February 10, 2011

A Bitter Instance

Unforgivably, and unfathomably, I let myself run out of coffee. I looked in the cabinet, and the realization punched me, knocking the air from my lungs, the sensation from my mind. What? How? Why? So many questions, and nothing but the simplest of answers to all of them: I had forgotten. I had let my mind drift to other matters, my focus shift to things like school, dips, and running. And I had forgotten coffee.

There was surprise in that dawning, and shame as well. How dare I, barista, coffee enthusiast, coffee blogger, even, forget that most base of things? It happens, I said, though I knew it should not have. I had been to Dillons the day before, purchased vegetables, rice, oatmeal, and fish. I had all of those things now, but all of those thing I could do without. Peanut butter slapped on saltines would be enough for sustenance, enough to quell hunger and fuel my efforts at work.

I had options, none of them ideal. I could drive so a kwik shop, or perhaps a local grocer, and buy either a cup or bag of coffee. But I looked at the windows, frost rimming their frames. The sun had yet to crest the horizon, and the temperature remained below zero. A cold wind whipped past, screaming its taunts. I would stay inside.

That settled, I began to rummage for caffeine. Like a squirrel trying desperately to dig up nuts, having exhausted his winter stash, I opened cabinets, tore through their contents. Surely, there had to be a can of Folgers. Everyone has some coffee, even if it's nothing more than a safeguard, in case some caffeine fiend comes to visit. But no, there was not even that.

There was, however, a remnant of a visit from last fall. I saw it, a brown rectangle propped in a far corner, behind forgotten noodles and black beans. Nescafe. Instant coffee. I resigned myself to this pungent fate, measured out the course granules, and tried not to inhale to deeply. I boiled water, crunched an apple, stirred peanut butter in to my oatmeal.

The pot whistled, and I swore there was a hint of sarcasm in it. I snatched it from the burner, refusing to be mocked by a tea kettle, and poured the water over the granules. It hissed, steamed, and released an astringent aroma. I sipped. Watery, wispy, and yet bitter too. It manged nearly all sins at once, offending every part of the palate and a whole spectrum of senses.

I drank the entire cup. I did, not because it tasted good, but because it was there, and because it was coffee. Some brown water remained at the bottom of the cup, with bits of not emulsified coffee still floating. I rinsed it, and scrubbed the cup, hoping to absolve it of its part. I tried to forgive myself too, saying that there was no choice, that circumstances forced me to play a week hand. But of course, they were circumstances of my own making; I had forgotten to buy coffee, no one else. And so I got dressed and went to work, a bitter tang still idling on my tongue.

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