100 Word Love Story

She had imagined he would come out from around that counter and sweep her away with that half a grin on his face, but reality was more awkward than that. She’d come in everyday to buy her cigarettes and ask him silly questions just to see that grin. Even with that red work shirt, he was handsome. So many men his age were, but it was that wrinkle against his cheek. And his piercing eyes. She touched his hand when she took her change. She said, “Tell me, are you free Friday night?” He smiled his silly smile and winked.

NaNoWriMo Day 1 (2583 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Allen told her about the toy boat, and why he had come to The City. She told him about the things she saw in the coffee. He told her how he found the toy boat. Or stole it. He saw someone with it and knocked it out of his hand. He said it wasn’t like him. He said he wasn’t a thief but all he could think about was taking the toy boat. He told about the first time he put the boat in his pocket and how the business card just appeared from nowhere.

She told him of her parents and Judy and him. And she told him about the lives of the people that she watches in the coffee. She said, “It all sounds so crazy. I’m sure you don’t believe any of it.”

Allen said, “Of course I believe you. I had my own little form of magic. I knew what was on the business cards, and I knew people would take them. And they would donate, but I’m not sure Raul Botulin is a real person. Maybe he is in one of those places you see in the coffee.”

He had wondered about Raul when he found the first business card in his pocket. Before he knew to give the card away, he looked it over. He saw the link on the back to the GoFundMe page. There was a blurb about Raul and how he was this hotshot poet. How he liked to stand out on the corner of a busy city street and yell out his poems to the people passing by. It said everyone just ignored him, but he knew that he had the words to be great. It said all Raul needed was enough money to get his first book of poetry published. And there was a picture of a young man in an expensive suit standing on an old television on a street corner with people passing by.

She said, “But that’s not the way this works. I only bring people through the coffee not things. And it was only you and Judy. And you came through naked, didn’t you? I haven’t found your clothes.”

Every time he looked at the GoFundMe page, he would think that the young man in the picture looked a little more like him. Eventually it looked so much like him that he began to go by the name. He spent all his savings to buy the same suit of the man in the picture. He hopped that owning the suit would somehow give him the password to the GoFundMe page so he could get access to all that money. Even when it was only one hundred thousand dollars, he felt like it was a life changing sum. And when he gave away that first business card, he saw that the amount in the account had gone up. He hadn’t told this part to Linda. Somehow, it felt greedy or wrong, and he didn’t want her to think those sorts of things about him. And besides, it seemed she had already seen many of the things that had happened anyway even if she only knew what was on the outside.

He said, “You didn’t say the girl was naked. That doesn’t sound like a detail that you would have left out of the story.”

She said, “No, she had clothes. But she didn’t have anything else. Nothing in her hands, and nothing in her pockets.”

He said, “But that doesn’t nothing else came through.”

Linda sounded irritated. She said, “Nothing else did come through. I’ve learned to control it.” It was really her uncertainty that had upset her. She knew that she had learned to resist the urge to bring people through the coffee, and she didn’t know if things had come through only to end up in different locations. She didn’t know for sure that things didn’t come through when she was resisting especially when she was younger. And in times of stress like running into Francisco on the street, she was not sure she could resist at all.

He said, “But you brought me through. You said you didn’t mean to.” Allen looked at her as if he wanted to see what she was thinking. Then, he looked down at his empty cup of coffee. He said, “Can I have some water, or a toothbrush? I think I know why you don’t drink this stuff.” Linda laughed at that, and then they started talking about other things.

They were both startled when there was a knock on the door. When someone knocked with out setting up an appointment with her first, it was usually some kid knocking and then running to hide down the hall. She hadn’t heard any giggling or any frantic footsteps fading out as they ran down the hall. And she didn’t hear any crying. One of her neighbors had come crying once knocking on every door in the hallway running away from her shouting boyfriend. Linda didn’t open the door for her, but she did call the police. She had not seen them and couldn’t give them a description or a room number of the fighting couple, and the operator sounded inconvenienced to be get the call. But he got the street address and her room number. He said that he would send over a police officer to take a report. She rescheduled her readings for that day and waited for hours before she decided that an officer was never going to arrive. One never did. But there was the knock again, and louder and more insistent this time.

Her peep hole had been painted over many times before she even moved into the apartment, and she had never tried to scrape it away to see through it. She always had a hard time seeing through then anyway. So she spoke loudly through the door. “Who is it?”

The man’s voice came through the door. “It’s Vincent from downstairs.”

She recognized his voice, but he had never been up to her floor to her knowledge, so she opened the door a crack and kept the safety chain engaged. She peeked through the door. She said, “Good morning… I mean, afternoon.”

He looked a little surprised. He said, “So, it is you.” He looked to his right and to his left. “Can I come in? I wouldn’t ever come to bother you, but I think you need to hear something. And I don’t think I should tell you here where people might hear me.”

She looked at Allen for a second then back to the door. “Ok.” She disengaged the safety chain and opened the door. Vincent came and shut the door behind him. He took a step away from the door and stopped. He wrung his hands together in front of him as if he were trying to keep them warm. Linda had taken a few steps back and Allen was standing next to the table trying to look intimidating despite having to keep a hand on the table to steady him.

Vincent said, “Two guys had come by my apartment askin’ about a Mrs. Carla and Raul something-or-other. They asked me about this apartment. I’m guessin’ Carla and Raul is the both of you.” He motioned to the both of them with his hands that he was still wringing together.

Allen said, “I’m Allen not Raul.”

Vincent said, “Don’t tell me your name. I don’t want to know. I wasn’t even up here.” He gave them an embarrassed look. “I know that sounds like a line from some corny mobster movie, but I’m serious. I know these kinda guys and one of them said he knew my uncle. I told him I don’t talk to my uncle, and he said he knew that, too.” He looked at both of them to make sure his words were sinking in. He said, “Look, I didn’t tell them nothin.’ And I don’t know nothin.’” He looked at them again. “They said, this Raul disappeared over a year ago and they thought he might be with this Mrs. Carla. I told them I had read of a Mrs. Carla in the newspaper, and I told them to leave. I thought they were gonna mess me up, but they didn’t.”

Allen said, “I think I know the type.”

Vincent said, “You sure look like you do.” He turned to Linda and lowered his voice a little. “Lady, I don’t know what you are doing with a guy like this, but he is bad news. He hangs out with the wrong sort of people. You better get as far away from him as you can. He’s gonna end up dead and probably you, too. You get rid of him and don’t let anybody see you do it. And don’t come talkin to me. I don’t have nothin to do with none of this.” He apologized to both of them and then he turned to the door. He said, “You better lock this behind me.” He looked down both sides of the hallway before he walked out and closed the door behind him.

Allen sat back down in the chair. He said, “It must be those same thugs that did this to me. He said they can’t get the money either.” He put his head in his hands again careful not to hurt his swollen eye. “That man is right. I don’t want you to be part of this. You don’t need to get hurt because they are looking for me. You don’t owe me anything.”

She knew he was wrong. She had heard him asking in his delirium for that toy boat. She knew that she had to return that to him. She said, “Allen, I saw what it did to Judy.” They was a ruckus in the hallway. It sounded like someone being beaten. They both looked at the door.

Allen said, “They must have seen him.” Linda ignored him and went for her purse. She dropped several things onto the floor, but she had her phone out. She was swiping at the lock screen to get the phone to work when the door busted open splintering the wooden frame. Vincent came throw the doorway falling limply onto the floor. He was sniveling and spitting blood.

Allen jumped to his feet pushing the table over a foot, knocking over Linda’s cup, and spilling the cold coffee across the table. It began to drip off the edges of the table and through the seam in the center of the table. But the cold coffee was dead and held nothing for Linda to see.

Two large men followed Vincent through the doorway and stood one on either side of him, and a third stood in the hallway in front of the door telling the other tenants to shut up and go back into their apartments. The bigger of the two said, “There you are Raul. You are coming with us.”

The other man looked at Linda and said, “Put down the phone Mrs. Carla unless you want to end up like this other trash we spilled on the floor.” Linda dropped the phone. She hadn’t even gotten the phone unlocked let alone started the call to the police.

The man from the hallway turned around. He said to the other man, “Freddy, I told you. The line about the garbage was mine. You’re not allowed to say it.”

Freddy looked over his shoulder. “I said trash. I can say trash.”

The big man looked at Vincent still laying on the floor. He said, “Remember, Vinny, your uncle wouldn’t like to hear about you talkin to the cops.”

