December 2, 2020

For Valentine’s Day: The Coffee Cups

Coffee Love. Photo by Brendan Rankin

The night was long, his sleep restless. Two or three times he reached across the bed to feel her warmth. He reached and reached.

Once, her absence bothered him so much he got up, put on his robe and walked downstairs. He sat in his chair and listened to himself breathe. An occasional car drove by the house, sending a wave of light across the ceiling. The air was chill. He looked down at his wrinkled hands, blue in the midnight, and saw his wedding ring. Too tired to cry, he sighed, stood up and trudged to the kitchen.

He grabbed a small glass from a cupboard above the sink and filled it with water. Taking a small sip, he stared out the window on the clear, bright, windless night. Dew shimmered on the grassy lawn where the tree shadows did not reach. He alone saw it while the world slept. The night. The shadows. The glistening grass.

Not that he didn’t try to see more. But try as he might, he could not envision her face. Gone so soon? After fifty-five years of seeing each other every day! Every morning, he would arise and go to this very kitchen. He would fix the coffee, turn on the machine, and set out two coffee cups on the counter, one for him and one for her. After retrieving the newspaper, he would go to his chair and read it while the coffee brewed.

Soon, her soft footsteps would sound on the stairs, and he would look up to greet her, precede her into the kitchen, pour out two cups — black — and they would sit at the table together to start the day. As rituals go, it wasn’t complicated or profound. Still, he was glad they began most mornings face to face.

How was it then, that he could not picture her pretty face now? Less than a week after laying her in the ground? Pictures of her were everywhere throughout the house, but he couldn’t see them, couldn’t see into them. He picked them up often and held them in his hands. He leafed through the photo albums of their trips. He traced their life together through them: from the time she was a schoolgirl, to that sexy young mother standing in the yard with a baby on her hip; she who had been the life of so many parties, his dance partner, lover, Valentine, “mom” on all the Christmases and birthdays and vacations and outings through the years, until the day she became “grandma” and her hair turned white and she was the petite one with sparkling eyes, like dew in the moonlight, in the front row of the large family portrait. He gazed often and hard at this evidence, yet couldn’t make sense of it. His vision blurred, his mind fogged, his chest heaved.

Who knows how long he stood there in the night? Out the window, the shadows had shifted, and a wave of weariness crashed over him. He set the glass in the sink and made his way back upstairs. He crawled into bed, pulled the warm, heavy covers up to his chin, and slept for the few hours of darkness that remained.

He awoke as usual, swung his legs over the edge of the bed, put on his slippers, picked his robe off the chair, and tied the belt around his waist. He made his way to the bathroom and performed his morning toilet. He ran warm water over his glasses and rubbed them with soapy fingers, washing away the dust and smears. Drying them, he placed them on his nose and looked at the old man in the mirror. He had made it another day.

The morning shone brightly through the living room windows as he went downstairs. Going into the kitchen, he slid open a drawer and separated a new coffee filter from its box. He went to the freezer and retrieved the bag of coffee beans, dumped some into the grinder and then ground them up fine. Measuring out just the right amount, he scooped the fragrant coffee into the filter and placed it carefully in the basket of the pot. He poured the water into the reservoir and closed the top. Reaching up, he grabbed two coffee cups off the shelf and placed them on the counter.

Then he went to retrieve the morning paper.

• • •

Photo by Brendan Rankin at Flickr. Creative Commons License


  1. I’ve been married for fifteen years which makes me a newlywed to some around here but it’s long enough for disinterest, bitterness or any number of maladies to have set in. I’m grateful that our love continues to grow. I sometimes tease her with, “I’m coming over there” with the implied threat of violence. Of course our preestablished ground rule is that boys don’t hit girls so it is clear that when I get there, closing the two foot gap between us, I will myself will face imminent violence for having used such threatening language. The thought of not being able to play those little love games, to make tea for two, makes me embrace those moments that much more and soak them in. Happy day my funny valentine.

  2. Susan Dumbrell says

    I have just celebrated Valentines Day with my husband and the other residents in the locked dementia ward in our lovely nursing home.
    We had cake and heart shaped chocolates, I gave my husband a beautiful card and lifted his cup to his lips, he slept in his chair and didn’t rouse when I kissed him goodbye. He is having radiation treatment for cancer. Did I make the right decision? Should I have let him slip away last October when he had pneumonia?
    This man I have loved for 52 years. Gentle love.
    Where am I headed. (rhetorical question)

    • Thanks for sharing <3

    • Be kind to yourself. These grim life and death decisions are so much bigger than us. We are virtually helpless in the face of them. We are in an unknown land without a map. So often the last stops of the journey seem to be a wrenching experience. The storybook ending with no potential for ‘wrong’ decisions eludes many so you are far from alone.

    • Tough questions. No easy answers. Grace, peace and mercy to you. Care giving: not easy at all.

  3. Life is heartbreaking, all the way along its length; love itself is heartbreaking. Truly, I do not understand.

    • Surely not the way Tom meant it, but:

      “you wreck me , baby, you break me in two-oooo…….”

      so true.

      • Silly story: I was driving home from work the other day and heard “Here Comes My Girl”. I got kind of emotional because even coming up on 20 years of marriage those words still ring true:

        “Yeah, everytime it seems like there ain’t nothin’ left no more,
        I find myself havin’ to reach out and grab hold of somethin’
        Yeah, I just catch myself wanderin’, waitin’, worryin’
        About some silly little things that don’t add up to nothin’

        And then she looks me in the eye, says, “We gonna last forever,”
        And man, you know I can’t begin to doubt it….”

  4. This is a beautiful and true piece of writing, CM. In our broken world, a testament to the beauty and truth of some things is that they bring tears to one’s eyes, as this did to mine this morning.

    • David Cornwell says


      And if we haven’t arrived at that place of aloneness, it isn’t far away. Soon it will make its signs to us. And gradually those things that are of little importance will start to fade. Seal in your precious moments, hold the memories fast. Make sure that nothing stands in the way.

  5. This very thing occurred the other way around on the morning after my father-in-law’s funeral in 1983 as my wife and I sat drinking our own coffee at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table. A poignant memory still.

  6. Beautiful. Very, very beautiful.

  7. Sometimes love hurts so. But even knowing the inevitable end, I am so, so thankful for having loved and been loved. Thanks for sharing this CM.

  8. Grief seems the most concentrated form of love somehow. But it IS love. Painful? Damn straight.