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Too Late For Coffee
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Too Late For Coffee
An old man's last days with an angel
[1,489 words]
Liilia Morrison
Writer and artist living in South Florida
[August 2016]
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Too Late For Coffee
Liilia Morrison

"Wait! I must take a picture of this.” The woman was smartly dressed in a dark blue power suit. With a smooth motion, she pulled out a small camera phone the size of a guest soap bar.

“Oh, come on,” her companion said. “We’re late already. The flight leaves in two hours. Remember how they detained you the last time?”

“It’ll only take a second,” the woman said. “Besides, I got rid of that Swiss army knife long ago.” She held the black cell phone about a foot in front of her, silently capturing images of ancient, stained cups of coffee, lined up neatly on an old wooden table. The kitchen where they stood was cluttered with piles of yellowed newspapers. It was their grand uncle’s home. Well, not any more. He was gone now.

The old man died in a hospital about four miles from this place. It was by chance that he was still alive when they found him. The street where he had lived some fifty years had seen better days. Now hookers, pimps and drug dealers controlled the neighborhood. There was a park close by, once a sunny spot for family barbecues, swimming in the lake and water skiing, now home to the homeless who squatted behind rolling swales and thick palmetto. The lake had long ago become too polluted for human use. Nobody brought their skis or boats here.

Down the unpaved street there was a cottage inhabited by Laplanders. They kept to themselves. The outside of their little whitewashed cottage was neat as a lace bonnet. The few invited inside saw walls the color of deep coral setting off plain, homemade wooden tables and chairs that sparkled like fresh cut pine. The floor could only be that way if someone got down on their knees with buckets of hot, soapy water and a large scrub brush.

It just happened that a young relative had arrived there from Lapland. She was about sixteen years old, blond as a Viking, beautiful as only a northern girl of the snows can be. This vision arrived on this street, in that little cottage, totally unaware of the dangers of “Sandspur Lane.” That is what the locals called it. The name did not refer to the little sticky burs in the grass. It referred to the hearts and ways of the people who had moved in and taken over this little, quiet lane.

“What do you want?” the old man had yelled from his living room when the young girl knocked on a half open broken screen door.

“Do you hav any vork?” she said.

The old man, confused, yelled this time. “Come in.”

The girl, smiling, walked into a dim room to the left of the kitchen. There, on a couch that sat very low to the floor was a thin, gaunt figure, covered with a brown blanket. A dim, small television was on low volume, playing an infomercial about skin care.

The old man gestured to a faded lazy-boy chair near the window. There were several triangular rips in the dark beige vinyl.

The girl sat down obediently.

“Bring me some water,” the old man ordered.

The kitchen was covered with a dark film, the kind that age brings to the old. They can no longer see well. Dirt and grime don’t seem obvious, nor do they seem important any more, not when the person reaches the nineties.

The girl found the kitchen sink dry. The worn sponge next to the water spigot was curled up and hard. Several pots were sitting on a small four burner electric range. Out of curiosity, she lifted a lid and found a dark brown stew with mold on top.

“Here,” the girl said, handing a clay mug half filled with tap water to the man.

Without a word, he shakily drew it to his lips, drinking with loud gurgles. Most of the water spilled down the front of his half bare chest. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Bread?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “Coffee.” He repeated the word, “Coffee.”

The girl went back to the kitchen. There was a carafe filled with a dark liquid. She smelled it. There was no odor. Then she noticed four cups lined up on the table. Each cup had brown stains on the outside and a smattering of undissolved non-dairy creamer on its edges. The girl picked up one of the cups and brought it to the old man.

“Ahh, thank you,” he said, warmly. His voice was suddenly strong. He gulped the dark, cold liquid, again spilling much of it on his chest and a thin, gray undershirt peeking out from a paint stained khaki work shirt.

Then he looked with a glint in his eye at the girl’s face. He smiled.

“You are an angel,” he said. “You are angel,” he said again, but this time his voice was weak, trailing off into a mumble.

“I vill bring cake,” she said.

The combined smells of mold, dirt and dust in the small room made her choke. She felt sorry for the old man. She felt a sadness that made her want to run out, down the dirt road, past her family’s cottage. She wanted to go back to Lapland. Her grandmother had died in her arms. That is why she came here, to this southern climate. Her grandmother had been the only one left. She refused to leave her homeland. Now, here in this new place, this man reminded her of what had happened to Babka. She couldn’t bear seeing another old person, helpless, sad, and alone.

“Cake,” she repeated, smiling.

The old man did not protest. He gestured for her to leave.

The next day, about the same time in the afternoon, she returned with a small plate covered with a very white cloth napkin.

“Halloo,” she said as she stood by the creaky screen door.

There was no answer. She slipped in quietly, holding the plate in front of her, to surprise the old man.

He was lying in the same position she had found him the day before. She quickly placed the dish on a low coffee table, next to the cup she had brought to him yesterday. The dish fell to the ground, spilling powdered sugar and toasted almonds on a dark green shag rug.

“Halloo,” she said. “Halloo.” She touched his face. It was cool. His breathing was short and raspy.

She ran back to her cottage, screaming. Within five minutes sirens were heard in the neighborhood. People stuck their heads out from behind tattered lace curtains or sheets drawn over broken windows. It was not a raid this time. It was one of the old ones. Most of them lived to the nineties, some even reached a hundred. This old one had hung on, outlived most of his family.

The paramedics saw the bedsores, felt the almost nonexistent pulse.

“Well, I wouldn’t take bets on this one,” one of them said. Paramedics get tough after seeing the edges of life year in year out. If they didn’t make light of things, they would go back to selling insurance.

“Why on earth do you want a picture of those filthy cups?” the middle aged man asked.

“Oh, I was going to use it as evidence of his incompetence,” the smartly dressed woman said. “For the last few years I’ve been taking photos of those four cups as proof that he can’t take care of himself.”

“But he’s dead,” the man said. “It’s over. We don’t have to deal with this any more.”

“I know, I know,” the woman said impatiently. She wondered why it seemed important to take those images, even now.

She fished the sleek cell phone out of her leather purse. “I think I’ll delete them right now.”

“Good idea. The sooner we get rid of this mess, the better,” the man said.

They were on the plane, headed back to the large city where they lived. They had put the property on the market and the will in the hands of lawyers.

The woman’s long, acrylic nail touched the delete button on the cell phone.

“Imagine making four cups of coffee to save getting up and making a new cup each time,” she laughed. She deleted the image of the cups. Four, she thought. But the image had shown only three cups.

“Funny,” she said, “there were only three cups in the image.”

“Oh, get over it, sis,” the man said. “Remember, it’s over. It’s over.”

“I know, I know,” she said. “Where do you suppose that cake came from, the one on the floor?”

“Look, if you don’t drop this, I’ll move my seat,” the man said. “I’m beginning to think you have a touch of whatever the old man had.”

“Heaven forbid,” the woman said. The subject was closed.

The man, aware that he had won his point, nudged her side, “It’s quite obvious who moved that cup and brought the cake.”

“Oh, stop it,” the woman said.

“An angel,” the man said. “It had to be an angel.” They both laughed.

Just then the flight attendant brushed up against their seats. “Will you have some coffee?” she said.


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© 2007 Liilia Morrison
April 2007

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