The man from the hallway grabbed Linda by the arm and the two bigger men held Allen by either arm. They got them down the elevator and out the service door into the alley behind the building where they had a van ready with the engine running and a fourth man already waiting in the driver seat. The driver called through the window. “Hurry up. I already had to pay one cop to let me stay here. The next one may not be so friendly.”

***

Linda and Allen were taken across town to the old warehouse district where they were driven into a sparsely used industrial park. It looked like it the warehouses had seen better days but several of the warehouses upfront were still in use and several of the freight docks had trucks backed up to them. A few of the drivers were sleeping in the driver seat of their day cabs but most of the drivers must have been inside supervising the loading or unloading of their trailers. And they drove around to a small door that led from the alley in back where they kept the trash bins and a few of the worker’s cars. They were ushered through a door that had been scrawled with graffitied names all layered one on top of the other. There were a few throw ups on the rest of alleyway wall but nothing impressive. Inside the warehouse it was dark, and Linda’s eyes didn’t feel like they would adjust to the light. Linda wondered if Allen’s eyes would adjust at all because she was nearly certain that he had a concussion if not something worse.

They were brought into a small upstairs office that had been built in the warehouse way back when this warehouse was still in legitimate use. Now the warehouse floor was mostly just scattered with trash broken wooden pallets and one old tractor tire that didn’t really seem like it belonged in the old center of the city.

Franky and the other big man grabbed two chairs that weren’t too broken, but they saved the good chairs for themselves. They sat the two chairs in the corner nest to a bar that looked like it had been installed much more recently than the rest of the office they were in. Franky grabbed a pair of handcuffs out of the drawer in the desk. Cuffed one of Linda’s arms laced the other cuff behind the bar and cuffed it to Allen’s arm. He said, “You two might be pretty cosey. This spot was really only designed for one person at a time.” Franky sat down in the chair behind the desk, leaned it back on two legs, and turned his head to the other big man. He said, “Hey Pete, we are gonna be here for a while Stacy’s gonna want to talk to them herself. Why don’t you and Red pick us all up a mess of coffee. I hear tell Mrs. Carla really loves the stuff. And If I remember correctly our old friend owed her a few.”

Pete said, “Sure Frank. Don’t beat em too badly before I get back. I wanna give my knuckles a workout.” Pete walked down the stairs and spoke to the other two men. It would seem like Red was the driver and the other man was Johnny. Linda was straining to overhear what they were talking about. The walls didn’t seem to be very insulated, but they did muffle voices quite a bit.

Franky said, “You know, Raul, I’ve seen some amazing things but that night you disappeared in front of my eyes that was a truly impressive magic trick. Right between two cracks of my stick, you just swapped places with the old man.

Markey Monkey the Emperor of Evil–Halloween Reposting

On the back wall of the throne room in the castle of The Burning Hammer hung a full-length mirror with an ornate black and grey filigree frame. Despite the deepening black of the mirror pane, it emitted an ominous glow like dying embers at night. In the center, you could almost see the visage of a disappointed father.

An eight year old child stood with his head down and his hands behind his back in front of the mirror but several feet back. He kicked one shoe against the cobblestone floor, and it made a loud squeak. He said, “But dad, I don’t want to take the zombies out today. Do you have any idea how many people I need to kill to get your crazy machine up to even a little power? I took the hoard of devil children out to Illinois yesterday. We killed half the people in Chicago and the screen is still blinking and saying its critically low.”

The image of old man in the mirror affected a stern look and said, “Mark.” That is how you could tell he was mad. Typically, he would call his son ‘Markey the Monkey,’ ‘Monkey Head,’ or ‘Markey Mark and the Funky Bunch’ that is, when he wasn’t calling him by made up words like ‘Farblegooble’ or ‘Snoopledoople.’ He said, “Mark, come here.”

Mark took a step back and said, “No.”

The evil image said, “What do you mean, no?”

Mark swiveled back and forth on one foot avoiding eye contact with the evil image in the mirror and said, “No, dad. You’re mad.”

The ominous glow of the mirror dimmed a little. “No son. I am trying to look stern. I mean I am putting a lot on you. And I want you to call it ‘The Portal of Souls’ not ‘crazy machine.’ It makes it sound a lot more scary.  You know fear is an important tool in the arsenal of every good emperor of evil.”

Mark said, “But dad, I don’t want to be an emperor of evil. I want an Xbox 5. Billy’s dad bought him an Xbox 5.”

The ominous glow got brighter. “We don’t have the money.” The image looked a little pensive. “The money I have to shell out in alimony.” The image shook its head. “Look just don’t get married. That’s all I ask. You know, all I want is the best for you.”

Billy looked up at his father’s image with his best ‘innocent’ look, “We can use my money. I’m rich. I have more money than anything.”

The Evil image said, “Yes. Yes, Marky Poo, it looks like a lot because I drop all my change in your piggybank, but it can’t be more than forty or fifty dollars.”

Mark whined, “Dad.”

The evil image said, “No, we just can’t do it. It’s final.”

Mark started to cry. “Dad, you hurt my feelings.”

The evil vision in the mirror didn’t know what to do. He knew he was right, but his son was crying. The poor little boy was just overwhelmed. He just needed to calm down. The evil image said, “It’s OK, son. Just stop crying.”

Mark whimpered. “I can’t.”  He kept crying.

The evil vision said, “Oh sweet little Markey Monkey, why don’t you sit down in the throne and cuddle with my desiccated corpse like we used to do before my soul was trapped in this mirror.”

Mark said, “OK, dad.” He climbed up and sat on the arm of the throne leaned against his dad’s boney corpse and wiped his tears on the shirt over the dead shoulder. He calmed almost instantly, and before long he was no longer even breathing hard. He said, “Dad, I feel better now.” He was still cuddling his dad’s corpse.

The evil vision said, “I love you, son.”

Mark looked at the mirror and said, “Too.”

The evil vision smiled a genuine warm smile, and said, “OK, Markey are you ready to take out the zombies? I heard there are still some survivors hiding out in the Great Lakes area.”

Mark smiled at the evil image of his father in the mirror and said, “OK, dad.”

The evil image stood proud and watched its son walk out the throne room door and begin the chant to raise the corpses from the dead. The evil image thought, that little boy will make his father proud by the end of the day. The evil image wasn’t wrong. That was a black day for the state of Illinois. Death drenched in blood and giant gouts of hellfire that can still be seen to this day.

*************************

Little Markey Monkey was out on his father’s business one day in a small town outside of an Iowa corn field. The usual. Flames and air raid sirens and whatnot. He found a little girl wandering through the tall grass up the only hill in the state. A very gradual hill. You might even call it a mound or a lump. But he found her on her way to the playground at the top. He had heard her crying and followed that sound. He said, “Are you hurt?” He reached out and grabbed her by the hand.

She said, “I’m scared. I think I saw a monster.”

Mark said, “Don’t be scared of monsters. Nothing can hurt you.” He grabbed the left sleave of his shirt with his right hand and wiped her tears. He saw the shiver was still on her lips, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small toy car. He said, “Whenever I get sad about my father, I play with this car.” He handed it to her.

She took it, hesitated for a moment then gave him a hug. He hugged her back. She said, “Do you want to be my friend? We could play at the playground.”

He said, “Yes, my name is Mark.”

The little girl said, “My name is Milly. You wanna race?” They both started up the hill parting the grass as they went. Mark let her have a head start because she was smaller.

He said, “Don’t let me catch you.” When they got to the top of the hill they played for a while. There was a swing set with a tire swing on one end and monkey bars, but Milly was too small for both. But there was the play set with the slides connected with bridges and stairs. So they climbed the stairs and played on the slides running across the rubber coated bridges that connected them. It was a beautiful day to play ignoring the black smoke in the sky and the sounds panic coming from town. In fact, the hell fire burning in town added a nice rosy glow to the playground equipment that was quite a bit nicer than the direct glare of the bright son.

After some time, Milly sat down on the top step and began to push the toy car back and forth. Mark sat next to her and put his arm around her as she played. She said, “Mark,” then she pushed the car some more. “Markey… I wish my dad could push me.”

He said, “I can push you.”

She said, “That one.” She pointed to the tire swing.

He said, “I can push you.”

She said, “No, me and you. I want my dad to push us.”

He said, “Me too. My dad is stuck in a chair.”

She said, “Did he get hurt?”

He said, “Not a wheelchair, silly.” Milly just looked at him. He thought she still looked sad. “A throne.”

She smiled. “Your dad is stuck on the potty?!” She practically giggled the words.

Mark laughed, too, rocking back and forth on the step. He said, “Pooping?!”

Milly said, “Pooping!!” They were practically crying. It was so funny.

