“So okay - there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You've blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”—Stephen King, On Writing
“I write the first draft quickly, as I said. This is most often done in longhand. I simply fill up the pages as rapidly as I can. In some cases, there's a kind of personal shorthand, notes to myself for what I will do later when I come back to it. Some scenes I have to leave unfinished, unwritten in some cases; the scenes that will require meticulous care later. I mean all of it requires meticulous care—but some scenes I save until the second or third draft, because to do them and do them right would take too much time on the first draft. With the first draft it's a question of getting down the outline, the scaffolding of the story. Then on subsequent revisions I'll see to the rest of it. When I've finished the longhand draft I'll type a version of the story and go from there. It always looks different to me, better, of course, after it's typed up. When I'm typing the first draft, I'll begin to rewrite and add and delete a little then. The real work comes later, after I've done three or four drafts of the story. It's the same with the poems, only the poems may go through forty or fifty drafts. Donald Hall told me he sometimes writes a hundred or so drafts of his poems. Can you imagine?”—Raymond Carver
The Last Drop Cafe (Short Story by Magi)
PART ONE: SKINNY WHITE FLAT
Except for me leaning back in a chair, the café’s outdoor tables were deserted. It seemed the perfect spot for lazily watching the world go by. Across the road the ocean sparkled in the morning sunlight; as did I, for life was gently flowing along. And the scalding hot coffee – my almost habitual skinny flat white – tasted wonderful, with aroma sublime. It was perfect; as only The Last Drop Café could brew it.
The whys of its peculiar name was worthy of idle musing. Despite weighty pondering, my best insight by far was that such a name didn’t add to the miseries of the world, and so was far better than being called The Drop Dead Café. What more could one ask for? Thus although I didn’t have the answer, I knew the right question.
It felt so good to be right that I indulged myself with another long sip of coffee. Followed by two more sips, thereby confirming I was caffeine addicted. Raising the question of whether I should join Skinny Flat White Anonymous. Of course, my going on the wagon meant condemning the down-trodden Brazilian coffee bean pickers to the suffering of the poor house. Could I really visit that on the innocent? Did I really want that on my conscience? I noted that I was rather good at asking just the right question – perhaps this was my function in the world. Was that self-discovery or divine revelation?
But I left that floating in the air in order to address the pressing issue in hand. Namely, how many skinny flat whites did I need to quaff in order to save one family of coffee pickers? Perhaps God would enlighten me and then I could sacrifice myself by drinking double the ordained amount – a selfless Christmas offering to the down trodden. One does such magnanimous things during the festive season. And I sipped some more skinny flat white to lubricate the world revolving by.
A shrill wolf whistle interrupted my meditations on the salvation of coffee bean pickers. Another sharp whistle and the burbling sound of a Vee8 engine drew my eye to a red hoon-mobile slowly cruising by, on the prowl for anything bikini clad and bursting with rampant hormones. None graced the street. Alas for the pimpled driver, over dosed with testosterone. Though to be fair, perhaps he was searching for true love but didn’t know where such was hidden. In any event, the focus of his ardour was a willowy, dark haired woman walking along the footpath in front of the café. Clothed from neck to ankle in a black flimsy dress, she was hardly a true-love bimbo.
Our eyes met and, ignoring the petrol head, she walked straight to my table. She smiled and asked if she could join me. Being almost Christmas, what else could I do but nod affably and introduce myself as Saint Nicholas.
“I’m Death,” she said, sitting down.
She paused to sniff the upright, pink rose bud in a small vase on the table. And I idly wondered whether horticulture rather than true love was her thing.
“I’m here about your mortality,” she added, looking up.
“Of course,” said I, as one does on such occasions. “Would you like a cappuccino? Though I recommend a skinny flat white. Such is best for the heart, not to mention the waist line. Either way, the Brazilian coffee pickers will be eternally grateful.”
