The tea I always believed tasted like purple, and was disappointed to discover that once outside the smoky haze of a grungy coffee shop, it was nothing of the sort.
That tea into which I delve my thoughts as I grab my pen to catch the fleeting memories of summers long past and winters long thawed.
The first time I had jasmine tea I was in this same coffee shop. This same table. This same chair. The only difference is the emptiness in the chair besides me. I write line and rhyme, only to scratch them out with the same pen that saw me give birth to them. Nothing fits. Nothing works. Nothing speaks to the thoughts spinning in my cup as I absentmindedly twirl the wooden stick in my jasmine tea. Some of my best poetry I wrote while sitting in this very chair. At this very table. In this very coffee shop. And here I am again, but the words aren’t flocking to my paper like they used to. What is missing? What isn’t the same? I know the answer all too well – it’s him.
How is it that what I feel most is his absence? If cold is the absence of heat, then loneliness is the absence of him. A cliché I would never say, if it weren’t for the fact that no better metaphor comes to mind. He isn’t here along side of me like he used to be, staring at me as I would hurriedly write down as many ideas as I possibly could, like a child attempting to snatch every piece of candy from the shards of a broken piñata. We rarely spoke, but it was enough to know that if I chose to look up from the chaos on my paper, I could find peace in his eyes. Those eyes of black tea. Never mind that I would rarely look up, or that I have never really liked black tea. His eyes were but a necessary remedy to various ailments that plagued my mind.
The hustle of the coffee shop lulls me. People enter. People order. People leave. Just like in my life. No one stops to give me a glance. No one stops to even say hello. But that’s ok. I don’t care to look up anyway. The only thing that interrupts the insanity on my paper, or possibly add to it, is the click-click-click of my pen. Pen tip goes in. Pen tip comes out. Pen tip goes in. Pen tip comes out. It’s amazing how easily amused I am when I can’t write. I feel as if I’m drowning in my emotions but my well worked mind can’t create a single coherent phrase. In other times, I would call my muse. But my muse is gone, probably fell into someone else’s coffee cup on her way to see me. Stupid muse. No doubt she’s deep inside a coffee-junkie’s stomach dictating my lines to a mediocre poet writing love poems to his flavor of the week. How bitter of me to say that. Almost as bitter as this damn jasmine tea. It’s bad when even my jasmine tea doesn’t taste the same. I keep adding sugar and more sugar but all I succeed at doing is making the tea more unbearable.
I look up. A girl is writing her midterm paper. The four empty cups beside her tell me it’s due tomorrow morning. It’s late already, past midnight. I look down at my paper and see nothing solved. Among the black blotches I don’t find the epiphany I promised myself I would find. My papers flutter as a cold breeze enters the coffee shop. It serves as my only reminder of the frigid cold that awaits me outside. What am I doing here? I said I needed time to write and I have spent the past two hours sipping on a jasmine tea can’t seem remember what jasmine tea really tastes like. I keep thinking of him even when I said I wasn’t going to. Thoughts of him penetrate my chaos. I can’t help it any more than can the scent of the jasmine flowers avoid passing through the white paper that confines them. I close my eyes. I don’t see a purple that doesn’t exist. I see black. I hear his laughter. I hear my own. I hear the verses of hundreds of poems yet to be written. I open my eyes.
I’ve had enough.
I take my papers. I take my pen. I take my poetry book, now full of unwritten poems. I leave my jasmine tea on the table. I walk to the door. I Open it. And I step out into the bitter cold. But not without first ordering a black tea, to go.
“He didn’t call today,” Carmen thinks as she pours a cup of coffee for herself – six creams, no sugar. With the cup in her hand, she walks over to the calendar and writes it down: no llamó. Tomorrow is the 23rd; only eight days until the end of the month. She counts the days, caressing each boldfaced number as if, like a magic lamp, doing so would return the days. “Catorce,” she mutters aloud. It’s been fourteen days since the last time her son called. Before then, it had been eleven. “A new record,” she thinks. The thought, like an onion, stings her eyes. “Run cold water.” Her mom taught her that. She turns the faucet and proceeds to wash dishes, ignoring how numb her hands get.
“Y Ériq, ¿cómo está?”
“Pues bien. El pobre anda trabajando mucho.”
Carmen looks down at her coffee cup. Staring hard at the conch swirls of the cream, she wishes they would reveal something: how he’s doing, where he’s been, or even when he’ll call again. But her mom never taught her how to read coffee grounds. Even if she had, this one’s instant.
The phone rings.
“It’s him,” she instantly assumes. Wiping her hands on her apron, she picks up the phone.
“Would you like to change jobs? Are you tired of working from paycheck to paycheck not knowing if this is the month where you fall under? Do you have mounting…”
Carmen sits down and listens to the recording loop over and over again, quietly nodding to herself.
“Hola, mi’jo. Qué bueno escuchar tu voz. Sé que has de estar ocupado, pero cuando puedas, llámame por favor. Te quiero mucho.”
She hangs up.
“He’s at work,” she assures herself. “Yes, probably busy at work.”
But it’s 9 pm.
She wakes up late. It’s past 9 am; she has missed morning mass.
Instead of doing her usual daily cleaning, Carmen goes down to the basement. From inside a large, blue Tupperware tub, she takes out all of her photo albums. Upstairs, as she flips through it’s yellowed pages, she comes across a lock of Eriq’s hair. She remembers it very well.
It was from when he was 18 months old. On his highchair, he had been eating his vegetables, most of them ending up on his head instead of inside his little tummy. He had been giggling, shaking his head, peas and carrots flying everywhere. When he stopped, a curl – a little upside-down “e” – landed squarely on his forehead. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She couldn’t help but want to remember that exact moment forever. With her manicure scissors, she carefully snipped it and placed it in the album.
It doesn’t seem like 26 years have since passed. She takes out the lock and smells it, but it doesn’t smell like the Johnson & Johnson’s shampoo she recalls using. Instead, it smells like nothing at all.
She drops her cup. “World’s Greatest Mom” shattering on the floor: a birthday present from Ériq from when he was 9.
She bends over and attempts to pick up the pieces, but slips and falls on her knees.
She angrily bangs her fist on the broken shards, pieces of cheap porcelain puncturing her skin.
“¡Con razón no te llama!”
She burns her hands on the hot coffee – six creams, no sugar, some blood, plenty of tears.
“¡Eres una vieja inútil! ¡No sirves pa’ nada! ¡Mejor ya muerta!”
Sobbing, Carmen lies in the hot coffee until it turns cold, reading her misfortune in the pieces; “World’s Greatest” now reads “Wor/st”
“He didn’t call today,” Carmen thinks as she carefully pours a cup of coffee for herself; the bandages on her hands make it difficult for her to hold it by the handle. With the cup in both hands, she walks over to the calendar and writes it down: no llamó.
The phone rings.
“Hola, mami. ¿Cómo estás?”
“¡Mi’jo! ¡Qué bueno que llamas! Yo muy bien. Ya pensaba que ya te habías olvidado de mí.”
“¿De ti ‘ma? ¡Nunca!”
As her son proceeds to tell her, with white lies and half-truths, what he’s done since they’ve last spoke, she walks over to the calendar. Scratching out the previous sentence, she writes “hoy se acordó.”