They both laughed for a while before they could catch their breath. Mark said, “He’s not pooping. He’s dead. He is in the mirror, but his body is stuck on the throne in the castle.”

She scooted away from him. “What castle?”

He pointed toward the fire and smoke on the horizon. “In the sky. The big one way over there.”

She said, “Markey are you evil?

He said, “Yes.” He sounded as if he didn’t even know the implications of his answer. Milly looked as if she might run at any second. He said, “But that doesn’t mean I’m not good.”

She said, “It does.”

He said, “Does not.” He almost looked offended. “I am good.”

She said, “But you’re evil.”

He said, “I am evil.”

She looked puzzled. “Evil-good?”

He nodded. “Evil-good.”

She said, “I’m glad,” then reached over and gave him a big hug. “Because I think my mommy and daddy are dead.”

He said, “Oh…” He hugged her for a second. “Don’t worry about that. Death is not the end.”

She said, “It’s not?”

He said, “No. Of course not. Who told you that?” He scratched his head. “I’ll bring them back. What are their names?” He raised his hands and started humming a strange tune.

She said, “Zombies?”

He nodded. “Zombies.”

She said, “Not zombies! Alive.”

He put his hands down and let out a sigh. He said, “I can’t do that. Not yet. My dad has this machine…” He let his words trail off. He said, “You keep hold of that car. I will take you home with me tonight. My dad won’t like it, but you will be able to stay with us. I will tell him, and we will get your mommy and daddy back alive. Just close your eyes. I have to call my monsters to pick up the dead.”

She closed her eyes and held on to her Markey until he finished his strange chant. He scrubbed her hair with his hand. He said, “It’s OK now, Milly. You can open your eyes.”

They stopped by her house on the way back to the castle and picked up a change of clothes for the night.

********************************

The black mirror in the throne room of The Castle of the Burning hammer began to lighten. It sniffed tentatively at first, and then sniffed good and hard. The evil vision’s voice boomed a sing song. “Markey Mark, little monkey.”

Mark jumped and spilled coffee on the floor and table of the castle kitchen. He said loud enough to be heard in the other room. “What, dad.”  He threw the rest of the coffee down the sink.

The evil vision’s voice boomed into the kitchen. “What do I smell in there?”

Mark yelled again from the kitchen. “Nothing, dad. You can’t smell, remember?”

The evil vision boomed his voice into the kitchen. “I can, too. And I think you are hiding something. Mark, get in here.”

Mark thought his dad was getting mad.  He yelled, “No.”

The evil vision said, “Now, son.”

“No.”

“I’m about to start counting.” Mark still did not come. “One…” The evil voice counted loudly.

Mark poked his head out of the kitchen doorway. “No, dad. Don’t spank me.”

“Two…”

Mark walked through the door. Looking at his toes and walking slow.

The evil vision said, “Markey, do I smell coffee?”

Mark looked up and said, “When did you start smelling again?”

The evil vision said, “I don’t know. It just started on and off in the last… Mark, you are too young to drink coffee.”

“I didn’t drink it, dad.” The news that his father was regaining his senses made Mark both happy and sad.

“So, I did smell coffee.”

“No. There isn’t any coffee. You didn’t smell coffee.”

“Don’t lie to me, Mark. I can see it on your face.”

Mark was astonished. “You can see, too?”

“Well, no… Only sometimes. Like when you lie to me.”

“OK, dad. But I didn’t drink the coffee.”

“Mark… Little Markey, I will not have you drinking coffee. It is not good for a growing boy.”

“I won’t.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

The evil vision said, “By the way. I have been sensing spot around here the past couple days.” Mark smiled he really liked spot. The evil vision said, “I thought you sent him back to hell.”

“He came back. I think he just wandered off into the woods for a while.”

“I don’t know, Markey. When I told you it was OK to keep him as pet you told me that you were up to the responsibility.”

“I am, dad. I am very responsible. I clean his cage and everything.”

“The zombies told me that they were the ones picking up his poop.”

“That is the same thing, isn’t it?”

“Well maybe in the eyes of the law… But cleaning it up yourself is supposed to teach you discipline.”

“Dad, it’s gross. It stinks. It has blood and mucus and pieces of bone. And it’s foamy. The zombies like to do it. They told me.”

“The zombies didn’t tell you that. Nobody likes picking up monster poop. Especially not from a black slime.” The mirror started to dim to blackness and Markey turned to walk away. Then, the evil mirror snapped brighter than ever. “Wait a minute, son. Have you been talking to the zombies?” There was almost excitement in the evil vision’s voice.

“You know what I mean, dad. I tell them to do stuff, and they do it.”

“So… You were fibbing?”

“Don’t be mad, dad.”

“Are you sure? You didn’t look like you were fibbing. You know it would be a big day if you could read their minds. You would be growing into a man. You are not scared of growing up, are you? You are still too young for ‘The Talk’ but I sure would be proud of my little man.”

“I wasn’t fibbing… I just don’t like to clean up the poop.”

“I know, but that is part of your responsibilities. And you need to be more careful with him. Have the zombies make sure his pit is sealed. I mean really sealed. A slime can get through even the smallest of cracks.”

“I will, dad.”

“And really watch them. You are the supervisor really make sure they are doing a good job. I don’t you to tell them I said this, but those zombies… I don’t want to say it. They are… Kind of…”

“Dumb, dad?”

“Don’t say it so loud, son. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

“You don’t want to hurt the zombies’ feelings!?” Mark began to giggle.

“They do have feelings, son. We are not the only ones. Zombies are just the same as you and me. You should respect them.”

Mark looked a little ashamed. “I do respect them, dad.” “OK, son. You just keep an eye on spot. We don’t need him going around killing people when you are not there to collect the power from their souls. We need everything we can get to power that machine. It seems like the power keeps leaking away little by little every day. I need to recheck the wiring diagram against the way the machine is actually hooked up. There has got to be something leaking to ground that shouldn’t me. I mean we really should have the thing up and running by now.”

You Won’t Take Mad From Me

He said, You are sitting right next me at the table. You understand that I can hear that phone call, right? He just told you I love you, and you told him you love him, too.

She said, It’s not what you think. His mother just died. And he has been a friend for three years.

He said, I bet.

She said, He is just a coworker.

He said, I bet.

She said, He is, and his mother just died.

He said, I bet she did. And I bet this is the third time this month that she’s died.

She said, You don’t understand. He is just a friend.

He said, I can tell. He must be a really close friend.

She said, I don’t want to lose what we have.

He said, I can tell. You play that out right in front of me. Then, you tell me that you don’t want to lose what we have. What exactly do you think we have?

She said, He is just a friend.

He said, I heard him say, I love you. Then you told him…

She said, You don’t understand. He…

He said, You told him you love him, too. I am your husband. I don’t care if you are not fucking him. And I don’t believe it either.

She said, I don’t want to lose what we have.

He said, A man does not tell another man’s wife that he loves her unless that woman is his mother. And a man’s wife does not tell another man that she loves him.

She said, He is only a friend.

He said, I don’t want to hear it.

She said, Baby!

She moved over to him and put her arms around him, and he turned away. She put her boobs on the side of his head.

She said, I don’t want to lose you.

He said, stop. I am not in the mood to be touched.

She said, Oh yeah! Well what are you in the mood for?

He said, I’m not in the mood to talk about this.

She said, When will you be in the mood to talk about this, huh?

He said, I am trying to be polite. I have not raised my voice. You keeping at me about this is making me angry.

She said, He is just a friend. I don’t want you mad at me about this.

He said, I am mad. I have earned mad. I will stay mad. And you will not convince me that I should not be mad about you having an intimate relationship with another man.

She said, You don’t understand.

He said, I don’t care if I understand. I don’t care if you are sleeping with him. It doesn’t matter. Ok, it does matter. I don’t want to hear about it. Now, leave me alone, and let me be mad.

She walked off hurt that he was mad. And she would bring it up again. She knew she would. She would just wait until he seemed a little too happy. Then, she would say, We need to talk about this. I don’t want you mad. And she didn’t want him mad, did she?

Visions from the Coffee Cup (part 4)

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a far off stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.

Visions from the Coffee Cup (part 3)

She had never seen Francisco again at least until she came barreling around that corner. She was walking fast and looking down at her phone to see what time it was. She cut as close as she could to the cement column at the corner of the bank building. There was another half block and she was racing to make it before the morning deadline. And there was Francisco coming around the same corner. At least it was him for a second. Or she thought it was him.

No, no it was him. It was Francisco. She had run into him hard and was knocked onto the sidewalk and her attaché case had fallen and come open. Her papers had gotten wet with what looked, smelled, and felt like hot coffee. Her head was swimming, and her arms were dripping with scalding coffee.

