Work was rained out tonight and it seemed silly to go home and sit when I could have coffee. Coffee! I’ll stay up to two or three just to keep the schedule straight, and there are just so few places around that have decent coffee. I want a twenty ounce cup of coffee, black, and I want a shot of espresso in it. Let there be caffeine! Let there be a buzz that has nothing to do with a vuvuzela! Let there be writing! Writing! Coffee! Yay rain! I have time off to do what I want to do and I want coffee!
Okay, I never advertise where I buy anything but we both know where I’m drinking coffee. There are those who hate the chain coffee stores but where else can I go? They do have great coffee. They have a good atmosphere for writing. I like watching the people there and this evening there is a young couple there who are both very young and very in love. I watch them as I write, and it is just a matter of time before he flings her on top of the table and takes her right there in public. They are holding hands but it’s like watching running water. He strokes her hands, runs his hand up to her elbow, she leans forward, her breasts daring him to touch, and they both grin a lot. She gets up to go to the bathroom and he stands up, kisses her cheek and then just as soon as she’s around the corner he whips out his cell and texts like hell.
Oh? And just what is all that about?
The plot has thickened a bit, and this has all the earmarks of…
She’s a woman I think I know, so I invite her to sit down, but to save my life I cannot place her. I’ve seen her before, I know, but…
“I’m Beth. I work here.”
“Mike Firesmith, I write here.”
Beth laughs at this, and I like her already. She’s younger than I am, but she’s pretty in an honest way. Beth isn’t wearing an overabundance of make-up and she’s letting her grey hair show. I look over at her co-workers and they aren’t watching us, and none of them seem to have that co-conspirator smile going. Damn, she isn’t hitting on me. The woman comes back from the bathroom and I can’t see what’s going on. Double damn.
“You write a lot, Mike Firesmith, that isn’t your real name, is it?” Beth’s hands stay under the table and she seems slightly ill at ease.
“No, it’s a pen name, and yes, I do suppose I write more than most.” I slid the journal over to her. “Would you like to see what I am writing, Beth?”
Beth takes the journal and looks at the page I’m currently writing on, and then fishes her glasses out of a pocket. I can see it in her face. She cannot read my handwriting it’s so terrible, and the disappointment is clear. She’s been wondering for a while what I was scribbling away at and now that she’s gotten a look at it, it’s in Firemithy, a one man language undecipherable by humankind. “Primitive caveman writing” was how one of my grade school teachers labeled it many years ago. It has improved none at all through the years.
I show her the pages where I keep Found Names. Those are almost readable, and I tell her how I find names in street signs, on billboards, and I used to get a lot of them through spam senders until my software was good enough to stop spam. I tell her I get a lot from cemeteries but I try not to use those as serial killers or something like that in case someone from this area sees the name and wonder if I borrowed it. I still haven’t seen Beth’s left hand. And she still hasn’t gotten to the point of the visit.
The young woman at the other table brays in laughter and blushes hard for it. Some line has been crossed and she pushes her chair back but that grin, oh my! The young man is still leaning in, pursuing her chair push, and grinning back. Neither of them is aware of anything else on earth but each other. Beth follows my gaze and smiles at the two.
“Can you get in trouble for this, Beth?” I ask.
“I’m off duty, and thought I would check to see how your coffee was, Mike.” Beth watches the young couple, remembering…
“I mean the proselytizing.” I’m watching her face, and I realize I’m right.
“I was just going to invite you to church, Mike, if you brought it up.” Beth blushes now. “How did…”
“You are carrying some sort of literature in your apron pocket. You’ve kept your hand on it the entire time we’ve been speaking. “
“You’re pretty good at reading people” Beth looks hurt now, and I’m sorry I said anything. I don’t mention she’s kept her left hand hidden as well, and she finally pulls out a pamphlet and her ring finger at the same time. It’s a home printed thing for a local church.
“Your church is looking to grow and getting new members seems like the thing to do, I went through that in my life one time, trying to get a church up and going and you know what I came to realize, Beth?” I’ve murdered the moment. Beth is watching the young people, looking past me, and a second or two passes before she speaks.
“Churches are run like businesses. They don’t have the drawing power on their own merit so they have to advertise, and that means turning spirituality into commercials. It is destined to fail because you cannot appeal to that part of someone’s brain and still serve their heart.” That wasn’t what I was going to say, but that was what I said.
“How do did you get past that?”
“I quit the church. Getting new members is like saying the old ones needed replacing in some way, that they weren’t getting the job done, that someone new will solve the problem.” I didn’t mean to say that either, but it came out like that. Berth turned her head sharply at this.
“Thank you, Mike Firesmith.” And as she got up the young couple got up to leave too. Beth took her pamphlet and her ring with her as she left.