some fall in love. i shatter.

The Private Infirmary (#22)

In Stories Volume 1 on July 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Just two burners on the stovetop and five inches between them where the white porcelain had been discolored a mucus yellow from boiling-over pasta water.  Around the edges of the smaller gas burner were slight brown smudges, remembrances of coffee brewed and spilled.  To the right of the stove, on the yellow Formica countertop, was the moka pot that her right index finger reached for, wrapping around the hook of the black plastic handle and bringing it into her left palm.  The scratches of heavy usage showed on the metallic skin of the single-serving machine.  Her right hand gripped the top chamber and her left hand spun the bottom boiler until the two halves came apart, the funnel filter lingering in the seat of the boiler.

Coffee grounds remained impacted in the filter from the last time she had used the moka.  Little flecks of brown that had been stuck in the grooves of the top chamber shook loose over the countertop and the sink.  The top layer of grounds in the filter still bore the pinprick impressions of the filter plate that sat as the base of the top chamber.  Tipping the filter into her hand, she then placed the delicate piece between her thumb and middle finger, began the flow of hot water from the faucet, and placed the inverted filter directly under the stream.  The water forced its way through the tiny neck of the funnel and she could feel the pressure mounting until a movement began between her fingers and the mass of spent grounds fell with a thud to the sink, still in their molded shape.

Janine turned the filter upright and ran her finger around the edge where some of the grounds had lingered.  The water continued washing through and after a moment, all that was left was a residue of coffee oil, slick between her finger and the metal wall.  She placed it upside down on the countertop to dry for a few moments.  She picked up the bottom chamber and rinsed it out twice, a formality really, before filling the chamber with water up to the level of the steam release valve.  Janine set this on the counter next to the filter.

Reaching into the cabinet over the stove, she pulled out a sealed Ziploc bag with an open bag of Bustelo and small spoon inside.  Trace amounts of espresso-ground coffee collected in the corners of the bag, shimmying around like ants when the bag tipped one way or another.  She unsealed the bag, inhaling the aromas of cafés and bodegas as her fingers reached for the spoon handle and flicked away the clinging grounds.  Keeping one bag inside the other, she measured three heaping spoonfuls of coffee and gently laid them into the filter that she’d picked up in her left hand.  The back of the spoon smoothed out the mound until it was flush with the edges of the filter.  She laid the filter inside the bottom chamber, careful not to spill any of the coffee on the counter.  There was enough of that already.  She was tired of wasting things like coffee, time, herself.

Janine winced at a sudden cramp in her left foot, bending down to massage the muscles back into submission.  On her way back up, she turned the knob to ignite the burner and once the flame came alive, she set the temperature to Medium-High.  She liked for the burner to heat up just two minutes before putting the moka pot atop the grill.  She found that the sudden rush of heat served the coffee better than the slow increase in temperature.

Sometimes Janine missed who she had been just a few years earlier and sometimes she was more than content with who she’d become.  This was one of those moments when things seemed to be okay.  Even when the coffee came out tasting thick and burnt, she fetishized the ritual and the way that it made her feel like an independent adult.  She only wished things could have come on like that same rush of heat and spared her some of the details.

The top chamber next went under the waterfall of hot water like everything else, her finger sweeping the sides of the chamber in order to wipe away the remaining oily residue.  Three sweeps and everything looked clean enough.  It wouldn’t be sufficient in any café but it passed in the galley kitchen of her forgettable apartment.  The skin on her face felt the heat erupting from the small burner so she hurried to wipe dry the top chamber.  She never understood why she bothered with the unnecessary step but she did and was persistent about it.  The top chamber was placed atop the bottom and Janine gently twisted them together, careful not to spill any water or grounds.

She placed the moka on the edge of the burner, trying to keep the handle as far from the flames as possible, and leaned against the counter with her eyes closed.  Percolation only took two minutes and she had learned not to leave the stove or she would turn absentminded until the coffee spilled, burned, and stained.  So to the ritual of making the coffee and drinking the coffee, she had added waiting for the coffee.  The rote movements of ritual had been comforting at one point in Janine’s life.  They became necessary after she kicked Marcus out of the apartment and out of her life.

Janine enjoyed the simple movements of cleaning the moka pot and the gentle bitterness of the coffee down her throat.  Now there was the darkness of her lowered eyelids, the silence of the apartment broken only by the sound of the gas coming through the burners and the light gurgling of the dark coffee bursting forth through the central column.  Soon enough she heard the coffee erupting and the faint sputtering of water from the safety valve.  She knew it was best to remove the machine then, that residual heat would continue to turn the water into upward moving steam, that the coffee could quickly burn.  But she loved the sound, the little dreams being born below and fulfilling their ambitions above – impossible half-lives.

She cut the flames and pulled the little moka from the coils of the burner.  From the cabinet over the stove, Janine pulled down a coffee mug with a photograph of two foxes and the text “People Like You Are An Endangered Species.”  Pouring the coffee into the mug, it rose only to where the handle began.  Espresso mugs weren’t quite a luxury but they had yet to find a way into her home.  She liked the way the coffee remained close near the bottom of the mug, how demure it was down there, waiting to be discovered, remaining calm about it all.  Janine held the mug by the upper edges and felt the spreading warmth.

Another dollar saved, another minute of peace maintained.  She looked around at the walls, off-white made off-yellow by the march of time and the cheap light bulb that promised efficiency yet failed to deliver clean light.  The maroons of the sectional couch didn’t help, nor did the glass coffee table that so efficiently displayed dust, coffee spills, heel prints from her bare feet, and who knew what else.  Brown floorboards are better than any shade of carpet, she thought; that would only serve to better display the remnants of city streets that I carry into here.

To think I call this peaceful, she thought, this wandering-eye critique and criticism of my home.  To think some people call this success, call this getting by in a tough economy, call this surviving.  To think that I’m one of those people.

Janine picked up the phone to call Marcus again.



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