It had been Francisco for. He had looked so much older and worse for wear. It had seemed that the last three years had not been good to him. He had been walking and drinking from a Styrofoam to-go-cup of coffee. In the split second of impact, the coffee cup had come open smashed against Francisco’s face. The coffee splashed up and off his face into the air, and Linda was transfixed by the scattering of the black liquid glittering in the sunlight. The falling globes of coffee all at once revealed the man that she had seen in the coffee before she had left her apartment.

All in that split second, she had seen the young man and his two thousand dollar suit and the boat and the beating and the blood and the woman and the note. All at the same time, and all in vivid detail. She smelled the clean linen smell of the high-end tailor shop. Felt each time he was hit with. Felt the whisper of a woman’s lips on his cheek and her hand in his pocket dropping a note. Felt the draw of the toy boat and the mystery of the business cards. Felt the pain of spending his last dime on that suit. Heard the warning from the man at the deli not to go. Felt the caress of a woman’s hands removing his clothes. Felt the frightened excitement of the door flying opened. Saw three men with cutoff broom handles. Heard them asking him for something, but he gave them his name. Was it Raul? Was it Allen? And she felt his passion, and his youth, and his erection, and its fade, and his death. Most of all, she felt his death. And all in that split second.

And Francisco was gone. He had slammed into her knocking her to the ground, and he was gone but for the coffee on her and her papers and the broken cup and lid being kicked across the ground by the people walking past. Some passersby had hooted their approval at seeing her fall. Others had gasped, but none seemed to know exactly how it happened. Although not many had stuck around to voice their opinions. Most had continued walking past. But one man had offered her a hand up. She had expected it to be the young man with the expensive suit, but it was not. It was just some man she may or may not have seen before. He helped her up, handed her the attaché case and then he was on his way checking his pockets to make sure she had not stolen his wallet.

She had not seen what had happened to Francisco or whatever name he was using these days. It was possible that he had just slipped past in the confusion, but it sure didn’t feel that way. There was so much anger at seeing Francisco and confusion and other emotions in that split second that she was sure that he had simply vanished. She had never sent anyone away through the coffee or knew if it even worked that way. In fact, she didn’t know how any of it worked only that it did. She could suppress it sometimes when she had time to concentrate, but this had all happened so fast.

She walked into the copy editor’s office and said, “Mr. Hutchinson, is there a computer I can use?”

He swiveled around in his chair. Then leaned back in surprise. He said, “Jesus, Mrs. Carla. I’d ask how your morning was, but I think I can tell.” He got up from his chair. “Here, sit down. You can use mine.”

It was a good thing that she was able to access her work remotely because here papers were brown, soggy, and wrinkling by the time she got them to the newspaper building. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she went through the extra effort of actually going down to the building when she could have just emailed the documents in the first place. She felt like she might have to explain something to the Mr. Hutchinson or something like that. But he never did ask. He’d always loved her work and seldom made any changes.

She just thought there was something better about the weight of actual paper. Something you could touch. And it gave her a reason to leave her apartment and interact with real people that weren’t her clients. And she liked seeing Mr. Hutchinson. He was a chubby old man and he kept pictures of his wife and his kids and their kids. And he always had something interesting he had just read while he was getting it ready to go to print. But this morning he was only interested in what had happened to her. And all she could tell him is it all happened so fast.

No, she wouldn’t give up her walks to the paper. She liked The City. There was just something honest about not knowing someone and not being forced to pretend to know them. That is what she liked about living and walking there. The City simply existed. It didn’t care if you didn’t know it. The people simply existed. Most people didn’t care if you didn’t know anything about them. And the majority seemed to prefer that you didn’t know them. When she got back to her apartment, she was tempted to pour herself a cup of coffee from the pot she left on the eye to keep hot. But she decided instead to get herself in the shower and change into clothes that were not stained and smelling of stale coffee.

She nearly screamed when she saw the naked and bleeding man lying in her bed. It was Raul or Allen or whatever she thought his name might be. It was the young man from her vision, but he wasn’t dead. He was beaten and bloody and seemed to be in and out of consciousness. She was sure she had seen him die, but here he was. Alive or just barely. She wet a clean towel from her bathroom and began to clean the blood off him. The thought of the police did cross her mind but didn’t call them. She knew that she had brought him here, and now she owed him something. The police would just take him away, and he would end up broken like Judy. Linda was determined to help him.

*** Part 4

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a faroff stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.

Visions from the Coffee Cup (part 2)

Linda had gotten up late that morning and had known that she didn’t have much time to watch in the cup this morning, but she took the chance and was paying for it. She took the stairs because she knew it was faster than the elevator. Even in her best professional heels she was holding the handrails and taking two steps at a time. She passed the man from the floor below her on his way up. He said, “Hey, watch it lady. Why you always in a rush?”

She smiled and said, “Good morning.” And she kept right on at the same pace. The man was always coming up around this time of day. He didn’t look like the in-shape type, but he always took the stairs. She figured he must be sitting all night driving a cab or something, so he takes the stairs to feel like he’s getting some kind of exercise. The truth was they never spoke other than the polite ‘good mornings’ they would exchange when she wasn’t rushing. In fact, that was most of life in The City for her. It was be polite and keep to yourself. The City could be safe if you kept to the good parts of town, but grifters and confidence men were everywhere. Anybody too friendly was either new to The City and hadn’t been ripped off just yet, or they were out to rip you off.

She’d had it happen to her when she had first arrived. He had seen her at the coffee bar. She had gone there a lot before she realized she couldn’t afford it. Finances were already tight without a ten-dollar cup of black coffee in a crowded storefront, and she had been going once or twice a week, sometimes more. Francisco was a handsome older man with slicked back hair thinning on the top. He had paid attention to her despite her simply sitting and watching her coffee.

She was thrilled at first. The man would sit in the table next to her and offer to pay for her cup the next time they were both in the shop together. He seemed to always be there just after she had paid for her cup. After a few times, he would just come and sit at her table and look into her eyes. He would lower his voice and talk about the future they could have. After about a week or so she thought she was falling in love. And that is when he asked for some money.

It was just a hundred dollars at first. He said his mother needed just a little help with her groceries. The next week he had asked for five hundred dollars to get his car looked at. She said, “Francisco, I wish I could, but I don’t have five hundred dollars.”

He said, “Sweetheart, its important.” He had taken to calling her sweetheart although they had never met anywhere besides the coffee bar. He said, “My boss is ready to fire me. It’s really important.” He looked into her eyes and got his lip to quiver.

She said, “I can’t do it this month, Francisco. I barely have enough to pay my rent.”

He said, “I know, sweetheart. It’s just your old Fran-Fran, over here, is in a really tight spot.” He put his hand on hers. He said, “Why don’t you never call me Fran-Fran? You know I like to hear it.” He looked at her for a while then he said, “I know a nice girl like you has got some jewelry. I swear I’ll pay you back.”

She told him that she would try to come up with the money. He said, “Please do, sweetheart. I don’t think you’d respect me anymore if I had to beg you in front of all of these people here.”

That was the only time the man from downstairs had ever stopped her to talk. He said, “I saw you the other day at the coffee bar talking to that old man. Don’t you be giving him no money.”

She said, “Who, Francisco?”

He said, “Is that what he told you? He was Chico to my sister, and Johnathan to my grandmother. I had to threaten him with a knife to get him to leave my Gammy alone.” He spit in the corner under the stair rail against the wall. He said, “I don’t imagine you’d ever get him come here, but if you do, and I see him, I’ll kick him down the fucking stairs.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Look I don’t mean to be rude. You look like a nice girl to me. You’ll find you a nice man. Just this Francisco, or whatever. You tell him you ain’t giving him no more money. I bet he won’t never talk to you again. He’s a thief. He don’t love you.”

The man from downstairs was right. When she told Francisco she wouldn’t give him anymore money, he said, “See that lady over there.” He pointed to a gray-haired woman in a pants suit sitting across the room. “I am going to go over and talk to her. And if you say even a word, I’ll slap you around in front of everyone here. And you will feel too stupid to ever drink another cup of coffee here again.” She had never seen Francisco again.

*** Part 3

At least until she came barreling around that corner. She was walking fast and looking down at her phone to see what time it was. She cut as close as she could to the cement column at the corner of the bank building. There was another half block and she was racing to make it before the morning deadline. And there was Francisco coming around the same corner. At least it was him for a second. Or she thought it was him.

No, no it was him. It was Francisco. She had run into him hard and was knocked onto the sidewalk and her attaché case had fallen and come open. Her papers had gotten wet with what looked, smelled, and felt like hot coffee. Her head was swimming, and her arms were dripping with scalding coffee.

