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CAPTAIN’S COFFEE by Charles Talkoff

He worked for a long time as the skipper of a fishing boat out of Alaska and when I knew him he was one of those almost old men you meet from time to time usually in bars that have gone from pleasant to seedy when you weren’t looking; the type of man who was frantically and ferociously clinging to middle-age as the last compromise between a youth pockmarked with regrets and enshrined memories of when things had been great and you knew he was working on a lethal mathematics in which there would inevitably be a moment from which there was no reprieve and all of it was tied up tight all herky-jerky shifting between panic and seize-the-moment so he’d be perfectly pleasant one day and the next he’d snarl at you over who didn’t wash the coffee pot or the shabby quality of the bosses who did not give a damn about anything except money and about whom he’d say truthfully they are running a sweat-shop and he’d be god-damned if he was going to waste away working for a gang of malignant trolls etcetera and so on and then the next time you saw him he’d be charming and funny telling you stories about dangerous waves on wild storming seas and odd wild women who combined mysterious strands of outdoorsy arcana with the impulse to spend their free time rereading Schopenhauer or the Diamond Sutra; had gone to Bryn Mawr spent a year in Paris and often could be found fixing oily drive-shafts on rugged four-wheel vehicles of the sort that one would need in Alaska or on the surface of the moon or so it seemed to me and he’d tell his stories without much prompting with this almost desperate quality because he knew he didn’t have much time left to tell anything and it was like visiting a mysterious dime-slot arcade and you could pop a coin in the hole and out would come the pieces of his past and listening to him talk was usually as good a way to spend the time as anything else you could think of and so the perpetually damp humid like you’re stuck sitting in a bucket of warm greasy water summer I started at the office faded into the winter and the relentlessly gray drab perpetually cold sameness of that faded into the spring and so on like some vast machine keeping the time and he never warmed up completely or ever became docile but lurched from side to side like he was on his sea-legs drifting on the swell of the ocean except it was not the ocean only some idea of how to live that lurched in great waves first one way and then the other and one day I realized he’d been gone for some time and I asked around and finally someone said in a half-whisper oh you know chemo for his gut and they said it in that way people have where it’s all plausible deniability you know they sound concerned but overwhelmed and somehow it’s precisely that tone which makes you feel like their fear is what’s coming at you like an enormous wave and they don’t really give a damn about the other guy but are thinking only there but for the grace of the roll of the dice go I not that they’d admit it or even entertain that it was anything even above the worst gossip so it went like that and then eventually he came back and looked sort of gray and hang-dog as you’d expect like someone had scooped him inside-out and then sewn him up again with straw inside and fishing line on the outside to close the cut and one day in the kitchen he grabbed a coffee cup at random from the sink and he looked at me and then looked right through me and then through the wall and the dank summer air and went on cutting right across the hours and the days and all the years and then in this low rumble of a half-gone voice that never strayed above a rock-grinding whisper he said you fucking better learn to keep your ship in order and then he gathered himself up all Napoleonic with his short man’s chest-expanding cock-of-the-walk overcompensation for being tiny and cursed getting old and the bitterness of cancer and then he smiled if you want to call it that this sort of small quick twitch of his lips as if he knew something no one else knew something they could never sell in a store something that was just his and he was the factory where it was made and marching passed me he said in that death-rattle grind of a voice I was born an angry son of a bitch and I am going to by-god fucking die as one and I’m not changing for anyone and he walked down the stairs and I realized he’d taken the biggest coffee cup with him and later I saw it on his small desk in the shadow of his cubicle walls beside the window that gave a stunning view of the alley and the dumpster beside the restaurant next to the office and I never touched it never said anything about it and neither did he and it sat there for just as long as he did.

3QR Author Note

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One comment on “CAPTAIN’S COFFEE by Charles Talkoff

  1. Fantastic as always, Charles.

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