The morning began like any other Sunday morning: black coffee in my favorite bone china cup, the Miami Herald neatly rolled up into a small bundle wrapped in plastic still moist with morning dew and a #2 pencil in hand for circling the classifieds. However, this morning would be like no other. I felt a sense of urgency, an urgency that denied me the pleasure of tasting the bitter black dark roast steaming in my cup. My taste buds had betrayed me as punishment for my wrong doings; only the ones on the far sides of my tongue, the ones that taste sourness, performed their function. The doctor said it was psychosomatic and the sooner I dealt with the unresolved emotions festering inside of me, the sooner my taste buds would allow me the sense of flavor once again. It wasn’t they who failed me; it was I who had failed them.
The source of all my troubles was lying next to the newspaper on the kitchen table, inside a torn white envelope marked “registered letter” dated two weeks earlier. A single knock at the door had brought me face to face with the mail carrier and the ominous letter. How could a simple piece of registered mail bring forth such a tumultuous frantic disruption to one’s life?
Just three weeks earlier, not yet sleep deprived, I had made love with abandon, and had spent dusk drawing the sunset’s red and orange hues that filtered through the clouds from my bedroom window. A mother pigeon had abandoned her nest on the sill along with three ugly un-plumed fledglings I named Pugsley, Uncle Fester and Lurch. The names fit them well because of their awkward ugliness. Even with all the pigeon poop, feather-down and nest clippings littering my sill they gave me reason to wake up in the morning, looking forward to finding them all there, waiting for me to feed them. I felt needed.
Jacqueline and I hadn’t spoken a word in those three weeks. Not a text, an email, not even mere eye contact. I couldn’t blame her for showing such indifference. I was partially to blame. I had allowed the stress of that letter to come between us. Although working within inches of each other daily, close enough to smell each other’s breath and close enough that the scent of the honey almond shampoo she used in the shower that morning inebriated me; one would surmise that we were complete strangers rather than lovers. Her indifference cut through me like the scalpel she wielded in her right hand. It was I who bled in that operating room daily, rather than the patient I had anesthetized. Every day a part of me would die in that O.R.; “la petite mort.” Walking into the O.R. the smell of the sterile environment was enough to send my stomach lurching into waves of nausea. My skin flushed and my body ached, screaming for just a simple glance of her in the surgical suite. That would have been enough to hold me over until who knows when. I feasted nightly on remnant crumbs of our love; year old love letters she had penned still scantily held the scent of her perfume and were my saving grace. I lay there quivering, cradled in the arms of Hypnos each night with her letters crumpled in my hand.
This horrible wedge that had come between Jacqueline and me – the turmoil that was now my life – was all due to this letter that came in the mail. During those two weeks, I had closed myself off to her and in return, she had alienated herself from me. She had picked up some of her belongings and left.
In bright red letters the color of venous blood, my blood, the letter read:
This letter is to officially inform you that your lease will not be renewed. The building and land are being sold for development. You have three weeks from the date of this letter to vacate. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.
It was not an inconvenience; it was sheer devastation, like a death in the family; the loss of a limb. Thirteen years I had lived in this loft. It had seen me through long sleepless nights of studying for anesthesiology boards, thesis writing and the occasional love letter. Christmases with our friends and family, pictures of vacations spent together and walls covered with framed diplomas, accolades and achievements earned through years of study. Upstairs in the loft a large futon, with Goose down pillows and a white comforter that permeated in both our scents, lay in lonesome disarray. It had been witness to nights of passion, lust and bonds of love being forged. For the past three weeks I had slept on the couch in my study, unable to bring myself to climb the loft stairs. Now, everything had been deleted, gone with the stroke of a pen. I abhorred red ink. I raised the now cold black coffee and took a sip, still, no taste.
“Great, now the classifieds are wet with coffee, just great.”
It was then that I noticed the ad beckoning at me to read it from the middle of the wet ring where the cup had sat:
Up for lease, 35th street and Madeira Avenue. 1,000 SF loft, hard wood floors, built-in library, kitchenette, cable and water included. Open house this weekend. If interested, please drive by from 12-3 pm. Peggy Williams.
My autonomic nervous system drove the car there. I didn’t even realize how or when I arrived; I just knew I was at the address and being greeted by a woman resembling Doris Day with a bouffant hair do. She looked as if she had walked out of a McCall’s magazine. I gathered myself, and we began to chat about the property and the lease.