It had been Francisco for. He had looked so much older and worse for wear. It had seemed that the last three years had not been good to him. He had been walking and drinking from a Styrofoam to-go-cup of coffee. In the split second of impact, the coffee cup had come open smashed against Francisco’s face. The coffee splashed up and off his face into the air, and Linda was transfixed by the scattering of the black liquid glittering in the sunlight. The falling globes of coffee all at once revealed the man that she had seen in the coffee before she had left her apartment.

All in that split second, she had seen the young man and his two thousand dollar suit and the boat and the beating and the blood and the woman and the note. All at the same time, and all in vivid detail. She smelled the clean linen smell of the high-end tailor shop. Felt each time he was hit with. Felt the whisper of a woman’s lips on his cheek and her hand in his pocket dropping a note. Felt the draw of the toy boat and the mystery of the business cards. Felt the pain of spending his last dime on that suit. Heard the warning from the man at the deli not to go. Felt the caress of a woman’s hands removing his clothes. Felt the frightened excitement of the door flying opened. Saw three men with cutoff broom handles. Heard them asking him for something, but he gave them his name. Was it Raul? Was it Allen? And she felt his passion, and his youth, and his erection, and its fade, and his death. Most of all, she felt his death. And all in that split second.

And Francisco was gone. He had slammed into her knocking her to the ground, and he was gone but for the coffee on her and her papers and the broken cup and lid being kicked across the ground by the people walking past. Some passersby had hooted their approval at seeing her fall. Others had gasped, but none seemed to know exactly how it happened. Although not many had stuck around to voice their opinions. Most had continued walking past. But one man had offered her a hand up. She had expected it to be the young man with the expensive suit, but it was not. It was just some man she may or may not have seen before. He helped her up, handed her the attaché case and then he was on his way checking his pockets to make sure she had not stolen his wallet.

She had not seen what had happened to Francisco or whatever name he was using these days. It was possible that he had just slipped past in the confusion, but it sure didn’t feel that way. There was so much anger at seeing Francisco and confusion and other emotions in that split second that she was sure that he had simply vanished. She had never sent anyone away through the coffee or knew if it even worked that way. In fact, she didn’t know how any of it worked only that it did. She could suppress it sometimes when she had time to concentrate, but this had all happened so fast.

She walked into the copy editor’s office and said, “Mr. Hutchinson, is there a computer I can use?”

He swiveled around in his chair. Then leaned back in surprise. He said, “Jesus, Mrs. Carla. I’d ask how your morning was, but I think I can tell.” He got up from his chair. “Here, sit down. You can use mine.”

It was a good thing that she was able to access her work remotely because here papers were brown, soggy, and wrinkling by the time she got them to the newspaper building. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she went through the extra effort of actually going down to the building when she could have just emailed the documents in the first place. She felt like she might have to explain something to the Mr. Hutchinson or something like that. But he never did ask. He’d always loved her work and seldom made any changes.

She just thought there was something better about the weight of actual paper. Something you could touch. And it gave her a reason to leave her apartment and interact with real people that weren’t her clients. And she liked seeing Mr. Hutchinson. He was a chubby old man and he kept pictures of his wife and his kids and their kids. And he always had something interesting he had just read while he was getting it ready to go to print. But this morning he was only interested in what had happened to her. And all she could tell him is it all happened so fast.

No, she wouldn’t give up her walks to the paper. She liked The City. There was just something honest about not knowing someone and not being forced to pretend to know them. That is what she liked about living and walking there. The City simply existed. It didn’t care if you didn’t know it. The people simply existed. Most people didn’t care if you didn’t know anything about them. And the majority seemed to prefer that you didn’t know them. When she got back to her apartment, she was tempted to pour herself a cup of coffee from the pot she left on the eye to keep hot. But she decided instead to get herself in the shower and change into clothes that were not stained and smelling of stale coffee.

She nearly screamed when she saw the naked and bleeding man lying in her bed. It was Raul or Allen or whatever she thought his name might be. It was the young man from her vision, but he wasn’t dead. He was beaten and bloody and seemed to be in and out of consciousness. She was sure she had seen him die, but here he was. Alive or just barely. She wet a clean towel from her bathroom and began to clean the blood off him. The thought of the police did cross her mind but didn’t call them. She knew that she had brought him here, and now she owed him something. The police would just take him away, and he would end up broken like Judy. Linda was determined to help him.

*** Part 4

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a faroff stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.

Getting Around to the End

Ok, ok… Now settle down y’all two. It was an accident. And I do owe y’all an apology. I’s careless and wasn’t watching where I was going.

No, now… You don’t need to be getting all pushy. Y’all are gonna sit a spell and y’all are gonna listen. ‘Cause I do owe ya an apology, but it hurt when y’all bumped into me, and ya nearly knocked me onto my keister. I don’t know why y’all need to be running around a corner like that without a’lookin where you’s goin.

Now, now… I’s apologizing, and I think it’d be quite nice if ya took your hands off me your rumplin’ my clothes. Look, I’m sorry, and I’m apologizing. But if ya were runnin’ and ya weren’t a’lookin, I’d say that’s your’n own fault.

Your’n…

Your’n own…

It’s short for ‘Your own.’

Ok, you’re right. ‘Your’n own,’ ‘Your own own’ does sound a might repetitious.

Ok, yeah… Well, I’m from Mississippi, or rather, I been there for a while, now.

I good while. Why?

Well, what’s it matter, how long I been there?

Yeah. Well, y’all sound funny to me, too. Where the hell are we anyway?

Well, is that so? Ya know, y’all knocked me pretty hard, and I might be thinking you’d be all confused and mixed up if I’d a been the one to knock into you. And you know a couple of grown fellers like yourselves, might ought not to be using such colorful language. I can cuss, too. You know. I just choose my language a little more carefully. Could be some lady might come around that corner hearing y’all… you two. Might come around the corner hearing you two, and she might get some ideas about how both of you have been raised.

Of course, I hadn’t said nothing. I was apologizing. Have I ever told you two about my buddies, Pete and Freddy?

Oh, you don’t huh? Well, there was this time when I was a bit younger. I was in high school. You know it is hard to keep my language cleaned up for city folks like yourselves. I was in high school, and I knew these two girls. And I was at one’s house and her friend was over…

Well, I was going to be getting to some titties. I figured a couple of young men might be interested in a story about titties.

Ok, how about peckers then? I spent some time in the Navy in my younger days, and we’d have to shower all together. Yep, this was only basic training, you see. The rest of the time, we had separate showers. But there was this one feller and his pecker was swinging right around his knees.

Are you sure, you don’t want to hear about this? I was just about to be getting to the feller with the tiniest pecker you ever did see.

No. No, no. It wasn’t me. Mine is about near average. Nothing special. Look, it took me years to realize that if you go around talking about how big your pecker is, people are going to get a look one way or another. And they are going to know you’re a liar.

Oh, huh. You don’t care about that either. Well, those two folks you two were chasing seem to be good and gone, and y’all can get on about your business if y’all are sure. I mean sure, sure you don’t to hear one of my stories. They are a hoot if ya ever let me get around to the end.

Markey Monkey the Emperor of Evil (part 3)

The black mirror in the throne room of The Castle of the Burning hammer began to lighten. It sniffed tentatively at first, and then sniffed good and hard. The evil vision’s voice boomed a sing song. “Markey Mark, little monkey.”

Mark jumped and spilled coffee on the floor and table of the castle kitchen. He said loud enough to be heard in the other room. “What, dad.”  He threw the rest of the coffee down the sink.

The evil vision’s voice boomed into the kitchen. “What do I smell in there?”

Mark yelled again from the kitchen. “Nothing, dad. You can’t smell, remember?”

The evil vision boomed his voice into the kitchen. “I can, too. And I think you are hiding something. Mark, get in here.”

Mark thought his dad was getting mad.  He yelled, “No.”

The evil vision said, “Now, son.”

“No.”

“I’m about to start counting.” Mark still did not come. “One…” The evil voice counted loudly.

Mark poked his head out of the kitchen doorway. “No, dad. Don’t spank me.”

“Two…”

Mark walked through the door. Looking at his toes and walking slow.

The evil vision said, “Markey, do I smell coffee?”

Mark looked up and said, “When did you start smelling again?”

The evil vision said, “I don’t know. It just started on and off in the last… Mark, you are too young to drink coffee.”

“I didn’t drink it, dad.” The news that his father was regaining his senses made Mark both happy and sad.

“So, I did smell coffee.”

