Still-life with Coffee

This piece of creative nonfiction is based on a journal entry I wrote in the early 1990s

I sit alone in the coffee shop.  It is the kind of self-conscious coffee shop that sells Fair-Trade coffee in large white ceramic mugs and serves food on mismatched china.  The baristas are young, attractive, pierced and tattooed.  Items are arranged on my table like a still-life.  A half-eaten cookie sits on a dessert plate covered in pink cabbage roses.  My iced coffee is half full, condensation leaving the thick glass sweaty and slippery.  My copy of The Ethical Slut sits by my elbow while I write in my journal in purple ink.  I joke to myself about purple prose.  I am feeling self-conscious sitting alone but hoping that I look cool, mysterious.

There is man sitting diagonally across from me with his laptop.  His ceramic mug still steams.  For a moment I am tempted to introduce myself and ask if I can join him but I am not even sure that I can make conversation right now.  I am raw in my loneliness and isolation.  I write in my journal, processing the last few days.  My marriage of 12 years is ending and I could not even find a friend to have coffee with today.  I am full of self-pity and cursing my pride and stubborn self-sufficiency.

When I look up, I see that laptop man is no longer alone.  His companion, a woman, is leaning across the table toward him.  He, on the other hand, is leaning back into the bench seat, arms folded—somewhat defensively, I think- across his chest.  I am intrigued by his body language.  Is it a budding relationship?  Is it a relationship on its last dying gasp?  Does she want more than he does?  An unrequited crush, perhaps?  I wonder if this what I look like to my friends and co-workers these days—do I mirror her eagerness, unable to recognize that they are backing away, overwhelmed by my endless neediness?

Her ass is sticking out and I am seeing too much of her and not enough of him— he is the one who intrigues me. Why I am so obsessed with their story?  Is it simply a way to avoid thinking about my own life?  Am I imaging parallels where none really exist? Perhaps I need the fantasy about an alternative life where I am intriguing enough to catch someone’s eye in a coffee shop and inspire their imagination.  Perhaps right now I need the illusion that someone else sitting nearby– laptop man perhaps?–  is wondering about me.

I tell myself often that there are worse things than being alone but it is harder today to remember that. Even as I rail against my vulnerability, I acknowledge that I long to lay my head somewhere sweet, to taste a lover’s lips, to be safe and protected in someone’s arms. For a brief time just to be, knowing that I am valued, wanted and cherished.  For now, I will need to settle for my coffee and my imagination.

© 2016 Christine Elizabeth Ray – All Rights Reserved

Photo Credit: Peter Szto, PhD

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