fevered inspiration: coffee liqueur

She was drinking coffee liqueur and that seemed unusual, and she must have noticed me staring because she said it made her think of all those nights in high school when she'd go out to the diner and have coffee and talk until the sun came up and she had to go to school. We talked until the bar closed and they kicked us outside and the wind was high and the rain was terrible, the streets filled with water, and neither of us had the cash for a cab--so we took shelter in the mouth of the subway station, leaning against the wall and watching the rain outside.

It wasn't too cold but it was cold enough, so we huddled close, and talked--about the religion we'd both left behind, the small towns we still called home for some reason. I talked about my comfortable upbringing and how I was never sure if I should claim it or reject it. She told me about her family and how she left it behind when she was 18 but she kept going back. Then we both thought of the line from Magnolia, "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us," and a part of me wished it would rain like it did in that movie.

But it's true. We drink coffee liqueur to remind us of those carefree days in high school we hated so much because we can't afford to forget about them. But, she says with a tired smile, it also reminds her she's not there anymore. The taste of alcohol wasn't there when she was young. Maybe it's cheap and artificial, but sometimes that's all we have.

"We're really fortunate, you know," she says. "Life should have been perfect for us."

I tell her I know.

She says, "Then why are we so unhappy?"

In the morning we go home and I'm left worried about the world but so happy for that one night, and I still don't know why.


fevered inspiration

Sometimes I feel lie I am only really alive when I'm sick. It happens maybe once a year and my mind just stops working--or at least, not like it used to. My memory isn't sharp and I don't notice details like I usually do but maybe that's just because my mind is racing. I drink a lot of coffee, smoke cigarettes sometimes, to try to replicate that but once the fever takes hold I just keep thinking and I usually can't write fast enough to keep up with--

--this sad girl at the bar tonight, and I didn't even mean to start up a conversation but we talked for hours and the trains stopped running and the bars closed and we wandered out into the night but it was raining and windy and we had to run for shelter and--

--the last time I really talked to my sister, at the airport just before she left for Paris. Well, before the airport, really. We spent all night at a Denny's in SeaTac, drinking coffee, occasionally retiring for a smoke--I always loved having a smoke with my sister--and then she was gone and so was I, on the last plane to Boston, leaving behind all the disappointment and regret from--

--that wide-eyed acceptance and optimism I've always had somewhere. I'm not a cynic. I've never been a cynic. But I'm also afraid. I'm afraid and desperate and frantic and that never comes out until--

--my fever.



Every morning I wake up at the same time to get ready for work. It is the same routine every day--I put the coffee on, take a shower, come out, have some breakfast and coffee. My girlfriend emerges to join me for my breakfast at this point. We are still warm and communicative this early in the morning.

I return to the bedroom to get dressed. My suit and shirt are neatly pressed. I pass my girlfriend on the way into the bathroom to adjust my tie in the mirror. This takes a few moments, as I must be perfect. I return to the kitchen to read the newspaper my girlfriend has left there. She is reading the financial section. I turn to politics.

When she returns she is wearing a sharp skirt suit in black with a white blouse. She is wearing glasses now. Her hair is perfect. I lower the paper to give her a cold look. I glance at the clock. "Shouldn't you be going?" she asks. I nod curtly and leave. I enjoy work. I run into her at lunch at the cafe, and we talk business over coffee. We are cold but polite--cold in the sense that there is no warmth left between us. She drinks an iced latte. I drink black coffee. We argue about the economy and stocks, but politely.

I work late tonight. When I come home she is sleeping on the bed. I hang up my suit and tie and change into boxers and a t-shirt. She wakes up as I slide into bed and smiles at me--no longer perfectly arrayed for work. I tell her she's beautiful and she kisses me softly, and we lie in bed, enjoying each others' warmth. In the morning it will be the same. We'll get dressed and pretend we are polite business partners. We will quarrel politely over coffee at lunch. We will present our perfect selves to the world.


unfamiliar territory

Despite going home to the same place every night, I have not stayed in the same house on any two consecutive evenings for weeks. I come home to an unfamiliar building--the furniture is different, the layout of the house, even the architecture. But it's home. The key fits, the same people are there--or at least they look the same.

I get used to the new arrangement and find my room--always in a different place--and go to sleep in a bed that feels like a stranger's. I dream of the house I used to know, but it seems distant, dark, and haunted now. Then I wake up and find myself somewhere entirely new. When I eat my breakfast, it doesn't taste like it should. I can never quite place what is wrong with it. I can never remember how I like my coffee, but it always tastes wrong. Now too sweet. Now too strong. Too much cream. Too grainy.

And my love is different every day. Today her hair is up and dark, she is dressed like a professional, a working woman, very serious. Last night when I went to bed she had her hair long, it was red, and she wore jeans and a striped shirt. She smiled a lot more. "Did you dye your hair?" I ask her today. She looks confused. I apologize and say I haven't been sleeping well, which is true.

Nobody knows about this disorientation, because they don't seem to understand when I start talking about it. Am I the only one that notices? Am I going mad? Can I trust my own memories? I don't know what is a dream anymore. I'm never sure what is happening. And I'm not even sure I'm the same person through all of it.


familiar accents

I spent much of the evening in a diner, drinking coffee with cream but no sugar, reading a newspaper. I usually put sugar in my coffee. I usually don't go out alone on a Saturday night. I usually don't read the newspaper. Tonight was not every night.

The waitress talked to me occasionally, but mostly just to make sure I was okay. She didn't say much to me. She talked to some of the other patrons, too, and some of them I got the feeling she knew. About half an hour into the evening, while I was eating my club sandwich and generally feeling tired, I noticed that she was greeting the couple behind me without an accent.

She spoke with an accent to me--not strong, but noticeable. Did I look like an out of towner, or did I look like a local? Was I just not hearing her right? I didn't ask about it but I left a good tip and smiled as I left. No sense acting like anything is unusual.


what i had in mind

I'm often guilty of overplanning. I want to make sure everything goes a certain way, and while I don't always write it down I always know the steps and exactly where everything is expected to be, when it's supposed to happen.

I saw a friend a few days ago that I hadn't seen for a year. I'd sort of given up on ever seeing her again. I had plans for the evening--I always had plans for the evening--but I didn't see any problem with her tagging along for a while. Then we stepped into an elevator and something changed.

I'm still trying to figure out what happened. I didn't mean to change it, but suddenly I felt like we'd gone off course. This was not what I had in mind. I've been uncharted for a few days now. It's completely new to me. I should be uncomfortable with it--I always am when something doesn't go according to plan.

But all I'm worried about is that I'm not worried about it.