Shellie Zacharia

Sometime after Rita left him, Bill became a coffee drinker. She had taken the coffee pot — "You never use it" — and he had put a citrus juicer there in the empty space on the kitchen counter. But all that sticky juice on his hands made him angry. He needed orange juice from a carton and he needed a cup of coffee. He looked in the top cabinet of the pantry where they stored odd sundries and hurricane supplies and behind a bottle of red wine vinegar was a large jar of instant coffee. Unopened.

He boiled water, spooned a big tablespoon into a mug, stirred, sipped. Awful. He sipped again. Awful and awful and awful and soon the cup was empty. He made another.

He grew to like the awfulness. He'd make coffee and sit out on the porch and sing what he thought were cowboy songs. "I'm a man, god-damn, I'm a man," he sang, which was just his own song, and he sang "Rawhide." He only knew a few lines remembered from watching farm-team baseball games as a boy. It was one of the songs the announcer played when someone hit a run in. He remembered baseball games and he remembered four square and he remembered what he decided were the good times. He went into the garage and combed through cardboard boxes and found the old flannel shirts he used to wear until Rita said they were too old and ratty. He put one on, drank his instant coffee, sang "Rawhide" and his own "I'm a man, god-damn, I'm a man" and Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" and he got confused about what he was singing and he poured bourbon in his instant coffee.

When Rita came by – "I left some jewelry hidden in the hall closet in the Life game" — he raised his coffee cup to her. "I drink coffee now," he said. "Black. Instant."

She stared.

"Have you done something with your hair? You look beautiful," he said.

"I look the same, Bill. Nothing's different," she said. She had the game box tucked under her arm. "You, however, look like hell. I don't want to worry about you anymore, Bill. Please."

She left. He saw one of the game pieces, a little blue man peg, on the ground. He wondered if she had let it fall there on purpose. She was an English teacher, engaged in the study of symbolism. "God-damn," he said. He picked it up and stuck it in his pocket.

He went to the kitchen in his ratty flannel with his coffee mug. He stared out the window at the neighbor's house, the leafless lawn, the potted plants. He wasn't a cowboy; he was a financial advisor. He spooned dry instant coffee into his mouth. It was like dirt.

Shellie Zacharia's debut collection, NOW PLAYING, is due out from Keyhole Press in October.

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Photo detail on main page courtesy of Stephen Poff.

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