Stripey Coffee Cup

I STARE and see circles and in their centre the reflection of me. My nose is magnified. My eyes watery. Warm air against my lips and the taste of salt dripping there. Take the cup away and I see its concentric circles. Round and round they go, held together by design and beautifully separate. Black and emerald and ochre and black, my stripey coffee cup.

Moments follow and more, counted out by the clock’s final ruling. Photos of me and you, my dear, grabbed and smashed, the clatter of compact discs into piles of yours and piles of mine. The holder grows black and empty. Take the plates. Take the cups. I stare at the circles and see the photos you destroy, a lounge of long ago, the smiles of promise folded into a dinner jacket and cocktail dress. Hands held on an island, somewhere warm, somewhere else. Was the sea really that blue? Balls of ice cream through a freckled grin, I look at the table and trace the blurry blue line of an island’s coast. Windmill shadows melt in a Flemish canal where ripples of you fold away. But now we’re counted out and I look down still, staring at my stripey coffee cup.

I see things in that circular reflection. And the images gather around other sensations. I see snaffled bedsheets and my foot feels cold. The wind belts our window and your shadow moves. I see bunched pillows and rub the tickle of your hair on my cheek. Giggles past midnight. That ever-present glass of water by your bedside. Little notes with silly names – where did those names come from, my dear? The catcalls of children, not affection. All that laughter, you made liars of us. Fools in the cinema dark we were. Put my face down now and find that darkness again. And wonder, did we ever belong here? I wonder, in the small shadowed bowl of my stripey coffee cup.

Now I no longer see, I hear things. And like the images they bring old acquaintances. A trudge on a rutted beach, sniff-scrunch my nose at the seaweed smell you so hate. The chink of cutlery, the clink of ladles in bowls. More salt, my dear? Perfect toenails, painted nails, you clutch my hand as the plane’s engines die. The bell chimes of toasts, dry white wine for madam. So many tables and waiters and bathroom tears. Restaurants, tavernas, cafes, separated by tables and decorum we are safe. Costa del Somewhere, October surf around our feet. Pueblo Blanco whitewash blazing a path to an invader’s castle. Lemons on a tree as cicadas sing. So hot it feels, and I blow into my coffee. Lift my wet face from my stripey coffee cup.

They carried paper lanterns along the street in Ambleside. I looked up and let the rain patter my face. I blinked it from my eyes and when I looked at you again you were out of focus. Someone was stealing your milk and I wrote news about you. What’s wrong with your picture? Don’t stand so close with the camera, you say, and you run away, you’re a dot in the background. It was funny and curious and then painful. You read so many books so I wrote for you. But you only like chick-lit. You liked holidays and so I took you there, but you hate being warm. The moray eel swam past our hut as the fruit bats gathered and the reef swallowed our sun, but you were never there. Fruit bats shrieking. Remember that out-of-control scream in the kitchen? Was that you or me, my dear? You pat the sofa we toiled to buy and my trepidation rises. You laugh at the TV with foody teeth and I cannot bear to look. The reflection of me gathers when I choose instead to stare into my stripey coffee cup.

I want to laugh. I want to talk to someone. I long to walk somewhere else and climb a new mountain. I want the fear of not knowing. Taste something different and hear a stranger’s voice. You have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. We have no quarrel, you and I, but all I want to do is laugh again.

It’s all I can do as you reach for blame. It’s all I can manage as you cry. When I next move my feet I feel I may stumble, and I yearn to go. But for now the clock counts us out, and I stare and wait. I see concentric circles. Round and round they go, held together by design and beautifully separate. Black and emerald and ochre and black, my stripey coffee cup.

  • Copyright Phil Thomas, all rights reserved

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