Monday, April 02, 2007

A Cup of Coffee; and a Muffin

The old man finished his cup of coffee, took off his reading glasses, rubbed his eyes, placed the reading glasses in a case, put the case in his pocket, put on his distance glasses, arose slowly and placed his books under his arm and picked up the bright green ceramic plate that moments before had held his devoured muffin. It had been his one 'sinful' treat for the day; an overfull muffin made of oat bran and honey with little speckles of oat flakes on top. But when he finished eating and drinking and was ready to leave, a lifetime of training and practice in courtesy led him clean his table and to take the coffee cup and plate to the front counter before exiting.

He noticed standing behind the counter two attractive young women, lithe and alert, manned the food preparing and serving area. The old man did not approach them directly; instead he went to the far edge of the counter, distant from them, to deposit his soiled cup and plate. As he approached that end of the counter, his whole body shrank. He tried to totally disappear, to escape what he knew would be their possible disapproving looks. He was very old now, beyond the denial of any 'late-middle-age' euphemism; and he increasingly believed that all youth, in the flush of its own vibrancy, would be invariably judgmental, especially of him. He had been seeing the penetrating stares of pity from young eyes for many years now, and was deeply afraid these women would see something even worse than his age: the flicker of his desire in his eyes.

He worriedalso at this moment about the skin of his hands, the wrinkled gloves of pink worn velvet, no longer powerful, no longer smooth to the touch, but slowed, tentative, ungainly. He hated his own hands: they made him constantly afraid and shy, frightened of even a handshake; much less the full touch of a woman. As he carried the cup and plate, he knew from humiliating experience how badly the nerve endings of his fingertips had been dulled with age, and whatever he grasped might at any moment slip to the ground and crash. From the corner of his eye he caught the full figure of the young woman who had served him earlier. He remembered vividly thirty minutes before, when, ordering his coffee and muffin, how he had forgotten his age for a brief moment and looked directly into her eyes, hoping that he might share a peer to peer moment of human contact, face flushing as she looked up at him to take his order. He saw her stare (he thought) only under his eyes, at the darkened bags. And then, when she had finally looked bemusedly a few inches higher, into his once shiny and luminescent pupils, she stared, a flicker of a smile touched only the right side of her mouth, as if half a gesture was all he warranted. (He had instantly remembered when he had been her age, and how his eyes, 15/15, like those of the great baseball player Ted Williams had been his points of pride. Now those slightly vacant orbs could only see with the aid of thick lenses, his sight having become hazy, out-of-focus and peripherally blurred, a surprise encounter always lurking to the left and right, a world ready to startle him with an unanticipated bump.)

The cup on the plate tinkled lightly as his hand moved toward the marble counter, but he made sure the plate didn't make a sound as he placed it down. Triumphant in its silence, he turned away from the counter; while, from the corner of his eye, he noticed the young women were now distracted with much younger customers. He registered consciously that he was paradoxically relieved as well as chagrined by their inattentiveness to him. Yet as he turned, he turned with a full and awkward three/quarter move so they could not see his face, and he headed toward the door. He stared at the ground. Then, suddenly, surprising mostly himself, he stopped. He held his head high up for a moment. "Look at me!" he was ready to shout. "Look at the wisdom and experience beneath the skin! Is that not beauty, too?" But his voice remained buried deep within his heart. All he could do was laugh hollowly at himself and continue shuffling on toward the door.

The cool air outside surprised him. He was very, very hot.


Blogger fritzirl said...

Cliff, it's Erika. in SF.
Glad to read the ending because all through this story, I had my head tilted in confusion like the dog listening to the Victrola. I don't know how you used to be in daily life, but if this is an attenuated version of yourself--whoa. A lot of us see you as bad ass rock n' roll actor man, and a major force: You're like 7 feet tall; your huge dark eyes look through everyone's skin, muscle, and bone, seeing and accepting the essence of their very soul; you're scary as hell when you're mad. I feel so lucky to have found you because I'm going to copy you the best I can. However, all you guys always shrink from the coffee girls, while us other girls, we sneer. I'll sneer when I'm 70 as well, I'm sure. I don't know how to upstage except in real life. War can be fun! So don't you worry about those pipsqueaks. They've been wreaking havoc on you boys since grade school. James is 41 and still sobs over a complicated rejection I have to decipher for him.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Cliff Osmond said...

Erika: You've made a colossal interpretive mistake! That story wasn't about me. It was about the guy at the next table. As for you and James, serve him oat bran muffins. They are curative.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Myles said...

Cliff and Erika,
I enjoyed that story too. For a second I thought, maybe, nah there's no way that old man could be him! Cliff's not old, he's young and full of life! Cliff doesn't walk he glides, Cliff never hides from anyone, he's way to big! I know from watching him that all the ladies love Cliff! They all want his undivided attention,they'll wait in line just to get it! Young, old, middle aged, all of them! He's the ultimate woman/girl/chick magnet!For realz lol.. much love Erika!

7:08 PM  

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