Developing a Taste
by Lindsey Jancay
When you said you were leaving for Georgia soon, I said we should get some coffee. It seemed like an adult way to handle the hollow feeling that I had since you broke things off the week before. In romantic movies, there’s always a coffee scene—each person sitting slightly hunched at a table, surrounded by busy people and separated by the cups they hold in both hands like relics of some sort.
I knew a coffee place on the main street of the town you lived in. When I was younger, my mother and I would go to the farmer’s market across from the café and get bear claws bigger than our faces. Then we’d each eat them with a cup of black coffee at the wrought iron table on the porch in front of the coffee shop. I learned to love black coffee from my mother. The first time I tried it, I made a scrunched up face, demanded cream, sugar, flavored syrups. She said, You just have to learn to really taste it.
Now, you and I are sitting at the same table, but without bear claws. I don’t have an appetite. You’re talking about some new drive-in that featured a special showing some days before, and my mind travels there to a bright screen presenting a gory movie that washes our faces with red light through the bugs and dust on the windshield of your car. Why are you acting so funny? you ask, bringing me back to the dull air and the September chill of an oncoming storm. I’m not, I reply. (I am.) You are, you insist. You are, I retort. You’re right, you say and look down at the table, tilting your cup against the black scrolls. I ask why, and you say you don’t know, but there’s something about how you say it: I can hear excitement in your voice.
Everything around us is gray. Some days I feel engulfed by a particular color. Today, gray fits—light, but not too light, this is how I feel. As clouds shift with the wind, I look at you across the table. This moment feels honest. As the wind picks up, I know what you know. Suddenly I feel older.
Despite the bad location—several businesses were known to have gone under in the same building— the coffee shop was doing pretty well, and so it moved to a larger place down the street. The owners traded in hand made mugs and the stained white countertops for something more streamline, a dark echoing space with accents of sage green and an eclectic, yet sophisticated style. I think I like it, but you say the chairs, all mismatched, but painted the same dark shade, bother you. When I get my own place, I want mismatched chairs, I say. I know, You reply. While I eat my chicken salad sandwich, I consider what an upgrade these are from the wrought iron table that was once featured on the porch down the street. Funny though, it seems so dark here with the deep wooden floors and all the different chairs painted black. It doesn’t feel like the coffee shop across from the farmer’s market. It doesn’t feel friendly.
I pass the coffee shop on my way to your house. The windows are covered in bright paper and I can’t see inside. I think that maybe they have been doing so well since the move that they decided to close for a week and get rid of the black— erasing it with paint laden rollers and searching each corner like drug sniffing dogs for speckles of black that might come through. Maintenance. The day after you left me, I found out the coffee shop went out of business. It is now an ice creamery. It looks lighter, all white, but the sage green is still there. Now a huge cow holding an ice cream cone overlooks the town from it’s post above the doorway. It’s happy expression seems grotesque to me. The stone-set grin mocks what once stood there. Don’t get me wrong, I like ice cream, but I crave coffee.
I feel like every coffee drinker does it once in a while— you go in to get just a regular cup of joe: black, or with cream and sugar to taste, but then you get caught up by the signs and the names of all kinds of complex drinks. Mocha Raspberry, Chai Latte, Carmel Macchiato. So you decide that today is the day and you get yourself one of the fancy drinks. Four dollars poorer, you sit down and sip. The first quarter of the cup is lovely, fragrant and flavorful, but you find that with each indulgence it begins to feel heavier, syrupy. You can’t finish it, because it’s too sweet, and you came into this wanting something bitter.
We sit on your front porch. I had suggested we come out here because it’s nice out, but really, I take comfort in the darkness around us, save the orange orbs at the top of the lampposts lining the street. The traffic lights behind you rotate through their colors: green, yellow, red, green. The red always seems to last the longest. You look at me, waiting. I say, Isn’t this about actions? Yes, you say, but I want some words too. I think. I look for words that will fill the air between us because it seems so vacant. You wait. I tell you that I wish I could say something to make up your mind. I remind you how much I hate waiting. Life is about waiting, you say. I shake my head. I wrote about you, I say. Suddenly, I’m nervous. You tilt your head in my direction when you ask me what I wrote. I’ve been writing about my favorite day with you. The day we went for coffee and I knew you loved me. It was stormy. I remember, you reply. Nothing was going the way I wanted, but I knew it would work out. It just all felt right. Maybe this is like that, you say. The traffic light changes yellow and I tell you I hope so.