COFFEE W/ EGGSHELL
Be careful what you wish for!
Boy, if I had a nickle for every time I’ve heard that one, I could quit slinging lattes at the “Perc-Up!”, retire to Bora-Bora, and get Blotto-ed-Blotto-ed!
People always have sayings like that. Sayings that don’t really mean anything; little nuggets of wisdom no one wants to hear. Lord knows I hear a lot of them but that goes with the territory. Being the coffee jockey in this town’s only coffee bar, you pretty much hear it all; much like a bartender hears all about his patron’s cares and woes, and the only difference between me and Rudy down at the Dew-Drop-Inn is my customers are all wired up and they can go all night!
“The Lord works in mysterious ways”, “Things happen for a reason”, “It was meant to be”.
Really? It was meant to be? I wished somebody would have explained that one in a little more detail to me before I married Elaine and then shipped off to Fah-gedda-bout-it, Iraq and spent three years sitting on my butt counting sand dunes. If someone had explained the big cosmic plan in a language I could relate to, sort-of a Richard Lindahl’s Life for Dummies, I could have skipped all that heartache and gone right to my boss Frank, filled out the job application for the “assistant manager” position at the Perc-Up coffee bistro, and got my rear end on this stool a little bit faster.
Not that I’m totally wasting my time filling cups and making change. I am taking night courses in computer security at Breakline Community College, and in a town the size of Breakline, Texas, that pretty much makes you executive material right there. Yes-sirree, eight-to-two at the “Perc”, two hours each night at the college annex—that makes for a full life! Not quite the “full life” I had imagined for myself and Elaine, but the Lord worked in a mysterious way and put it into Elaine’s head that maybe it would be better if she just pretended she wasn’t married while I brought democracy to the Arabian Gulf.
Out of sight, out of mind. That’s another one, and that’s just what happened. Elaine and I went together for two years after high school, a time when I thought we were blissfully happy, and we went through the usual stuff a young couple goes through as they’re trying to decide what to do with their life. Although Breakline is only an hour from Austin, the town has a small-town ambiance and the economic opportunities are limited. Financially, it wasn’t in the cards for Elaine to go to the University of Texas, Baylor was also out of the question, so she had to settle for a part-time secretarial job with a tool-and-die maker. Me? I was a classic high school drone: didn’t care about math; hated auto mechanics; and could-care-less about the air-conditioning business—even if those clever bastards did call it HVAC to make it seem more impressive. So, it was either become a cop or join the Marines and all it took was one look at the waistline of some of those boys-in-blue patrolling the main drag of Breakline to convince me to sign up with the Marines, always with one eye on the money the service would give you towards an education after you did your time in Camel Country.
I’m doing it for us, baby. For our future. That’s what I told Elaine, and I meant it, and in my mind’s-eye I could see me coming home, all in one piece, of course, and getting a Bachelor’s in Arts or something. We’d get Elaine away from her parents, I’d work part-time and go to school, and eventually we’d make a home, have a kid or two, and live happily ever after.
Out of sight, out of mind. I did my part, putting the same gung-ho attitude I’d displayed in high school (meaning I slept a lot) to work in basic training. I learned to strip my weapon in the dark and reassemble it in ten seconds, I got real good at digging holes, and I set a new team Condor record for the number of beers that can be consumed before the bus hauls you back to camp. Off to Bum-scratch, Iraq I go—full of fiery determination and moral rectitude, secure in the knowledge that my new wife, Elaine Lindahl, was waiting faithfully at home.
When life hands you lemons—make lemonade. I wish that one was an actual person so I could go on up to him and G.I. Joe-with-the-Kung-Fu-Grip kick his ass twice and then do it once more on Sunday before Bible school—and here’s why:
Returning home from duty overseas was one thing; certainly plenty of guys my age did that—but life handed me a peculiarly sour lemon in the form of Leonard Hopkins. Leonard, who is the editor of our local paper, The Breakline Leader, also happens to be the favorite brother-in-law of our district’s distinguished Congressman, William P. Stapely. Congressman Stapely has a prominent position on the Armed Services Committee. Brother-in Law Leonard, foreseeing a slow news day the second week of February, decides to use his considerable influence on his sister’s husband (Leonard once had to remove some incriminating panties from the Congressman’s car…) and get the discharge date of Breakline’s favorite son, i.e. Me, bumped-up a few days to coincide with Valentine’s Day. What could be better? Returning hero surprises his wife on that hallowed day by showing up with a dozen roses and as the door to their apartment flies open, the photographer snaps a shot of the stunned wife, overcome with emotion, as she falls tearfully into the loving embrace of the only man she will ever love.
