure it hasn’t soured. What else? Oh, yes, eggs. Eggs. She stuck the orange globe of her hair into the refrigerator, rummaging through Chinese takeout containers and molding oranges. No eggs. No matter. Stir the batter together, flump a spoonful into the hissing pan. The batter ran thin like water, coating the bottom of the pan. The girl turned her attention to finding her spatula. She was not an ugly girl, perhaps, but she wasn’t pretty, either. A shock of hair falling over muddy green-brown eyes, a mouth with a bottom lip full to the point of drooping. Pointy chin, long neck. Slender torso, probably a shapely figure hiding somewhere under the ill-fitting t-shirt and wide-legged cotton pajama trousers. Her arms were long and freckled as they fingered through the utensils drawer. No spatula. No matter. She selected a wooden spoon instead.
Above the stove, singed by smoke, hung the needlepoint she had started last summer. In wide red stitches, it read “NEVER PUT OFF UNTIL TOMORR”. Sure, she had never finished it, but it looked alright to her. The pancake hissed in the skillet. Wielding her spoon, she poked and prodded. The pancake tore in several places, and a handful of jagged-edged pancake pieces lay in the pan after she had flipped them all with the spoon. Syrup. She would need syrup. She knew this, but remained rooted to her spot, her eyes glazed as she stared out the window at the sheets of rain. She was still staring when the smell of thick black smoke recalled her to her task. The pancake pieces were shrivelled, sizzling furiously. She took a dirty plate from the sink and slid the pancakes onto it, clicking the stove off and plodding to the table. The pancakes rattled against the plate as she set it down, remembering her need for syrup. Syrup. Check the upper cabinets, no syrup. Check the lower cabinets, no syrup. No matter.
She fell into a wobbly chair at the table, tapped a pancake with an unpolished fingernail. Solid as a rock. No matter. She lifted the cake to her mouth, bit into it with a crunch like concrete between her teeth. And the dishes sat filthy in the sink. The needlepoint hung unfinished on the wall, “NEVER PUT OFF UNTIL TOMORR.” The old bed and the motheaten covers stood unmade in the back bedroom. The cat rolled outside in a bed of wet violets.
The rain slacked off in the yards of the five white houses. It drummed lightly on the white mailboxes, dripping from the primroses. Slowly, the rain stopped, and the five white houses stood drying beneath a feeble ray of sunlight. But the rain had not stopped over the sixth house. It poured contentedly down, and the cat’s tail flicked in the flowerbed.