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Thursday Morning MAG
It's gray as I park behind the Cafe Thames and unlock the back door. I shiver and turn all the lights on, one by one. Sometimes I wish someone out there would get some hope form their sight biting through the darkness.
I hang my parka on the coat rack and slip on my black work apron. “ANGIE,” it says in plain white caps, as if the tiny word is enough to describe who I am.
The day finally starts when I set the brew in the coffee machine. The gray has peeled away, leaving an almost white color, and then the white slowly blushes into rose, and then the sun rises so fast I can't catch my breath, and then it's day. Just like that. I close my eyes, and as if the sun beamed itself right into my soul, I'm smiling for the first time that day.
A half hour later early-bird customers are trickling in and out, ready for work. “G'morning, sir. How can I help you? I can do extra hot, yes. And would you like one of our baked goods to go with that? All right. What name should I call? Mm-hm. That'll be $4.07. Thanks very much, sir. Have a great day.” Hours fly by and it's already 8 a.m., but I ignore my growling stomach and pleading throat to please my customers.
An old lady with streaked gray hair in a bun and pearls on her neck comes to the register. “Good morning! Earl Grey – black, please.” Her eyes are so blue, it's like a piece of the sky is hidden inside her brain.
“There you are,” I say, handing her a for-here cup with her change. She smiles, a big crease in her thin face.
“Thank you, Angie.”
And she takes her teacup and sits at the table by the bay window that overlooks the river. Angie. Angie. It's sweet as music, coming from her mouth. Angie.
Most of the rush hour customers are gone now, so I go to the back and wash the dishes, keeping an eye on the door. After my shift, I have to go to the library, have to work on my essay for class. And go to the grocery store. I've been out of bread for a week. And maybe talk to the manager about working more hours. College won't pay for itself.
A middle-aged man walks in and raises a hand in my direction, not bothering to come to the counter.
“Cappuccino, two raw sugars.”
He looks like he has been frowning his whole life. He sits across from the old lady who came in half an hour ago. Her teacup is empty.
“Hello, Mother,” he says.
“Brian! I've missed you. How are you?”
“Mother, we just saw each other two weeks ago. I'm doing fine. How're you?”
“I'm, uh, doing great, honey.” She smiles that reassuring smile only mothers have. “Just great.”
I bring him his cappuccino, and he glances at me, nodding. Suddenly I feel embarrassed for having eavesdropped, and I slip back behind the register and rest on the floor, my back slumped against the cabinet. I sit there while they continue their brief conversation. I'm still sitting there when they part ways seven minutes later.
“Well, Mother, it was great seeing you. I've got to head out now.”
“Of course. I wouldn't want you to be late. See you next Thursday.”
“And you know you can always drop by when you're free, or call.”
A sigh. “I'll try, Mother, but you know how it gets …”
“Yes, yes, of course. I understand.”
The door closes softly. And I sit there until the end of my shift.
You know those things where, no matter what risk you need to take, you have to get them done? The things that keep you alive, barely keep the last threads that hold you up from snapping? Yeah, coffee every morning is like that for me.
So I'm opening the door to my favorite café, and sure, it's a little detour on my way to work, but this week has been rough as hell, working 11 hours a day and the kids going back to school, so I need it. The scent is flooding my nostrils as if I'm in nirvana, I swear.
I order my regular cappuccino and sit at a table near a small window that I can have all to myself. There's a fresh daisy in the vase, as always, and it makes me smile. At least there are some things left that still give me hope.
It's 9 already, and I have an hour commute, but who cares – I can call a babysitter and be home by 10. The morning rush has gradually left the café, and now it's almost empty.
“We saw each other two weeks ago. I'm doing fine. How are you?” I overhear coming from a table across the room, where a guy who looks even more stressed than me is sitting across from a sweet-looking older woman. I can't help but overhear; the guy's talking really loudly.
“I'm uh, doing great, honey. Just great,” replies the woman, with a hint of resignation, as if she is tired from carrying something over her head for a very long time. “How are the kids, and Donna?”
“The same. We're all doing fine.”
“Let them know I miss them!”
“Yes, Mother, we call when we can, you know.”
“Of course, darling. I just want to see their beautiful faces again.”
I glance over, and the woman's eyes are shining so bright, and something comes over me that I can't explain and my heart just erupts. I have no other way to describe it. It erupts like a volcano, the lava that had been compressed below the surface spewing out in my face, on the chairs, and on the daisy, its perfect white now blemished.
Just one question goes through my head, as if it's on autoplay and I can't find the pause button. How many times have I thought about either of my kids this week?
I let go of my lava-stained cup and walk slowly toward the door. I don't want to open it since once I do I know the wind will blow reality into my face and it will hit me just how much of a failure I am.
The older woman and the man stand up too. “Good-bye, Mother,” he says as he brushes past me and out the door. The woman falters, staring at her son through the door.
Then she turns and gives me the best meek smile I have ever seen. And before I can stop myself, I lean down and hug her. It is awkward – my long spine and her small, frail body – but I can feel the mother in her and I know she can feel the mother in me, like tiny, separate heartbeats that were born alongside our children.
I'm on my late morning walk when I pass a cute-looking café and suddenly my stomach declares it wants a cookie. So I go in and wait for the three people in front of me before I order a snickerdoodle – warmed up, please. The server hands me the cookie in a paper bag with my change.
I turn to go back out into the morning chill when my eyes catch an older woman looking out the window sadly, hands in her lap. She looks kind of like my mom.
Wind grazes my jaw as the door opens and my thoughts refocus. I take a huge bite of the cookie and my stomach warms in agreement as I leave the café.
The day my husband died, he was lying in our bed, and he asked me to pull back the curtains so he could feel the sun on his eyelashes. I sat beside him and held his hand, our wrinkles meeting in the middle.
“Such a beautiful day,” he said softly. “The kind of day to sit on the beach and paint the waves.”
I smiled, in spite of the hurt. I could hear the strain in his voice, but unlike before, I couldn't ignore it, couldn't brush it off. The strain had consumed him now. Yet there he was, his hand in mine, as happy as he had ever been.
“I wish I could take you down to the beach today,” I replied.
“There's no need,” he said, shaking his head. “This is all I need.”
I wanted so badly to burst into tears, but I knew I couldn't fall apart when he needed me to lean on.
“Just promise me something,” he said. “Spend time with Brian. And when he and Donna have children, let them know that they once had a grandpa who would have very much liked to know them.”
We both knew he was going to die that day. But I didn't shed a tear, not on that day, not at the funeral, and not in the five months since, each day wasting away with a rip of my day-by-day calendar.
The only reason I am sitting here now, on my front porch on this bitterly cold Thursday morning sobbing is because I am trying so hard to fulfill his last wish. I feel it upon me, and I know for certain that I have given up.