Instant Coffee is the Devil's Work
An open-themed short story I penned for another competition. The only criteria: 2,500 words or less, humorous in some way shape or form. Hopefully I ticked both boxes. You let me know.
‘I swear to which ever higher power exists Chad, if you don’t get your butt moving I will sacrifice you to the first trash can we see.’
I wasn’t kidding either, I was willing and ready. All I needed was a trash can to appear.
I had my four-year-old son Chad in tow, hauling him along the busy city street on my way to work. Strangers in less of a hurry fluttered behind us, strangers without the hindrance of a child shot ahead. Lucky bastards.
Don't get me wrong, I love my kid. He is the light of my life, the fruit of my loins, the flower of my seed, or whatever those irritating blogger mummies loved to say these days. However; on a day like today, I would have loved to tape him to the couch, slap on some cartoon re-runs and hope that something educational came of it. At least that way I would be on time to work.
‘Hey, dickhead! Watch where you’re running,’ some half-wit yelled at me as we brushed past him and his small spawn of Satan.
‘When you start watching where you take that hideous Frankenstein look-a-like out in public, I’ll start watching where I run.’
I was able to slow my pace now, just slightly. I could see the coffee shop ahead. I could smell the sweet aroma of coffee beans and fresh croissants. The thought had driven me before, but it was the smell that willed me on now. Pushed me further. It engrossed my senses and enthralled the hairs on the back of my neck. The scent was almost palpable the way it swept up in a cloud of… My god, what is that awful smell?
My face contorted in disgust.
A breeze flounced through and mixed the piss with whiskey, the destitution with vomit and all sorts of horrible scents like a cauldron in my nostrils. I was close to vomiting myself. Truth be told, if I had to look at that Frankenstein baby right now, my chunder would be seeping through the cracks of the pavement as we speak.
The soulful fragrance of freshly ground coffee and decadent home-made pastries had been invaded by the smell of regurgitated alcohol and piss-stained clothes. Like ravenous dung beetles to a freshly produced shit, the air was overthrown by it.
‘Hey mate,’ a voice trundled from out of the black chasm in the corner of my eye, ‘ain’t this morning just great? You happen to have a dollar or two that I could borrow from you?’
I looked into the deep city crater, blackened by a lack of light. From the said gorge, a filthy man broke outward into the sunlight. His dirty clothing was stripped to bits, and the tail of his shirt was hung like me: embarrassingly short and abnormally pathetic. His face reeked of addiction. Rigid hairs shot aggressively away from all parts of his face as if they too wanted to leave this body and join the vomit and piss on the sidewalk.
‘Borrow?’ Was all I could muster.
‘Borrow may be the wrong word. You see, many a year ago my wife and me-‘
‘No mate, don’t have any money.’ I had to interject. I was far too susceptible and far too late to hear this guy’s sob story. The man didn’t move. His eyes drilled further into mine and I leaned back in retreat. ‘I’m serious, I haven’t got anything mate. Maybe next time.’
‘That excuse again. Let’s see then.’
‘Out with your wallet and show. If it’s truly empty, then you can go.’
He scratched at his beard, then the chin beneath it. He scratched at his belly. But worst of all, he scratched at his insides. Deep within himself. Entry point: where the sun don’t shine. All the whilst looking dead straight into my eyes as if he had discerned that there was wealth in my wallet. As if he just knew, the same way I knew there were more poo particles on this guy’s finger right now than on the inside of my toilet bowl at home.
I reached deep into my pocket, retrieved my wallet and opened it quickly so that only I and my son could see what lied within. That famed cerulean blue of a $10 note glimmered in my eyes before I snatched the leather clam closed.
‘Nothing in there, sorry mate.’
‘Just look once more, wouldn’t you just? You don’t look like a man I can trust.’ Are you kidding me? Have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately? I wouldn’t trust you to own a pair of unsaturated undies, let alone to tell the truth. How is it that I am the one being scrutinised?
‘As I said,’ rather lied, ‘There isn’t any money in here!’
