I still remember my first cup of coffee.
I was running, as every Saturday morning, to the television.
I dashed around the house, trying to locate some toy gun and replace its almost-certainly dead C-cell, so that I would not miss one minute of J. Michael Stracynski’s Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, which I was sure was going to start making sense any minute now. I searched feverishly for batteries in all the junk drawers, desk drawers, catchalls, baskets, and bins which littered every room of our house. While racing across the linoleum in the kitchen, desperately trying to remember if there were any batteries out in the laundry room, a gold and black pack slapped down on the counter beside me. Startled, I gawp up at my smirking grandfather, sunlight tracing a thin perfect ribbon of smoke from the cigarette in his hand to the barely cracked window above. I hadn’t even sensed him there and before I could compose myself to reply, he turns back to the gently percolating coffee machine.
“Don’t be so anxious, Eli.”
He waves me over, the ribbon of smoke tumbles apart and he puts the butt in his mouth. He pulls two coffee cups down from the cabinet, one in either hand, handles over three fingers of each hand and sets them on the counter. I’ve seen him do this before, when grandma was alive, or sometimes when mom is up early for work and he makes her take a cup for the road. A practiced gesture, a routine; each movement set to some internal metronome.
I can hear it now, see it in my head, if my head is right.
The swish of the cabinet door, a quiet thump as they hit the cheap vinyl countertop, the right hand slowly closing the cabinet even as the left grabbed a grubby teaspoon we kept on top of the napkin holder – it seemed a shame to wash it after just one cup of coffee – the two step reach into the fridge for the heavy cream – never half and half – a one armed pluck producing a fresh white and pink carton while the other hand grabbed a box of eggs. He deviated from his normal return path and swept hooked a kitchen chair with his ankle and slid it to the counter beside him, a nod at me and then to it. I stand on the chair and he wiggles his eyebrows and crosses his eyes. I grab the cigarette from his mouth and hold it like a dangerous and stinky bug. He ducks beneath, gasping comically for air and then clamps his lips around the butt once more.
He sets the eggs down on the middle of the stovetop, the cream carton dropped at an angle between the two cups. A single gesture where he takes one last drag from the cigarette and without apparently aiming, flicks the cigarette out the kitchen window. Mom hates this, and I wince.
“Bring that chair over here and look at this.”
While I pull the chair over to the mugs, he pours two steaming black slugs of coffee into them, fishes into his pocket for matches, puts the pot back on it’s hot plate and starts the biggest front burner with a match. After a brief root around in a drawer, he puts a little pan over it and dollops in a half stick of butter. Then he taps out a brown filter-end and holds it in his lips, pulls the last cigarette out of the foil, and then crumples it into a ball, which rolls aimlessly around the counter.
“Look at the cup.”
I look down into the steaming black murk, oil shimmering on the surface, and he doses out just enough cream to fill it to the brim. He stirs it and it turns cream colored. I am beginning to worry about missing Captain Power.
“Pretty boring right?”
“Now watch mine.”
He pours in a thin funnel of cream, wordlessly refusing the teaspoon I try to pull out of my cup, and in a moment… explosions of white break the surface. What I now know are fractal patterns, thermodynamic phenomena that we can neither accurately predict nor truly map the complexities of. My eyes widen. He dips the end of his cigarette into the blue fire of the burner and takes a drag. He grabs the boring cup of coffee and takes a tiny sip. He pushes the magic cup to me, the disturbance causing a new riot of cream flowing from the bottom. He ruffles my hair and nods back toward the family room.
“You don’t want to miss your show. Go, go.”
I carefully pick up the cup and carry it out, both hands clamped around the hot mug, fingers splashed with boiling overflow.
Through the corner of his mouth, around the cigarette. “If you are patient, and calm, Eli… every morning you can have fireworks.”
The coffee was terrible, but I drank it every time he made it for me.