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The Groove - A Short Story
November 8, 2014
Before he wakes up I make my way to the kitchen, tiptoeing across the toe-numbingly cold linoleum floors. Behind the first cherry wood cabinet door is the bag of Community Breakfast Blend we bought last week. The top of the red bag is folded over so many times the bag has been shrunk down to a fourth its original size. Lifting the black tabs and unfolding the bag releases the soft smell of my favorite coffee grounds. I shake the bag, letting the remainder of the grounds sprinkle in to the waiting filter - I make a mental note to buy more on my way home from the office. After the coffee pot is filled with grounds and water I push the “on” button and watch as the green light illuminates the kitchen in an eerie glow, bouncing off every reflective surface in sight. I used to immediately turn on the light when I entered a room, any room, but for a while now I’ve been beginning my day wrapped in the comforting darkness between night and day. The green glow would have reminded me of some horror movie I’d seen at some time in my life, but now its infinite reflection reveals the cracks in the familiarity of my life. What I pretended not to recognize when the lights were on became too glaringly obvious to ignore when painted green. Our stainless steel refrigerator was a wedding present from my second cousin, but was also home to five perfectly preserved fingerprints that belonged to neither myself nor my husband. Four of the prints were placed along the side of the door with a thumb print on the front. A second set of finger prints lay symmetrically on the opposite side of the fridge. I knew, from previous inspections of the green lit kitchen, that if I got close enough to the fridge I would see make up smears in the center of the two sets of finger prints. My husband has always liked things to be routine. This has become my morning routine. I inspect the kitchen and search for the inevitable traces of his affair while the coffee brews. I won’t search any other room in the house. My coffee scented, green coated kitchen allows me to see these things I’d otherwise ignore.
After my inspection is complete I pour myself a cup of coffee in my purple coffee mug. Each day I pluck it off the mug tree and watch as small flakes of purple paint chip away and stick to the counter. I take my cup of coffee to the bar, sit on the stool closest to the coffee pot and turn my attention to the mug tree. Today my focus is on a set of four I bought on my first vacation away from him. We had been dating for barely two months at the time and I went to North Carolina to visit my uncle. During a three hour road trip we stopped at a hotel for a bathroom and coffee break. It was one of those fancy hotels that you can never remember the name of, but you’ll always be able to conjure up the picture of the lobby in your mind. Deep blue carpets, stone walls that stretched for miles and a roaring fireplace. A wall of glass stood directly across from the front door and looked out on a lake so sparkling you could forget the temperature had dropped to below freezing in the span of five minutes. The hotel had a coffee shop called “The Coffee Shop” that was home to a wall of mugs which caught my attention immediately. They were all the same. Wide but short with a red inner lining and black exterior that had the look and feel of a chalk board. The words “The Coffee Shop” printed in white letter meant to resemble chalk were placed on the front and a small red stir spoon sat perched in two holes on the handle. I bought four.
They now hung on our coffee mug tree next to our ratty old coffee pot that all our friends made fun of. For two people who could each easily finish two pots a day we weren’t into the coffee “scene”. We hated Keurigs more than anything and preferred Caribou Coffee over Starbucks. Cute, small, hole in the wall coffee shops were our heroine. We were addicted. Obsessed. We were known to spend an entire day in a new city driving down side streets and back roads in search of one. Bookshelves were a must, creatively designed bookshelves were a preference – if there wasn’t a single bookshelf in the place we hopped back in the car and continued our search.
He was excited when I brought “The Coffee Shop” mugs home. I pulled them out in the airport parking lot before we even made it to the car. Maybe I was the one excited. My uncle tried to insist upon buying them for us, but I wouldn’t let him. These were the start of our collection. The beginning of our beginning. He hugged me for a few straight minutes in front of the baggage carousel – a far away look hidden beneath his tight smile. I’d been gone eight days. He’d tell me later that night that he felt like he died the second I got on the plane the week before. He’d tell me he couldn’t live without me. He’d tell me these things while holding me tight to his chest, the wetness from his cheek seeping in to my hair.
Right now, he’s upstairs sleeping. Soon I’ll hear the familiar sounds of the water running and his soft footsteps periodically moving from the bedroom to the bathroom, then to the closet, back to the bedroom, back to the bathroom. The whole while the sink will be running, which means he’ll be brushing his teeth as he moves, only stopping to spit. After two years together I don’t have to see him to see him, I know his movements better than I know my own.
I close my eyes and try to block out the voice in my head yelling at me to leave. I sip my coffee until I hear the sounds of his morning routine stop. Wiping the tears from my eyes and composing my face, I hear his footsteps on the stairs, think I should move from my position, stop staring at the coffee mug tree, make myself look busy. I know I should, but I don’t.
“What are you doing?” He asks as he enters the kitchen, tying his tie as he walks. I used to tie his tie every morning.
“Staring at the coffee mug tree.” I answer bluntly.
