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  • She stopped drinking coffee.
    She stopped drinking coffee and then shortly after, she stopped making love. She seemed to sleep fine now, sleeping deep, no longer jittery during the day nor restless during the night. I, on the other hand, was not sleeping well. I lie on my back; stare at the ceiling, thinking, wanting a cigarette, listening to her steady breathing, and hating her. I roll on my side, eyes wide; stare at her, begin a conversation with her silence—her closed eyes, her closed mouth --and my inability to tell her how much I miss her drinking coffee in the morning with me at her side.

    I am by myself,
    In the kitchen, filling the pot with water. A new pot of coffee about to happen. I can hear the dogs scratching at the back door, now wanting in. The morning sun has just broke ground. The light beams round the trunk of the far telephone pole in the yard and even though the fireball is blocked, I still squint-- my eyes not quite ready for all the day will bring.

    I open the back door. The dogs rush in, scramble to down the hall to her side of the bed. I can hear her stir, hear her roll over, and see her, actually see her in my head scratching first the head of the black dog and then reach a little lower for the new one—its golden head stretched up to meet her tickling fingers. I wonder if she has that heavy palpable liquid smell of sleep lingering on her.

    Her voice, a mixture of honey and chalk, making a melody of baby talk in a language not for humans but not for dogs either wafts down the hallway to me. Not long after comes the soft padding of her bare feet moving toward the hall bathroom, the water running, the shower on, and she in it, singing. Half words dance through the water, into the empty rooms of the house. “You should a been gone. knowing how I made you feeeel. and you should a been goo-ahne. after aaaall your heart it was a steee-aaal. dant dant dant. but I must have been a dreamer. a dreamer. oh oohh. ohhhhh. and I must have been some---“ Hands pressing down, I rise up on the counter, up on my forearms, pop my elbows inside out, and lock myself right there feeling bound, suspended. My toes skirt the floor. I lean over the sink, spit warm black fluid out between my lips, watch it splat on the stainless steel, foam, and then creep down the drain. I made the coffee too strong again this morning.

    Cold wetness at the back of my knee. The soft black tissue of the black dog’s nose presses again, but sharply, at mid-leg. I unlock and drop down, bend at the waist, and put my hands on both sides of his head, hold him there, while I stroke his snout, “good morning little buddy.” He wags his tail at me as he moves in reverse now out of my grasp and back down the hall to her.

    At work, I write out my contracts, call a construction manager, talk to Gary who tells me that we have been awarded the next Walmart. “Good job,” he tells me. “Lunch?” he asks me. We go to lunch. We talk about the job. Golf. Last week’s baseball game. Little politics until the conversation rolls round to wives. Gary’s wife has this annoying habit of leaving out the milk in the morning after they have their coffee. Together. Every evening when he gets home from work, he finds the carton out, the milk spoiled. He likes milk in his coffee. Can’t drink it without it.

    “She knows this but leaves the goddamn milk out,” Gary grouses.

    20 years of marriage. Almost every night, the carton is sitting on the counter when he returns home from work in the evening, spoiled. “Cannot figure out how to get that woman to put the goddamn carton in the goddamn fridge. Been trying for 20 years now and I tell you, I cannot get her to do it.” Gary believes that he could get a goldfish to do it, but not his wife who does not put milk in her coffee, only Gary. So, now, he buys seven little cartons of milk, once every week or so, one for each day of the week so that at the end of each day, only a little will be thrown out and some will still be for tomorrow. He just wants milk for tomorrow. He does not want her conversation. I listen to him complain about her and I think about the three Tuesdays ago when my wife told me there would be no more coffee for her.

    “The doctor tells me my cholesterol is too high.”
    “I think I might stop drinking coffee for a while.”
    “Yeah. I drink too much cream each day. Two cups of coffee means that I drink at least a half a cup of half and half each day. I think if I stop the coffee, I can lower my cholesterol with not too much effort.”

    But she was wrong. A lot of effort was involved.

    The first morning of her not drinking coffee, I woke and brought her coffee without thinking, without remembering her commitment. I leaned down over her and kissed the sleepy side of her face, set the cup on the nightstand and walked away-- into the bathroom, intending to come back to her side of the bed for our morning chat. Later, after my shower, my shave, and a few rounds of “Layla” I looked over my shoulder, our eyes meeting.

    “I told you I was going to stop drinking coffee for a while.”
    “Oh, sorry, honey. I forgot.”

    She stands in the doorway staring, like, … I had betrayed her.
    I muster up, “You can start tomorrow . . . or, just start today by weaning off the stuff—drink half. You know like a junkie does, a little bit less each day.” I smile at her in good humor.
    “No, today.” And, she pads away from me.

    The second day, I roll out of bed, slip out to the kitchen, set two cups down on the counter but catch myself before I pour her cup. Does she want black coffee? No coffee? Tea? Before I am able to make a decision about what to do, she is up, padding to the bathroom, running the shower. I hear the black dog trot down the hall and sit at the dry side of the shower curtain, waiting for her to emerge. I stand at the kitchen sink and watch another sun breach the earth, blinding me.

    Gary sticks his head in my office, “lunch?” We go to the Mexican joint up the road.
    “I think you are going to have to let him go,” Gary says to me. His brow creases as he focuses intently on me.
    “Hmmm. I can book a flight out for this Thursday.”
    “Think maybe you should go sooner? Maybe tomorrow? If we let him go this week, before pay ending, we can be clean of him.”
    The site superintendent down in Florida is not working out. He blames everyone else on the job for not getting work done on time which is what his job responsibility is. The construction manager calls us every day, concerned about our ability to finish the job on time.

    Our waitress walks by, stops in front of my coffee cup. “More?”
    “Sure, why not?” I watch the young woman’s arm reach across the table, the pot hovers over my near empty cup. I see the smooth hairs of her arm glisten in the sun light and want to reach out and support her thin arm from the weight of the pot. But I know she can do this, pour this coffee. Its something she does everyday all day long.
    “Who are we going to put in his place? We going to hire new?” Gary stares at me, concerned. “You sleeping at night?”
    “Yeah. I’m sleeping.”
    Huh comes Gary’s grunt.
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