Screw it. I’d kick Mr. “life-hands-you-lemons” once before Bible school and then track him down at Denny’s afterward and kick his ass again.
Oh, they routed me all the way back from the Gulf, all right. They expedited me. I had my uniform pressed for me, a nice government car for my trip from Austin-Bergstrom Airport, and Hanaway’s Floral even contributed the dozen roses so I wouldn’t have to stop off and purchase them myself, potentially spoiling the time-table for the momentous reunion. Our car rolled up; the photographer secreted himself behind my beloved Ford in the driveway; I straightened my tie, squared my shoulders, and brought the roses to parade-salute. I rang the bell. Our bell.
It never occurred to me that there shouldn’t be another car parked alongside mine in the driveway—let alone a piece of crap like Bill Munson’s Toyota.
One thing you could always count on with Elaine was her respect for your time. Some people will keep you waiting, some people will let the phone go three, four rings before they answer—but not Elaine. Your time is just as valuable as hers is. Elaine came to the door after I rang the bell and in her haste to keep from wasting my time, she forgot to put the cows fully in the barn and the photographer got a nice, digital-quality snapshot of eggs-over-easy. Pig-in-a-blanket? That’s him, Billy Munson, peeking over Elaine’s shoulder in the shot, his hair all akimbo and his face covered with lipstick.
Needless to say, Elaine didn’t really appreciate the roses and she didn’t fall tearfully into my arms. A nice addendum to the story would have me rushing into my apartment, cursing and throwing blows and stuffing the blanket down Munson’s throat while his giblets hang out but the Marines taught me discipline and once a Marine, always a Marine. I calmly explained to Elaine which orifice she could put my golf clubs in, saluted Munson (I’ll let you figure out which finger), and left—but not before tearing out the memory card of the photographer’s camera.
So—Frank, the owner of the Perc-Up, has a dependable assistant manager—which is funny because I’m the only employee other than him. He let’s me stay in the back office; I have my own set of keys and come-and-go as I please; and I think he secretly likes the idea that he has a security guard on duty each night after my classes. Sitting on my little stool, waiting for the next housewife or college student to come in for her double-mocha, low-fat, no-cinnamon latte isn’t very intellectually stimulating, but a certain acceptance of the way my life had gone did settle on me and the one solace in my new life was knowing that surely nothing, nothing could surprise me at this point. I could not have been more wrong.
I had forgotten about my mother’s favorite saying.
When one door closes, another one opens. And that’s exactly what Karin did. Open the door, that is.
That little poke of bells that Frank hung over the door to announce a new customer sounded just like the jingle for Clarence’s new wings in “It’s a Wonderful Life”—and they announced an angel, too. Karin had a look on her face like she was new to town and was exploring her surroundings, and her casual dress and the book bag over her shoulder made me think that maybe she was taking some classes at the Annex and would need a nearby place to sit and regenerate if her courses weren’t back-to-back. The late afternoon student rush was over so the “Perc” was virtually empty. This was my long day: no classes and Frank has a weekly dominoes game that is more important to him than an address by the Pope, so I was committed to manning the register till ten. Karin had just sat at one of our small tables, obviously unaware that we don’t have a waitress, when my late mother’s voice bloomed in my ear and I heard her say when one door closes, another one opens. I’m young still, only twenty-five; and I wasn’t exactly a model citizen in my teen years; but when I was younger, I did listen to my mother.
Hurrying over to her table, I asked Karin what she would like to order, and she said the words that threw me the final curve in my life.