“And why are you staring at the coffee mug tree this time?” I can never tell if he’s paying attention to the conversation or speaking from a teleprompter he’s seeing in his head.
“I’m remembering when I bought the black ones,” I point to them, “You liked those when I got them, yeah?”
“Yeah, I liked them, I still do.” He answers pouring his usual black coffee into a tumbler.
He finishes twisting the lid, kisses me so swiftly I barely feel it and walks out the back door. I hear the mustang start and back out of the driveway. I listen until I can’t hear the engine rumble anymore. I’m staring at “The Coffee Shop” mugs again.
November 8, 2016
Bubble wrap used to be my favorite toy. I was four and we were moving into what my brothers and I called “the big house”. Mom was packing up the china cabinet. I sat at her feet popping bubble after bubble. At first she was mad, but the more I giggled at each pop, the more her anger subsided.
I’m twenty four and the sound of bubble wrap popping is no longer an immediate cure for anger. It’s no longer a joyous activity. It doesn’t cause giggles. And yet, I’m sitting on our granite counter popping bubble after bubble as he wraps it around one coffee mug at a time and places them carefully in the box sitting on the floor. Our kitchen is no longer the most revelatory room in the house. Without the green glow every problem remains hidden beneath the surface, masked by the smell of bleach and cardboard boxes.
“Having fun over there?” He asks, not looking at me.
“Do you think you could, I don’t know, help me out a little?” He’s doing his best to keep the edge of annoyance out of his voice.
“Nope.” I jump down from the counter and start to walk out of the kitchen, still popping my bubbles.
“We’re moving for you.” He flings the words across the kitchen, hoping to hold me in the room a little longer. It works. I flinch and freeze, pinned to the wall behind me.
“Yes, you want to leave this neighborhood, this city. I’m leaving my job, for you and you can’t even bother helping to pack. You’d rather just sit there, popping your damn bubble wrap and stew over an issue long since resolved and –“
“Resolved? As issue that is long since resolved?”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that, I just meant…” Having taken a few steps toward me in his building anger, he half stumbles backward and bumps his lower back against the counter hard enough to rattle the remaining coffee mugs. Back tracking was never his strong suit.
“Meant what? That I should no longer be upset about you repeatedly screwing our next door neighbor for the first two years of our marriage?”
He’s drops the mug he’s holding and it shatters on the floor. Pieces of purple covered ceramic fly across the floor and I feel my stomach fall. Pop. I unstick myself from the wall and leave the room.
November 8, 2026
People have come in and out of the house all day. They’ve brought casseroles, flowers, and their empty condolences. I’ve always hated the color black and everything in this damn house is black. Even the colorful flowers have black ribbons tied around the stems. The casseroles are sealed with black airtight lids. I hate the color black.
My children are sitting on the floor at my feet. Logan is four and Hailey is two. All I can seem to think as the hordes of people finally begin to thin is please don’t leave me alone with these kids.
But they do. They leave me alone and I put them to bed with stories and kisses. Everything is normal. Their routine hasn’t been altered. Their routine won’t be altered. Once they’re in bed I find my way down to the kitchen and brew a pot of coffee. The scent of Community Breakfast Blend fills the air and I close my eyes to breathe it in. It smells like the last ten years of my life. I pull a hand painted coffee mug from the tree and turn it over in my hands.
We were having “date night”. It was our way of bridging the valley that had formed between us since the affair. Every Saturday night was date night. The first twelve Saturday nights were spent in silence at a restaurant. We picked at our food and didn’t talk. We rode home and didn’t talk. We had sex, because we read that’s what you were supposed to do, and didn’t talk. But one date night we were on our way to a new restaurant when we spotted a hole in the wall coffee shop called “The Groove”. We stopped to check it out.
The tables were made of old cherry wood cabinet doors and had checker boards painted on them. Every wall was a chalkboard. A basket of different colored chalk sat next to the door. Big, multi colored chairs and couches were haphazardly crowded around the tables and a bookshelf made of whiskey bottles took up an entire wall. A back, closed off room, was lit entirely with green light bulbs. We took it all in, smiled and went to check out the coffee mug collection at the counter.
All the mugs were hand painted. We picked out a purple one reminiscent of the broken one, bought it and went to dinner. Every date night since then ended with a cup of coffee or pastry at the Groove.
The purple paint has started to chip, like the old one did, and a few flakes fall off in my hands as I turn it over and over. I set it on the counter behind me and turn back to the coffee mug tree. Pulling it to the edge of the counter, I pause for a split second to take a breath before pushing the whole thing to the floor. Each mug shatters. Porcelain, glass and crystal shoot across the linoleum, sticking to my feet and finding places to hide under cabinets.
Instinctively I know the noise will have woken my kids, but I can’t bring myself to move toward the stairs where I will inevitably meet their scared faces running to find me. I pick up the purple mug and take a sip thinking that this one was always her favorite.