“No. There isn’t any coffee. You didn’t smell coffee.”

“Don’t lie to me, Mark. I can see it on your face.”

Mark was astonished. “You can see, too?”

“Well, no… Only sometimes. Like when you lie to me.”

“OK, dad. But I didn’t drink the coffee.”

“Mark… Little Markey, I will not have you drinking coffee. It is not good for a growing boy.”

“I won’t.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

The evil vision said, “By the way. I have been sensing spot around here the past couple days.” Mark smiled he really liked spot. The evil vision said, “I thought you sent him back to hell.”

“He came back. I think he just wandered off into the woods for a while.”

“I don’t know, Markey. When I told you it was OK to keep him as pet you told me that you were up to the responsibility.”

“I am, dad. I am very responsible. I clean his cage and everything.”

“The zombies told me that they were the ones picking up his poop.”

“That is the same thing, isn’t it?”

“Well maybe in the eyes of the law… But cleaning it up yourself is supposed to teach you discipline.”

“Dad, it’s gross. It stinks. It has blood and mucus and pieces of bone. And it’s foamy. The zombies like to do it. They told me.”

“The zombies didn’t tell you that. Nobody likes picking up monster poop. Especially not from a black slime.” The mirror started to dim to blackness and Markey turned to walk away. Then, the evil mirror snapped brighter than ever. “Wait a minute, son. Have you been talking to the zombies?” There was almost excitement in the evil vision’s voice.

“You know what I mean, dad. I tell them to do stuff, and they do it.”

“So… You were fibbing?”

“Don’t be mad, dad.”

“Are you sure? You didn’t look like you were fibbing. You know it would be a big day if you could read their minds. You would be growing into a man. You are not scared of growing up, are you? You are still too young for ‘The Talk’ but I sure would be proud of my little man.”

“I wasn’t fibbing… I just don’t like to clean up the poop.”

“I know, but that is part of your responsibilities. And you need to be more careful with him. Have the zombies make sure his pit is sealed. I mean really sealed. A slime can get through even the smallest of cracks.”

“I will, dad.”

“And really watch them. You are the supervisor really make sure they are doing a good job. I don’t you to tell them I said this, but those zombies… I don’t want to say it. They are… Kind of…”

“Dumb, dad?”

“Don’t say it so loud, son. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

“You don’t want to hurt the zombies’ feelings!?” Mark began to giggle.

“They do have feelings, son. We are not the only ones. Zombies are just the same as you and me. You should respect them.”

Mark looked a little ashamed. “I do respect them, dad.”

“OK, son. You just keep an eye on spot. We don’t need him going around killing people when you are not there to collect the power from their souls. We need everything we can get to power that machine. It seems like the power keeps leaking away little by little every day. I need to recheck the wiring diagram against the way the machine is actually hooked up. There has got to be something leaking to ground that shouldn’t me. I mean we really should have the thing up and running by now.”

Visions from the Coffee Cup

There was the welcome smell. The heaping table spoons of fresh coffee grounds right out of the large red tubs she had stashed anywhere she could keep them. She really did love the color and aroma of the more expensive brands, but she always made a lot of coffee. And her apartment wasn’t cheap. Linda had her white coffee maker sitting on the kitchen table in her small apartment in The City. She sat next to it with her plain white coffee cup waiting in front of her and watched the clear glass pot fill.

She loved everything about the ritual of making a cup of coffee except for maybe the waiting. She poured her coffee as soon as she thought she had enough for a decent sized cup. Several drips of the still brewing coffee hit the heating element hissing and spitting. She poured what she had into her cup. It filled to just over the halfway point. She returned the empty pot to let it finish filling. She held her hands on the cup and let it warm her fingers. Then hunched over it and let the rising steam warm across her face as the glimmering reflection on the black surface of her coffee began to settle.

When she was about seven maybe younger, Linda had watched her mother pour a fresh cup of coffee. She had always loved to watch her mother drink a cup of coffee. She would warm her hands on the cup, lift it to her mouth, take a big sniff, and look at it for a second before she took a sip. Linda always thought her mother was seeing something in the coffee. She probably wasn’t, but maybe she was.

This particular morning, the phone rang just as her mother finished pouring the coffee right to the rim of the cup. It made two quick rings telling them that the caller had dialed her mother’s work number. They paid extra for this option. Linda’s mother walked over to the telephone on the wall stretched the cord around one shoulder and began rummaging through the kitchen drawers to find her scheduler book and a pen. She put on her mysterious voice and said, “Hello, you have reached Mrs. Carla, seer of the mysterious realms and tarot card reader. Would you like to set up a meeting with the spirits of the other world?” Linda faintly heard the woman’s voice from the receiver, but she was drawn to the steam rising off the cup her mother had left on the table. Linda always thought it was funny that her mother didn’t use her real name.

Her mother sat her scheduler book on the counter by the stove, and it opened to a random page.  She said, “Yes ma’am. I am Mrs. Carla.” She answered a few yes and no questions. Linda pulled the chair closer to the table and climbed up to get a closer look at the cup. She leaned at the waist put her hands on the table and staired straight down the center of the full cup. He mother put her hand over the mouthpiece and said “Linda, baby, don’t get burned.”

Linda said, “I know, mommy. I’m just looking.”

Her mother took her hand off the phone. “Uh huh… Uh huh,” she said, “I had to close the shop. I can schedule you a reading at my house if you don’t mind.” The woman on the other line said something, and her mother tried to sound as polite as she could. “Yes, ma’am, I did see the recession coming.” She took a breath and flipped through the pages in her scheduler. “I have an opening on Tuesday. Is three thirty good for you?”

Linda stared into the cup of coffee and saw only reflections at first but then started to mumble to herself about the other things that she was seeing in the cup. Linda’s father had been listening to the phone conversation from the living room. He heard his wife flip the scheduler shut, say goodbye, and hang up the phone.

The couch creaked as he got up. “Come on, Ellie. I thought you agreed that we weren’t going to embarrass ourselves by having that kind of business in the house.” He picked Linda from the chair in the crook of one arm and placed her on the floor. He, said, “Don’t spill your mamma’s coffee, baby girl.”

Ellie turned away from the stove. She said, “No, William, you told me that. You told me that ‘we’ agreed.” She stared at him. “What I told you was we couldn’t afford anything else. And we can’t. And you agreed I should close the shop.”

He said, “We could both tour as The Great Branzinos. All they would have to do is add an ‘s’ to the marquee.”

She said, “Branzino is such a silly name.” Linda was trying to get back on the chair. Her mother grabbed her and said, “Stop honey. You might get burned.”

Her father said, “Well Mrs. Carla.” He drew out the name as he spoke it to emphasize the irony. “The Great William Henderson isn’t a very awe-inspiring name is it.” In the end, he would call her Mrs. Carla the seer. Mrs. Carla the cheat. Mrs. Carla the liar. She would call him a lazy bum who couldn’t hold down a paying job. But, this day, things had not yet spiraled out so far.

This day, Linda’s mother saw she was on the chair and mumbling, again. Her mother pulled out the chair next to that one and patted it. She said, “Get down and sit in this one, Linda. I will show you how I look into a cup of coffee.”

Both of her parents had agreed that they had to do something to distract her from her growing interest in the reflections she saw in the coffee. They were afraid it was bordering on unhealthy. They were afraid to use the word hallucinations, and they worried for their daughter’s future. They figured they might be able to use her interest and help guide her thoughts away from what ever it was she saw.

Her mother sat down in front of her cup of coffee, placed her elbows on the table with her hands in the air fingers splayed, and began to waft the steam toward her face. She let out a quiet hum just enough to be heard not enough to be obvious about it. She tilted her head down and looked into the cup of coffee. She was using her mysterious voice again. “Spirits reveal to Mrs. Carla the ways of your world.” She turned to look her daughter in the eyes. She started to say something but stopped. Linda was leaning over trying to see into her mother’s cup.

Her father saw. He said, “No Linda watch mommy. She’s got the theatre of this trick down pat.”

Her mother said, “Don’t call it a trick, William.”

He said, “Oh, I forgot. Your mother has magical powers the rest of us don’t.” Her father began to wave his hands in the air. He said, “I’ll show you magical powers.” He clapped his hands and said, “Snap, the ace of spades!” And out of nowhere he was holding an ace of spades facing them and moving it in a slow arc as if to show it to a crowd. Really, he had it hidden in his sleeve, but they had seen this trick a thousand times, knew how it worked, and weren’t impressed.

He said, “Let me show her another trick you can do with a cup of coffee. That is if you don’t mind us letting your coffee get cool some, do you, Ellie?” Her mother shook her head and placed the cup in front of Linda.