“Coffee with eggshell, please.”
Now, if you were in Sweden, or Norway, or maybe the Netherlands, hearing an order like that wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary—but this is Texas. Texas, where a brew and barbeque are the norm and even though everybody drinks coffee, not that many are exactly connoisseurs, if you know what I mean. Her order made me do a double-take, but when I introduced myself and she did the same, her name blew me away.
Karin was my mother’s name.
My mother died a few years before I was married and my dad had wandered off to “find himself” some time around when I was ten, so I’ve been a little adrift since high school ended. That’s probably why my mother’s heritage didn’t hang with me all that much—and it’s also probably why I married she-Satan as young as I did. My mother was half-Swedish, her parents having come here from Oslo to make some money in the oil fields outside Odessa. I never knew my grandparents, mom didn’t make a big thing about the Swedish part of her family, but one thing she insisted on was having her coffee Scandinavian-style: with eggshells. She’d brew up a big pot with a few shells in the grounds and would never tell me why. Like I said: I’m young, I’ve been burned by love, and I’m not too smart—but I know a good “in” when I see one.
I said, “That’s amazing. My mother’s name was Karin—only she pronounced it ‘Karen”—probably a ‘Texas’ thing, I guess. Are you part Swedish?”
“Yep. My last name’s Swenson. The Swenson’s are probably the only non-German people in Fredericksburg.” Fredericksburg, only thirty miles away, is a Bavarian-themed town long a favorite of tourists from all over the country.
Karin had a dazzling smile. She favored me with it, and I tried not to be so blatant in my appreciation of her incredible beauty: perfect figure, beautiful blue eyes, and long brunette hair. I mumbled something I’m sure was incoherent, went into the back to prepare her coffee, and returned once it was done. I was glad to see we were still alone.
“Okay,” I said as I set her cup down, “Finally the secret can be revealed. My mom would never tell me why she preferred the coffee with eggshells, but now you can tell me.”
Karin batted her eyelids. “Richard, did you ever try it?”
I told you I wasn’t that smart. I had to admit that I hadn’t.
Karin gave me a mysterious look and said, “Okay—a bargain. I tell you why I like it this way…” her hand reached out and took mine. “…and you tell me why you’re so heartbroken.”
What can I say? I had just met this girl. I’m a hardened Marine who came home to find another man’s car parked in his wife’s slot, so-to-speak, and this beautiful, worldly, woman is seeing right through me like I was glass. I’m not going to tell her my sad-sack history!
What can I say? Her hand was warm, her eyes inviting—she was gorgeous.
I spilled my guts.
After my tale was over, Karin nodded slightly, let go of my hand, and raised her cup to my lips. “Drink.” she said.
I did. It was good. I normally go for a good Kona when I want to get super-charged on caffeine, but this was definitely worth switching to. It was smooth, but still robust, and I told her so.
Her hand was back in mine. “A pretty subtle thing, wouldn’t you say? Mama always said that coffee was acidic, eggshells are alkaline, and they take out the bitterness.”
“Well, she was right. You’ve made a believer out of me. All this time working here and there was a new experience right in front of me and I didn’t even know it. So…thank you. Now, you know my sad story—tell me, why are you here?”
Her hand never left mine. She seemed to think a minute, stared at our hands, and then she sighed. Those blue diamonds in her eyes seemed to look right through me as she said, “Well, I thought I was coming here to pick up some classes on economics so the world could get another accountant…” she sighed again, “…but now I’m thinking I was brought here to be an eggshell.”
“What? I think you lost me. An eggshell?”
“No, I think I found you. And not ‘an eggshell’—your eggshell.”
One door closes, another one opens.
My mother Karin Lindahl was one smart woman and I grew to regret disparaging all those pithy sayings that people come up with. Because some of them are true. Things do happen for a reason, we just can’t see them. I couldn’t. I was too filled with bitterness to “see the forest for the trees”, but someone came along to change all that. Someone I didn’t expect, someone I couldn’t see.
All good things come to he that waits.
COFFEE W/ EGGSHELL
A SHORT STORY by Daryl Buckner
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