A CUP OF COFFEE
She wasn’t sure if she should open it.
Just a hand-written #10 envelope, with a yellow forwarding sticker over “230 Belford Street”, the return address the same. The handwriting had a distinctly feminine slant. She put it on the kitchen table and chewed her thumbnail for a moment.
She started a short pot of coffee, just two cups. She ignored the store-brand decaf sawdust in its three-pound can and pulled out the fairly traded, honorable beans freshly ground yesterday at the market, four ounces snuggled in its tiny shiny bag. She glanced at the clock -- almost 6:00 PM -- and shrugged. Two tablespoons went into the filter basket, and she flipped the switch.
Dance music, loud and perky, came through the wall from the apartment next door; she frowned. As the coffee dripped out of time with the music, she looked at the letter again. She sat in the folding chair, arranging herself squarely, feet flat on the floor, back straight.
An index finger under the flap of the envelope opened the seal easily. She removed a tri-folded sheet of college-lined tablet paper. A deep breath, and she unfolded the page.
Your name was on the mailbox here when I moved in. I’m mailing this here so the post office will forward it to you. I hope it will. My name is Janet Brent. You’re Greg’s ex-wife?
I moved in with Greg three weeks ago and I don’t get some things he says. I want to know the truth about these things so I can get out before I get in too deep, if you know what I mean. I don’t think he’s being honest with me.
For the past year he’s been telling me you lived here so you could help him out with his daughters and that’s why you answered the phone sometimes. Now this sounds strange to me. I don’t think he’s even divorced yet, is he? He never let me come here until I moved in.
He told me when we first met that his oldest daughter just died of lung cancer, but she was just 16. He was really upset, and I felt really sorry for him. Just a few months ago he told me his other daughter killed herself, she was 16 too, she was really sick with some kind of kidney disease. He doesn’t have any pictures of them and won’t talk to me about them now. So I’m wondering if there ever were any daughters, were there?
She grinned and shook her head. "Daughters? They were cats, for God's sake!"
The coffeepot made its obscene final gurgle. She put the letter down and filled a cup, breathing the steam deeply, holding the mug in both hands for a moment before taking the handle. The trespassing music changed from one hypersexual, hypomanic pop sensation to another. She rolled her eyes, sipped, and returned to the table.
She put the mug down, and sat forward on the chair, hooking her ankles around the front legs, then picked up the letter and propped her elbows on the table.
He also said you cleaned out his bank account and ran up his credit cards, and that you took everything out of his money market account and bought a $12,000 fur coat…
She groaned, smacked her forehead with her palm, and kept reading.
… and that’s why he’s so broke. He doesn’t seem to make any money from his camera business, he doesn’t even seem to work at it much, just looks at camera magazines and the cameras, there’s only about ten cameras, how can that be a business? Is this what he usually does?
A small giggle escaped.
I don’t know what to believe, so I want to know the truth from you.
You already know the truth, she thought.
You can write me here but don’t call, because I don’t want Greg to know about this.
She smiled, refolded the letter and slipped it back into the envelope. She took it into the main room of the studio apartment, stepping around the two cardboard boxes she had yet to unpack, and opened the file cabinet next to her desk. She finger-walked through the files, pausing at “Divorce” but passing by that still-empty folder. She tucked the envelope into the folder marked “Letters” and shut the drawer with a quick swing of her hip.
Back in the kitchen, she took another sip of coffee, then a long draught, holding it in her mouth for a moment before swallowing. The music from next door continued to waft in; she tapped her foot to the beat.
KAREN CARLSON first started writing in third grade, when her poem about a wolf, Odeledenaire (Call of the Wild meets Annabelle Lee) was declared by her teacher to be exceptional. Unfortunately, Karen didn't know what "exceptional" meant, but only heard the "ex" part, and of course "X" means "wrong"; thus she's been uncertain about her work ever since.
After years of creating cardboard characters and trite plots, and wallowing in excess sentimentality, CARLSON gave up on fiction for 20 years. A little over a year ago, she discovered that it is possible to use one's life as a starting point for fiction, and has been making up for lost time ever since. Her story "The Heart Has a Mind of its Own" was published in The Flask Review in January 2008, after which the site announced it was folding. She hopes this isn't the beginning of a pattern.
KAREN has worked as a clerk-typist, systems analyst, database administrator (back in the days of the mainframe), technical writer (which wasn't as much fun as you'd think), and an office manager for a long-term care insurance agent (which was more fun than you'd think). She lives in Maine with her hyperthyroid cat, Lucy, and these days can usually be found hanging around Zoetrope.com.