In his stage voice, he said, “Let me teach you how to read the future.” For the next part he lowered his voice to a pretend whisper. “If you are good at it the victim might even believe you,”

Her mother said, “Not ‘victim,’ Linda. Your daddy is just being silly. We are helping our clients. You father is trying to entertain them. There are no victims.”

He said, “Your mother is right. I shouldn’t say ‘victim.’ In stage speak he is a mark. But we won’t use that term either.” He patted her on the head. Then, gave her a kiss right on the same spot. He said, “Here watch the reflection. We are reading, just like in school. Only this time, the words are backwards.” He held the card face down over the cup of coffee. He said, “Do you see the card number in the reflection?”

She was trying to block the visions that kept showing up. She saw one girl. She was a teen and looked to be having a rough time of it. The girl had short black hair and was listing to fast music and loud. Linda tried to concentrate. Linda said, “I can read it, daddy. It is an ace of shovels.”

Her father said, “Good, Honey. Let me show you a harder one.” He snapped a blank three by five card out of his other sleeve. He said, “Ellie, can you bring me a pen?” Her mother got the pen from the drawer and handed it to him. Her father said, “Close your eyes, Linda. I will write a name on the card, and you can read it in the reflection.”

Linda was happy to close her eyes because she thought something bad was about to happen to the girl she kept seeing in the cup of coffee. Her father said, “Ok, open your eyes. Take this card and don’t look at it.” She took the card and was unable to stop seeing the girl in the cup. Even in her peripheral vision, the girl was there. He said, “Lift it over the coffee. Can you read it in the coffee?

She said, “I can’t do it, poppa.” She put a little extra whine in her voice and placed it all in the word ‘poppa.’ This was the card she played just before forcing a cry.

He said, “It’s easy. It’s just backward like looking in a mirror.”

She said, “Not that. I just can’t.” And she slammed the card down on the table causing some of the coffee to spill. She was strangely attracted to the drops glistening on the table. She started to see the girl in the spattered droplets. The girl was there four times over in the big drops and more in the smaller ones. It was a kaleidoscope all at different times and different places. This had never happened before. Linda was starting to feel sick.

Her mother said, “It’s ok we’ll try something different. Close your eyes and listen. Just answer the questions I ask.” She put his fingers to his temples and tilted his head forward. “There is more to it than this, but this will get you started.”

Linda was still staring at the droplets lost in the confusion of a life happening all at once. Her father said, “I see the spill. I’ll clean it up in a second. Close your eyes.” She didn’t, so he said, “Ellie, would you pass me that rag from the sink?” She tossed it to him. He wiped the coffee off the table, and Linda was able to think a little clearer. He sat back down and began again.

Her mother used his mysterious voice. “I see a soft couch.” Her mother feigned surprise. “And you are sitting in it.” She hesitated for a second for dramatic effect. “Someone is next to you. Someone you love. Someone who loves you. Can you see that couch?”

Linda had shut her eyes but still had to concentrate not to think about the girl. She said, “Yes.” It came out like a question. But her thoughts cleared up a little better and she could visualize the couch. “It’s our couch last night when we were watching TV.”

Her mother said, “There’s someone with you on that couch. Who is it?”

She said, “It’s you, daddy.” She turned her head to look at him and gave him a hug. Then, she turned to her mother. “How did you know?”

She smiled, “You just told me, silly.” Linda giggled and her mother went over and gave her a hug. Her mother said, “Just ask easy questions anyone can answer like that. You will learn to see later.”

Her father said, “I guess it is possible.” Her mother scowled like she was about to say something. Her father jumped in. “You can do it, honey. Here you can even practice on me. Just ask me some easy questions.” He closed his eyes.

Linda put her hands to her temples, but she was mesmerized by the girl in her cup. The vision was clear and strong. She saw the girl and heard the music. She smelled old cigarette smoke and some onion smell from supper. And she heard the smack and the sound of the girl’s mother being knocked against the wall in the next room.

Her mother said, “Just close your eyes, honey. It will help you concentrate.”

Her father said, “I’ve got my eyes closed, honey. Go.”

She said, “Mamma, poppa. There’s a girl. She’s got a knife in her hand. I think she’s gonna…”

Her father said, “No, not like that.” Her mother was too astonished to speak. There was a confused girl on the floor next to the table dripping blood from one arm, and she wasn’t there a second before. She was ripping at her hair with both hands and getting the blood all over her face.  Linda’s father opened his eyes and jumped up and knocked the table an inch spilling their coffee. He looked at the girl and shouted. “Is she a thief? Is she here to rob us?” The crying girl pushed passed him staining his shirt red and ran into their hall then locked herself in their bathroom.

Linda said, “Leave Judy alone. Her mother was getting beat up in the other room.”

Her mother said, “Linda, is that one of your friends? Please tell me that is one of your friends.”

She said, “No. She was just in the coffee.”

Her father said, “Oh, no. Baby girl, it’s the excitement. You’re just mixed up again.”

Her mother said, “Yes, Linda that poor girl just broke in. I’m sure I just saw that she came right through the front door.” Her mother didn’t sound convinced of her words, but she would by the time the police arrived.

Her parents had to call the police to get Judy out of the bathroom. She just kept beating on the bathroom wall, begging for Linda to bring her something. It was so long ago that she did not even remember what it was that she had wanted. And what kind of help could a teenager have expected of a little girl anyway?

When the police arrived, they called her a runaway, and they said she was from some town in Kentucky that no one had ever heard of. And they couldn’t find the knife but stopped short of accusing them of hiding it. The police said the phone number she gave them was a fake because the woman who answered didn’t know her and didn’t even live in Kentucky. They said they had a feeling the address was a fake, too. But Linda knew better than to tell them where she really came from. The phone number and address weren’t wrong. They were just from another when and another where. Another Kentucky. One that you can’t get to from here unless you came through the coffee. By the time the police left her parents had convinced themselves that the girl had broken in despite finding that doors had indeed still been closed and locked and her mother had seen her appear from nowhere. Her parents would be divorced within a year, and Linda couldn’t help but feel that she had been responsible for their failed marriage.

Linda knew the truth. She had seen what had become of Judy over the years. She watched through her coffee although the coffee never showed things in the right order, or when she wanted to see them. Judy went from one foster family to another. Getting in trouble with drugs and boys. And the few times she got pregnant before she learned to make the boys use rubbers, she sniffed her way into an overdose and early term miscarriage. She had gotten skinny and smoked away all her teeth. But now she was in Narconon and looked like she might stay sober this time.

Linda’s visions were often like garbled transmissions from a thousand TV stations all fighting to show their own list of syndicated reruns. But when she focused, she could get a clear signal and watch at least until the coffee got cold and lost that great smell. Then static once again. But this morning she was getting something strange. Everything felt so familiar but not like watching Judy who was always out of place even in this world. No this was her city. The City. The one in this world, and the young man she was watching was from this world, too. He was wearing an expensive suit and handing out business cards. He stood on top of an old cathode ray TV on the corner outside of one of the delis she had seen a couple months back.

She had seen these cards before, too. One of her old clients had given it too her over a year ago. It was the last time she saw her in person which was a relief. She was not the trustworthy type, and she always came in asking for her lucky numbers which Linda knew meant the winning lottery numbers. Despite what her father had called it, Linda couldn’t ‘tell the future.’ And the numbers never won. Stacy or Tracy or whatever her name was would always come in angry and threatening to take her money back.

But that day, when she handed Linda the card, she even looked happy. She said, “Mrs. Carla, I don’t need your loosing numbers anymore.” Then she said something strange and alluring and handed her the business card with that same saying on it. But for the life of her she couldn’t remember what it said or where she had put that card.

She did remember that she had donated to the GoFundMe page printed on the back of that card. It was a lot of money then and it must have been growing because she had seen Stacy or Tracy on the TVs when she walked past them in the shop windows on the way to drop off the next day’s horoscopes to the newspaper, the last one in The City that wasn’t online. She was printed in some of online ones as well, but the paper took care of the syndication. In fact, she had to deliver the horoscopes now. She dumped her still hot coffee in the sink and grabbed her attaché case and walked out the door.

She never drank the coffee. She tried it once and it ramped her visions up to such a high degree that she was seeing them on every smooth surface and a few others as well. It nearly blocked out her normal vision and she was bumping into walls. And she had so much trouble not pulling her friends through. She only ever smelled and watched her coffee. It made her a weirdo when she stopped at the premium coffee bar, but sometimes ‘weirdo’ is the right price to pay for a premium viewing experience.