And as if the higher power had heard me speak their name in vain before, they pushed forward my four-year-old boy to punish me, ‘But dad, there was money in there. Didn’t you see?’
The man’s death stare fell from his face and his oddly erotic facial configuration warped into a triumphant smile. His scratching and probing had vacated deep within his butthole, and now fondled at the small space between crack and crotch.
‘How truly fortunate am I, that this wondrous little boy has called out your lie!’
I was stuck. I had a little under ten minutes to grab a coffee, drop my kid off at pre-school and then get my ass to work. I peered down at my watch, hoping that it would revert ten minutes and alleviate my anxiety. Instead, out of pure hatred of me, the bigger hand expended another minute.
‘Fine.’ I thrashed at my wallet indignantly, scrunched the $10 note in my hands and lobbed it carelessly in the general direction of the man. ‘Enjoy the bottom of a bottle of whatever it is you’ll spend that on!’
‘Oh I will, don’t you worry. For wasting your time, I am sorry.’
As I began in a haste towards the coffee shop once more, I could see the man no longer. Like faeces at the bottom of a toilet bowl once flushed, he had disappeared in a flash.
The coffee shop eventually showed itself and I breathed out a sigh of relief. I was going to be able to tick off the first of these three morning stresses. I pushed through the glass doors, scuttled around the many entrepreneurs and blogging baboons who wasted away at circular tables. Smashing away at pitiful posts that no one was ever going to read.
I had joined a line of three. There was a lady adorned in activewear, appearing not-so-active at the front, and elderly lady in the middle, and myself and son at the back. The lady dressed in activewear stepped up to the counter and ordered her extra hot, extra-shot, long macchiato topped up with organic almond milk and presented her brightly decorated keep cup for it to be brewed in. The only facet of her stereotype that she missed was that her name wasn’t “Karen”.
‘And can I get a name for that?’ Oh my. Hold that thought.
‘Sharon.’ She spoke. Shit. So close. But I will take Sharon as a win, regardless.
Soon enough she had her coffee in one hand, her inflated ego in the other, and was waddling out of the coffee shop and back into her spectacularly over-indulgent life. The elderly lady stepped up next, ordered her coffee and then proceeded to pay. She ripped out her card, hindered by an aggressive physical shake, and jammed it into the slot at the bottom of the Eftpos machine. A crack. Snap. Shatter. Followed quickly by an aged groan. Her card had fractured in the slot of the Eftpos machine and now the machine itself whirred and stirred in a tornado of whistles and sirens.
‘Oh no! I’m so sorry. It seems the Eftpos machine ate your card. It’s busted now.’ The lady behind the counter spoke softly and with great sympathy for this martyr.
‘Oh never mind dear, I was due for a new one soon anyway.’ The lady reached into her wallet again, and this time retrieved a $5 note and passed it on. Smiles were exchanged and a coffee was bestowed upon the senior. I wondered to myself the ratio of coffee that was going to be genuinely consumed, versus the amount of coffee that would be shaken clear onto the floor.
It was now my turn. I stepped forward with my son, pulled out my card and ordered my straightforward white coffee.
‘Not a problem sir, that will be $4.50. Will you be paying by card or cash…’ She drifted off, her eyes glued to the Eftpos machine afront. ‘Oh I’m sorry sir, our Eftpos machine has just kicked the bucket, it will have to be cash.’
I looked down into my wallet. Barren and empty. Not two minutes earlier I had a $10 note to call my own. More than sufficient for this purchase. But now, I had nothing. I had given it away to some piss-soaked man that was going to spend it on morning booze.
‘But card is all I have.’ I stuttered candidly.
‘Then I’m afraid you won’t be purchasing a coffee today, sir.’ Apparently you had to be old, wrinkled and encumbered by violent shakes to receive a shred of civility from this lady.
I had squandered my only chance for a morning coffee by giving my money to a drunkard.
