Holden and Gwen

You wake with the setting moon but open your eyes just enough to remember your surroundings, though they are as familiar to you as your hunger. The dim light filters through curtains so old that the hand painted daisies you once despised have faded to the rumor of yellow. You exhale dust. Your mind swims through the grayness of the room, beyond the room, the streets, the town, searching, sniffing, hunting.

Your bones know what time it is, and your bones know that the next two are close, though not so close that you can yet capture their names.

Harold, maybe, and Grace?

Part of the price you pay is the quiet agony between waking and rising, before time, which returns to you only when you sleep, comes slowly again to a halt. It’s as if the passage of time must be wrenched from your body on these mornings and exposed to the air to stop it from working its slow inevitabilities. When you were young, when you still thought of this life you live as a gift, you imagined you were giving birth to all your magic at the beginning of the day after a rare sleep. Now, you just think of it as brutal and meaningless pain. This nourishes you in a way that more romantic notions did not, gives you the energy you need to keep up with the world as it changes around you… or to try.

When your feet touch the floor, the pain stops abruptly and sour relief washes over you, draining into the floor with the last ticks of the clock that is your heart. Into every life, you remind yourself, only so many heartbeats are given, so you stop your heart whenever you wake, on your way to living the length of three lives. You were 14 when you stole the daisy painted curtains from a neighbor’s house where you poured out your first spell. That was over 200 years ago.

“Holden and Gwen,” you whisper to the wooden floor. The floor creaks its assent. The walls breathe, waiting. As you rise, the crooked body that slept in the bed falls away. You stand straight and tall and firm. You part the curtains to stare out into the old night, listening. Lovers. No. Brother and sister. Yes. You moan. Even better.

“What do they need?” you ask the cold air, as wrinkles drop off your skin.

“What kind of house should we be, for Holden and Gwen?”

Not a gingerbread facade, no, and perhaps never again. Those days have faded away like the daisies. You’ve adapted and the house along with you, always shaping itself to your wishes, shaping itself into the lures that attract lives in pairs, entwined in some way that feeds you even before you eat.

Boardinghouse. Flophouse. Counting house. House of ill-repute. Warehouse. Frat house. Schoolhouse. All of these and more have been webs woven because you need them to come. Husbands and wives. Mothers and sons. Brothers and sisters. Best friends. Even great enemies, and countless relationships you couldn’t understand, have entered your house searching for something small or something grand, something mundane or momentous. It doesn’t matter. They all find you and your long hunger.

What sort of house this time, you wonder, standing now on the porch, eyes closed as you reach out to touch the minds of your prey. The house begins to fashion itself behind you.

You are watching again from the window as the people of Cutterswood, Connecticut, begin their day. They glance at Cora’s Coffeehouse on the corner of Thompson and Arne, where it’s been since… they don’t quite remember. They keep walking and they don’t think about it again.

“Hello,” you sing, as the door opens. This is always the delicate part, when you find out how well you’ve performed the dowsing of their minds and how well the house has read your intentions. You perceive a lack of recognition on their faces. Cora’s Coffeehouse is not what Holden and Gwen were expecting. You are not what they were expecting, in your dark brown dress and yellow apron. But you’ve played this game many times.

“Cora is my daughter,” you say, “and this is her house… her coffeehouse. I’m afraid she’s been called away, so I am here doing my best in her absence.”

Holden and Gwen nod in unison, the way you’ve seen so many brothers and sisters do before. They seem satisfied by this explanation and remain wary of nothing more than the unexpectedness around them.

“I was hoping for a vanilla latte,” says Gwen, “with nonfat milk?”

You smile. “Oh dear, I’m afraid we are all out of the lotties today.”

Gwen looks confused. Holden looks curious. “They don’t even have an espresso machine,” he says. “I get it. You only do pour-overs or something, probably all single origin?”

“A single cup or as many cups as you like,” you say, turning to the large percolator on the counter, an exact copy of the coffee making machine inside a movie house version of your house, where you once lured a young couple on their first date. They were delicious. When was that? It couldn’t have been that long ago.

You recognize the glance that passes between Holden and Gwen as resignation. They are not happy. No one who comes to your house is ever happy to be there. But they decide to stay, like they always do, because there is nothing better next door or a block away or even within miles. This is, perhaps, your truest talent, being the worst and only option.

You pull the lever and the coffee splashes into yellow cups on matching yellow saucers, the same yellow as your apron, the same yellow the daisies once were. Holden and Gwen are talking behind your back as if you are not there about how they just need a cup of coffee and how they don’t care, they just want some coffee. When you place their coffee in front of them at the counter you don’t ask if they want sugar or cream. They drink. The door locks and the shades on the windows come down slowly. The lights dim. Only you notice.

Candy. Coins. Cake. Coffee. It’s always the same. These two needed coffee. You gave them coffee. They accepted. The spell is poured out and working now.

This is coffee,” says Gwen.

“Tastes Perfect,” says Holden.

“It’s always good,” you say.

They finish and push their cups forward without speaking. You fill them again. Now, they need your coffee in a different way. It’s no longer a simple desire, it’s a necessity, increasingly urgent and demanding. The pattern is set.

They drink.

This is coffee,” says Gwen.

“Tastes Perfect,” says Holden.

“It’s always good,” you say.

This continues, your appetizer, for a long time that you do not know how to measure, until that beautiful moment when their inability to speak or lift their cups anymore coincides with the zenith of your giddy anticipation. They have fallen to the floor, but you continue to pour coffee into their mouths to watch the temporary relief bloom on their faces.

This is coffee,” you say.

“Tastes Perfect,” you say.

“It’s always good,” you say.

When you finally stop giving them coffee, their eyes—the only parts of Holden and Gwen still moving—fill with panic, and so you begin, as you always do, by first licking the sweet sweat of desperation off their skin.

Mike Ferguson (@aboutferguson) is an American coffee professional and writer based in Atlanta and currently part of the marketing team at Olam Specialty Coffee. Read more Mike Ferguson on Sprudge.

 


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