Bud and the Coffee Cup

At this early hour a broad back was hunched over a cup of coffee. There was a neck, hairy and red, sticking out of a khaki shirt. Between rough, scarred hands and thick biceps, stubborn elbows pinned down a chunk of counter space, marking the man’s territory. Elbows to the left and right marked neighboring kingdoms.

Careless smoke twined upward from a Camel wedged between two fingers on his left hand, and with his right, a restless thumb explored the heavy, familiar contours of the cup.

Left to right and up and down his eyes studied the tiers of cornflakes and sugared cereals on the bar behind the counter. A little surprise flickered in those eyes. Maybe it was only these few quiet moments before the rush and noise of the day. Surely he was too old and hardened to be changing. But lately it seemed his mind was busier, even wayward, gingerly touching strange thoughts.

He sneaked a cautious glance up and down the counter, a movement disguised with the cup raised to his thick lips, like a spy sneaking a peek over a newspaper. But no one seemed to have noticed his secret thinking. His rough worker’s face gave nothing away.

The waitress glided over with more coffee. She was fixture, like a lamp or a booth, seen every day but not especially noticed. She was not pretty. She smiled and was suddenly beautiful.

Bud flushed deeply, embarrassed at the discovery.

“More coffee, Bud?”

He nodded as she filled the cup. Then she moved on. He stirred a little cream into the coffee and stared at the spoon. Something was happening in his life, but he wasn’t sure what.

A week ago he had gotten a birthday card from his son. His son sent him a card every year. But this year it had made him cry.

In the checkout line at the grocery store the woman in front of him had had a child in her arms. A little hand reached out and touched his arm, little brown eyes looking up at him. One callused finger stroked the small hand. He had felt overwhelmed by it all.

Last Sunday, for the first time in his life, he had sung a little at church.

And lately he didn’t miss Laura quite as much. She’d been dead for seven years, but the hurt had hung on. He shook his head and sipped his coffee.

Just last evening he had pulled out one of her old journals and read a little of her poetry. There were a few tears, but mostly it had made him think. He had begun to think that there might be things in him that had never been said. Before he had gone to bed he had written his first poem, and he had a feeling there was a lot more where that came from.

The waitress was coming over again. He smiled.

“Hey, Sylvia, can I have a couple of napkins?”

“Sure, Bud. How’s the coffee?”

“Hey, it’s great!”

Sylvia smiled and moved on down the counter.

Bud fished in a shirt pocket and found a ballpoint. He paused for a moment, then started scribbling on one of the napkins.

‘At this early hour a broad back was hunched over a cup of coffee...’

David K. Aycock 2013