Naturally, Ms Death and Saint Nicholas commiserated with the unfortunate plight of the tea leaf pickers of the world. But they were unequivocal in their prime commitment to those slaving in coffee sweat shops. And to hell with Skinny Flat White Anonymous! And with hidden true love! Only slow, appreciative sips to savour the superb offering of The Last Drop Café interrupted their consigning to hell all manner of vexation plaguing the world. And they agreed on all sorts of wonderful but mostly weird matters – as do all kindred spirits.
Saint Nicholas observed that the fat lady didn’t sing because she was stuffed full of doughnuts. And for good measure, that he’d once heard of an elephant suffering from Alzheimer’s and thus couldn’t remember the point of what remembering was all about. Naturally, they both sympathized with the poor beast and hypothesized that one day medical science might find a cure. A lady elephant, perhaps.
Ms Death mentioned that she knew an enormous giant, a gentle soul who dearly loved a pygmy princess. Of course, their marriage – undoubtedly made in heaven – had an ice cream’s chance in hell. And such was very little chance indeed! For although Satan was a founding member of Ice-creams Anonymous, he hadn’t managed to kick the habit.
Ms Death offered Saint Nicholas a cigarette, and they both lit up, decadently blowing smoke rings – and to hell with health warnings and being politically correct! After all, the world was totally mad, filled to the brim with barking lunatics. To say the very least. And they laughed, as good friends do, when consigning the world to eternal damnation.
Saint Nicholas reciprocated and offered Ms Death an invitation to ballroom dancing. She hesitated momentarily, and then nodded in acceptance – it would be ungracious to decline, it being nearly Christmas and all, and he being Saint Nicholas. Although ballroom dancing was a fate worse than death, in a manner of speaking, for many a mortified soul. The Viennese Waltz reminded her of whirling Dervishes – all of a spin, going nowhere in a daze and praying to God someone would shoot the musicians. But not being a bimbo, she’d go, and what the heck!
“About my mortality?” said I, broaching a very delicate matter, and one not to venture into lightly – and only then very selectively as to whom. “And your image problem,” I added, never backward in coming forward.
After all, if my mortality was an issue to be addressed, it was only gracious to allow her to have an issue to be discussed. Thus there were two ventures into the unknown awaiting skinny flat white lubrication.
“My image” she said, startled.
“Gracious lady, It’s worse than Satan’s! I mean, the sickle, the grim reaper … Why on earth do such a job?”
“There are down sides,” she replied. “All I touch withers – that’s the worst of it.” She smiled ruefully. “I didn’t want the task but Big G. made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Hell is too hot, no matter how much ice cream Satan’s factories churn out. On the upside, I got to know you.”
“Well,” said I, “maybe I can think of a few things to change your image around.”
She gazed into my eyes and smiled. Suddenly, she cocked an ear. “I can hear the fat lady singing. “It’s time.”
For me, the fat lady was still stuffing herself with doughnuts. The only thing I could hear was the burbling sound of the hoon-mobile approaching once more. It had circled the block many times and was still prowling for true love – bikini clad or otherwise.
Ms Death stood up, said she’d be in touch – she’d look for St Nicholas, here at The Last Drop Café – and walked onto the footpath to flag down the red Vee8. She leaned through the open window, gave the grinning driver a hug and got into the car. Then they roared away, the wheels screeching.
Saint Nicholas idly gazed at the rose bud slumped in the vase, then leaned back in his chair to watch the world’s parade once more passing by. The matter of his mortality would have to wait - perhaps they could discuss it during the Viennese Waltz.
Ann says: This smart, funny, philosophical, and somewhat surreal series is the best I’ve seen on the internet. Enjoy print-quality work for free!
LINKS TO THE REST OF THE SERIES (The loading may be a bit slow, but these do work):
01 The Last Drop Cafe - Skinny Flat White (You’ve just read this one)
Copyright 2013 by Magi
Image: Will Stelgner , Wordpress