*** Part 2

Linda had gotten up late that morning and had known that she didn’t have much time to watch in the cup this morning, but she took the chance and was paying for it. She took the stairs because she knew it was faster than the elevator. Even in her best professional heels she was holding the handrails and taking two steps at a time. She passed the man from the floor below her on his way up. He said, “Hey, watch it lady. Why you always in a rush?”

She smiled and said, “Good morning.” And she kept right on at the same pace. The man was always coming up around this time of day. He didn’t look like the in-shape type, but he always took the stairs. She figured he must be sitting all night driving a cab or something, so he takes the stairs to feel like he’s getting some kind of exercise. The truth was they never spoke other than the polite ‘good mornings’ they would exchange when she wasn’t rushing. In fact, that was most of life in The City for her. It was be polite and keep to yourself. The City could be safe if you kept to the good parts of town, but grifters and confidence men were everywhere. Anybody too friendly was either new to The City and hadn’t been ripped off just yet, or they were out to rip you off.

She’d had it happen to her when she had first arrived. He had seen her at the coffee bar. She had gone there a lot before she realized she couldn’t afford it. Finances were already tight without a ten-dollar cup of black coffee in a crowded storefront, and she had been going once or twice a week, sometimes more. Francisco was a handsome older man with slicked back hair thinning on the top. He had paid attention to her despite her simply sitting and watching her coffee.

She was thrilled at first. The man would sit in the table next to her and offer to pay for her cup the next time they were both in the shop together. He seemed to always be there just after she had paid for her cup. After a few times, he would just come and sit at her table and look into her eyes. He would lower his voice and talk about the future they could have. After about a week or so she thought she was falling in love. And that is when he asked for some money.

It was just a hundred dollars at first. He said his mother needed just a little help with her groceries. The next week he had asked for five hundred dollars to get his car looked at. She said, “Francisco, I wish I could, but I don’t have five hundred dollars.”

He said, “Sweetheart, its important.” He had taken to calling her sweetheart although they had never met anywhere besides the coffee bar. He said, “My boss is ready to fire me. It’s really important.” He looked into her eyes and got his lip to quiver.

She said, “I can’t do it this month, Francisco. I barely have enough to pay my rent.”

He said, “I know, sweetheart. It’s just your old Fran-Fran, over here, is in a really tight spot.” He put his hand on hers. He said, “Why don’t you never call me Fran-Fran? You know I like to hear it.” He looked at her for a while then he said, “I know a nice girl like you has got some jewelry. I swear I’ll pay you back.”

She told him that she would try to come up with the money. He said, “Please do, sweetheart. I don’t think you’d respect me anymore if I had to beg you in front of all of these people here.”

That was the only time the man from downstairs had ever stopped her to talk. He said, “I saw you the other day at the coffee bar talking to that old man. Don’t you be giving him no money.”

She said, “Who, Francisco?”

He said, “Is that what he told you? He was Chico to my sister, and Johnathan to my grandmother. I had to threaten him with a knife to get him to leave my Gammy alone.” He spit in the corner under the stair rail against the wall. He said, “I don’t imagine you’d ever get him come here, but if you do, and I see him, I’ll kick him down the fucking stairs.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Look I don’t mean to be rude. You look like a nice girl to me. You’ll find you a nice man. Just this Francisco, or whatever. You tell him you ain’t giving him no more money. I bet he won’t never talk to you again. He’s a thief. He don’t love you.”

The man from downstairs was right. When she told Francisco she wouldn’t give him anymore money, he said, “See that lady over there.” He pointed to a gray-haired woman in a pants suit sitting across the room. “I am going to go over and talk to her. And if you say even a word, I’ll slap you around in front of everyone here. And you will feel too stupid to ever drink another cup of coffee here again.” She had never seen Francisco again.

*** Part 3

At least until she came barreling around that corner. She was walking fast and looking down at her phone to see what time it was. She cut as close as she could to the cement column at the corner of the bank building. There was another half block and she was racing to make it before the morning deadline. And there was Francisco coming around the same corner. At least it was him for a second. Or she thought it was him.

No, no it was him. It was Francisco. She had run into him hard and was knocked onto the sidewalk and her attaché case had fallen and come open. Her papers had gotten wet with what looked, smelled, and felt like hot coffee. Her head was swimming, and her arms were dripping with scalding coffee.

It had been Francisco for a second. He had looked so much older and worse for wear. It had seemed that the last three years had not been good to him. He had been walking and drinking from a Styrofoam to-go-cup of coffee. In the split second of impact, the coffee cup had come open smashed against Francisco’s face. The coffee splashed up and off his face into the air, and Linda was transfixed by the scattering of the black liquid glittering in the sunlight. The falling globes of coffee all at once revealed the man that she had seen in the coffee before she had left her apartment.

All in that split second, she had seen the young man and his two thousand dollar suit and the boat and the beating and the blood and the woman and the note. All at the same time, and all in vivid detail. She smelled the clean linen smell of the high-end tailor shop. Felt each time he was hit with. Felt the whisper of a woman’s lips on his cheek and her hand in his pocket dropping a note. Felt the draw of the toy boat and the mystery of the business cards. Felt the pain of spending his last dime on that suit. Heard the warning from the man at the deli not to go. Felt the caress of a woman’s hands removing his clothes. Felt the frightened excitement of the door flying opened. Saw three men with cutoff broom handles. Heard them asking him for something, but he gave them his name. Was it Raul? Was it Allen? And she felt his passion, and his youth, and his erection, and its fade, and his death. Most of all, she felt his death. And all in that split second.

And Francisco was gone. He had slammed into her knocking her to the ground, and he was gone but for the coffee on her and her papers and the broken cup and lid being kicked across the ground by the people walking past. Some passersby had hooted their approval at seeing her fall. Others had gasped, but none seemed to know exactly how it happened. Although not many had stuck around to voice their opinions. Most had continued walking past. But one man had offered her a hand up. She had expected it to be the young man with the expensive suit, but it was not. It was just some man she may or may not have seen before. He helped her up, handed her the attaché case and then he was on his way checking his pockets to make sure she had not stolen his wallet.

She had not seen what had happened to Francisco or whatever name he was using these days. It was possible that he had just slipped past in the confusion, but it sure didn’t feel that way. There was so much anger at seeing Francisco and confusion and other emotions in that split second that she was sure that he had simply vanished. She had never sent anyone away through the coffee or knew if it even worked that way. In fact, she didn’t know how any of it worked only that it did. She could suppress it sometimes when she had time to concentrate, but this had all happened so fast.

She walked into the copy editor’s office and said, “Mr. Hutchinson, is there a computer I can use?”

He swiveled around in his chair. Then leaned back in surprise. He said, “Jesus, Mrs. Carla. I’d ask how your morning was, but I think I can tell.” He got up from his chair. “Here, sit down. You can use mine.”

It was a good thing that she was able to access her work remotely because here papers were brown, soggy, and wrinkling by the time she got them to the newspaper building. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she went through the extra effort of actually going down to the building when she could have just emailed the documents in the first place. She felt like she might have to explain something to the Mr. Hutchinson or something like that. But he never did ask. He’d always loved her work and seldom made any changes.

She just thought there was something better about the weight of actual paper. Something you could touch. And it gave her a reason to leave her apartment and interact with real people that weren’t her clients. And she liked seeing Mr. Hutchinson. He was a chubby old man and he kept pictures of his wife and his kids and their kids. And he always had something interesting he had just read while he was getting it ready to go to print. But this morning he was only interested in what had happened to her. And all she could tell him is it all happened so fast.

No, she wouldn’t give up her walks to the paper. She liked The City. There was just something honest about not knowing someone and not being forced to pretend to know them. That is what she liked about living and walking there. The City simply existed. It didn’t care if you didn’t know it. The people simply existed. Most people didn’t care if you didn’t know anything about them. And the majority seemed to prefer that you didn’t know them. When she got back to her apartment, she was tempted to pour herself a cup of coffee from the pot she left on the eye to keep hot. But she decided instead to get herself in the shower and change into clothes that were not stained and smelling of stale coffee.

She nearly screamed when she saw the naked and bleeding man lying in her bed. It was Raul or Allen or whatever she thought his name might be. It was the young man from her vision, but he wasn’t dead. He was beaten and bloody and seemed to be in and out of consciousness. She was sure she had seen him die, but here he was. Alive or just barely. She wet a clean towel from her bathroom and began to clean the blood off him. The thought of the police did cross her mind but didn’t call them. She knew that she had brought him here, and now she owed him something. The police would just take him away, and he would end up broken like Judy. Linda was determined to help him.

*** Part 4

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a faroff stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.