I left the store, defeated, still dragging my child behind me. He was completely unaware of everything that was unfolding before us. I stumbled back along the street we had passed earlier. As I neared the darkened alley where that man had presented before, an anger tore away at my insides. How dare he take my hard-earned money and spend it on alcohol? How dare he misuse the money I had laboured for in order to score himself a thimble of liquor? How dare he!
I could feel my breath quicken and my forehead tense. My gait had become heavy as I pummelled towards the dark opening. The stench of piss and vomit returned, and it was now or never. I was to confront the drunken scumbag who stole from me my morning coffee and berate him until he knew never to mess with me again.
I split into the opening, reached out in front of me, grabbed at the first fistful of clothing I could muster and pulled with all my might. The man from before shot out into the light.
‘Woah, woah, what’s the matter with you! You nearly spilled my fresh hot brew.’
A cappuccino topped with chocolate dusting swam violently from side to side in his cup. The momentum of me pulling him forward had caused a small portion of it to topple over the thin paper edges. That’s not a bottle of whiskey. Nor is it even a paper cup of whiskey, masquerading as a coffee. The man had a genuine coffee.
‘How the hell did you get that?’
‘Well the cash that you bestowed on me before, was what I used at that café store.’
He simply smiled and smugly sipped at his searing coffee.
Wild thoughts clouded my mind and instead of berating this man, all I could muster was a, ‘You ass,’ before flipping him two birds with both hands. As I did, my watch called out to me. It screamed now: Late. Late. Late.
Without further consideration, I bolted towards the street corner and made my way a kilometre up the road to the Primary School. I rushed through the front doors as the beginning bell ricocheted off the walls layered in finger paintings.
‘I’m here. I’m here. I made it!’
‘That’s great Mr. Pendreigh. Just in time.’ The teacher spoke with glee, before inspecting my immediate surroundings, ‘And where is Chad?’
I looked down by my right-hand side. Hand empty. My left-hand side. Also empty.
Where in the world was my son?
I tore out of the Primary School and back up towards the coffee shop. If there were an award for the most hopeless father or most luckless coffee purchaser, I was an absolute shoe in. I reached the chasm and there he was. My son. Seated next to the ragged man from before. The man still had his coffee in hand, but now my son had something too.
‘What is that?’
‘A hot chocolate, dad! He bought it for me.’ He said, signalling to the man in rags next to him.
‘With the spare change from your $10 note that I had, I bought a hot chocolate for your dear boy, Chad.’
Yep. That would be my luck. ‘Chad, let’s go. Now.’
‘Pity, don’t you think, that you’re the only one without a drink? A true shame. But, really, you’re to blame.’ I went to speak but the man beat me to it, ‘Last thing I’ll say: enjoy your day.’
I grabbed at Chad’s hand and once more bolted towards the Primary School. I basically threw him through the front window. I legged it up the alley to my place of work. I needed a coffee. My veins called out to be drowned in it, to be overcome by caffeine. I busted through the glass doors of my work and spilled into the kitchen. I grabbed carelessly at the nearest mug. ‘Mr. Happy’ was pasted in yellow across it and the caricature of a golden, circular blob with a widened smile looked back at me with elation. Not in any way shape or form accurate of my current sentiment but it would have to do.
I layered the mug with brittle, decade old instant coffee. Or was it brick dust. If my luck had anything to do with it, it would certainly be the latter. Hot water shot out of the urn into the mug, mixing with the rocks of caffeine at the bottom. The vapour didn’t quite live up to the freshly ground beans and home-made pastries from before, but it would suffice. I ripped open the fridge door and, truthfully, I should have expected it. No milk. Not a drop.
That’s okay. I’ll have it black. It will suffice. “Suffice” seemed to be my preferred word of the day. I swigged at the coffee. Gulped it down. And, true to form, it tasted like a decade old cup of piss.
I knew. I knew in that moment, just how much of an asshole I was. And that for the rest of the day, the smell of a piss-soaked man and the taste of a piss-filled cup would plague me.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! I would love any feedback, constructive or not.