“You are actually the first person to see the loft. Please come in.” We walked side by side, entering the foyer and glaring at the beautiful hard wood floors; she looked up at me through misty eyes. “The loft has been sealed about 15 years. After my mother’s death I couldn’t bear to visit the place, but I am ready to move on now and lease it with the option to buy. To the appropriate person of course; too many memories in this place, you know?”
Just as we entered the kitchen area, at exactly the stroke of noon, a large wall clock resembling a Folgers’s percolator pot began to chime. One just like my grandmother had bought with five Sperry & Hutchinson green trading stamp books saved after purchasing groceries from the A&P. The place looked as if time had stood still.
Peggy began to tell me about her mother and how she had been an artist; she had used the loft as a studio. The kitchen’s only use was to brew coffee, bake an occasional pie in the oven and to wash her brushes in the sink. Easels, paints and brushes, the remnants of an artist’s life stood before us. Hundreds of books lined the walls in teak bookshelves.
“Books can stay if you like, I don’t have much use for them anyhow, and you are welcomed to keep them if you wish as well as the pictures on the walls in the upstairs nook. That’s if you’re interested in a three year lease?”
“I’d like that very much thank you, and yes! I accept the lease.” Was I dreaming? Perhaps, but I was not about to wake up from this dream now, not now.
“I feel good about you, I Like your vibes” she exclaimed in a Timothy Learish sort of way and with a stroke of a pen, the place was mine for the next three years, with the option to buy of course.
The kitchen window had a wonderful wide red windowsill, perfect for Pugsley, Uncle Fester and Lurch. The loft was quaint with a spiraling wrought iron staircase reminiscent of the old 60’s movies, which led to a nook, perfect for a large futon. It had a bohemian ambiance to it. Pencil sketches and framed original drawings of wild orchids that strangely resembled vulvas, were neatly placed along the walls. They were signed: “with Love, Georgia O’Keefe”. A month alone and I was starting to see mirages in wild orchids? I sat there in shock but for a moment, just absorbing the sheer madness of it all, and then gathered myself.
Thoughts of Jacqueline flooded my mind and a wave of nausea washed over me. I started to cry for all the days I had not cried and for all the nights we had not spent together or made love. The realization that she was gone, truly gone, had seeped deep into my bone marrow, right then and there. What had I done? Had I thrown out the baby with the bathwater? Perhaps I had.
Moving day came. Lurch, Uncle Fester and Pugsley traveled in their nest inside a cardboard box marked: EGGS, DO NOT CRUSH. My first guests, and from the looks of them on the windowsill overlooking the small yard, it was a good place, a place where new memories would be forged. I sat there on the floor, the bookcases, the oil paintings, brushes, easels and colored chalks staring at me, witnesses to my loneliness. I felt a moment of elation as I looked around my new digs, of having found a new place to call home, but at what price? The elation was short lived.
In my haste, I had lost, forgotten, what was most essential, and for this, I had to face the reality of my actions, but I wasn’t truly alone; I had the kids on the windowsill and Georgia O’Keefe’s orchids watching over my sleep.
I’d just begun to unpack the boxes marked “kitchen” when a diminutive knock sounded at the side kitchen door; the fledglings, startled, started to peep and flutter their featherless wings. There, on the other side of that door, stood what was most essential to me, in wrinkled blue scrubs that showed signs of a sleepless night on call and holding in her right hand a scrap of paper I had left with my neighbor. Nothing was said for a few uncomfortable moments; we both stood there, staring at each other. I broke the painful silence.
“Care for a cup of black coffee and a hot shower stranger? I haven’t unpacked the good china,” I said, looking at her through misty eyes, biting my lower lip as to hide my quivering chin, “so a Styrofoam Dixie cup will have to do.”
“Please, thank you.”
I could see her trying to swallow a hard knot that was tightly lodged in her throat; her face flushed and reddened. A comfortable silence ensued. We both glanced down at the floor and walked into the kitchen without a word being said.
“I’ll introduce you to Georgia after you shower.”
“Never mind,” I said, and as we both sipped our black coffee in white Styrofoam Dixie cups, she looked up at me.
“This dark roast is delicious; tastes percolated.”
I smiled and nodded in agreement, and at that very moment, realized, that yes, it was the most delicious dark roast I had ever tasted.