Sparks

By Laura Dennison

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You handed me the welding helmet and warned me about burns and arc flash. You told me the sparks would provide enough light to see what I was doing.

            “Keep your hands steady,” you said. I knew that was impossible, but I tried anyway. I went on to weld—in rough, wiggly lines—our initials into a piece of scrap metal. With the bulky helmet over my eyes, I couldn’t see you or anything around me. All I saw were sparks. It didn’t matter. In the beginning, that’s all we needed.

We met in the summertime on a camping trip. You were the burly electrician with the nice butt; I was the skinny, blonde girl finishing off her fourth year of college. I liked the way you wrapped the warts on your callused fingers in electrical tape, and how you replaced the two-pronged outlets in my ancient apartment—that old, red-bricked building on Main Street that we both thought was haunted. We used that place as a playground: climbed the fire escape to the third floor so we could sit and drink beers as the sun set, letting our bare feet dangle; opened the bathroom medicine cabinet to slip razorblades into the slot in the wall labeled RAZORS; explored the long, narrow crawlspaces behind the galley kitchen, wondering if we’d stumble across a century of used razorblades in the process.

            Then there was that night we crawled out from a bedroom window, climbed up to the flat part of the roof. I wrapped us up in my patchwork quilt and there we lay, drink the Barefoot wine we bought at the corner store. When packs of partygoers passed by down on the street below, we took turns tooting at them with the little bike horn we carried with us. The party girls, dressed their shimmery tops and stilettos heels, up, stared up, wide-eyed and confused, while the boys with backwards baseball caps hollered, searching for the source of the sound. We ducked down, stifling our giggles. We were untouchable.

            It felt like the right time to tell you about what happened three years prior: the breakdown, the psych ward, the lithium. I told you how surprised I was to still be here—how I felt like I was living past an expiration date.

            You also had a story. You told me about the car accident that landed you a ride in the ambulance chopper. You said that your rib lacerating your kidney was nothing compared to the injuries to your head—how you feel like a different person now and can’t remember things the way you used to. “I still feel like I’ll be dead by thirty,” you said.

            I nodded. “Me too.”

            I reached for your hand. We made our own warmth, swaddled there together in that blanket. I shut my eyes, happy we’d found each other—two humans with no futures to scare us.

*

And now three years have gone by. We’ve moved in together—a new apartment—one with modern, three-pronged outlets, no fire escape, no slits in the walls to deposit sharp objects, and nowhere to sit at night other than the beige-carpeted floors.

            We’ve stopped spontaneously driving to the beach in the winter to lay out our blankets and have the whole place to ourselves. We’ve stopped racing each other through the downtown streets to see who can run fastest without bending our knees. Once, in the beginning, we spent a whole hour laughing after you dared me to peel a banana using only my toes and I succeeded. But now you spend your spare nights in the garage working on your old truck, while I stay in the bedroom, wrapped up with the patchwork quilt and a book.

Last weekend, though, we went on a date. On our way home from the diner, we stopped to let an elderly couple cross the street. The man wore a bowler cap and clutched his partner’s elbow. She clutched a three-pronged cane and wore a tight, white perm. Each small step seemed in slow motion.

  “I hope I die before I get that old,” you whispered after they passed.

“Me too,” I said. Only I mouthed it more than spoke it, and I don’t think I meant it.

In five years we’ll be thirty. I’m too afraid to tell you that I’ve started daydreaming scenes of a life ten or twenty years from now. After we finally drove away, all I could do was stare at my interlocked hands in my lap as they grew colder. I glanced over to see your knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel, and it made me wonder if you were merely reading off the old script—the one with no future and neither one of us in it.

*

At night, back in the new apartment, the four white walls of the bedroom make up a perfect square. It feels like we’ve explored every last inch. We lie on top of our queen-sized mattress underneath the same old quilt. There’s so much space between us now that didn’t exist before, back when we were forced to cram together on the tiny twin. I can’t even feel the heat of your body against mine. I turn toward you and you roll closer against the wall, pressing yourself deeper into the whiteness, making yourself small. I try to make sparks myself—like we once did— but it’s like rubbing two twigs together, hoping for a fire. It only works in the movies.


Coffee Season

by Amy Jarvis

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I recently started using a coffee cup that I found at a yard sale. Using previously owned items appeals to me. Perhaps it’s because the coffee cup, with its textured clear glass, etched tulip, and chipped handle, has experience. Regardless of whether or not the item shows signs of age, it was loved once before I found it. I’m drawn to things that have rough edges, things I might be able to fix.

I once dated a recovering heroin addict. I fell for Robin in between the lines and espresso steam of the coffee shop where we both worked. After our first date, I found myself in crowded dive bars every weekend, sitting in front of the stage while his band played. He told me about his past one night in December a couple of months into our relationship. I had parked in his neighbor’s driveway, the car still running, windshield wipers and heat up as high as they could go as they both struggled against a winter storm. He sat back against his seat and stared through the window as told me that he’d used too many times a day to count, anywhere he could find a viable vein; that he had been clean for a year and went to a methadone clinic daily; that he understood if I left. I went inside his mother’s townhouse, dry-heaved over the toilet, wiped the mascara from underneath my eyes, and decided I would stay. Months later, he became distant. He stopped answering calls, became paranoid. After our relationship ended, I realized that I wouldn’t have been able to help him recover.

I purchase my beans from a local coffee shop, River Roasters, which is decorated in rustic-chic barrels and crates, metal high-top tables, and bags of coffee. The shop features a slotted container beside a coffee bar with a sign that invites customers to pay on good faith. Even though River Roasters is in a small, southern town, sometimes I wonder how many people have gotten away with pouring themselves a to-go cup without paying. Almost everyone in town goes to church; it’s possible that someone who would consider walking out could always justify their decision by asking for forgiveness during Sunday service.

After the recovering heroin addict, I met a pastor’s son in my first graduate program, and I believed we had plenty in common. Dave and I would grab a table in the upstairs section of a college bar after classes, sit across from each other and smoke, drink too much, and have the same conversations about the program and our peers. We were lying on his bed one night, and he had opened a collection to one of his favorite poems. He read it softly, his voice deep, serious. He looked at me when he finished, with his dark eyes narrowed, as though he expected me to interpret the work in his words. When I couldn’t, he closed the book and placed it back on his nightstand. He began insulting me every chance he could get. If he didn’t agree with my opinion, I was wrong. If I didn’t want to have sex, I was wrong.  Being with him wasn’t like poetry. It’s easy for someone to change their expression, their tone, to make you feel like everything is your fault.

After I make my purchase, I shove $1.75 into the slotted container and choose between the two coffee options on the bar. I fill my coffee cup to the brim, usually with dark roast, and cover the steaming, murky-black liquid with a plastic cover. I have to make a conscious effort to remember to slip on the cardboard sleeve to avoid being burned. I’ve worked at several coffee shops in the past. I find it interesting that something as simple as placing a sleeve over a steaming hot cup of coffee, had become second nature when I was serving customers, but not for myself.

When the last guy I dated called and asked me on our first date, he told me he always thought I was beautiful. Marlon was someone I had been interested in for months, but it was a former friend who gave him my number. He planned dates to fancy restaurants and rooftop bars where we would sit at wrought iron tables overlooking the ocean, and talk about our childhoods and future goals until three in the morning. One night at a hookah lounge on the boulevard, we ordered bottles of white wine and lounged around on the couches that lined the sidewalk outside. I leaned into him, listened to his breathing while he taught me lines of Portuguese. I never asked how to tell him how much I liked him in his native language. Then he took his ex-girlfriend out for her birthday, and wouldn’t meet my eyes when I asked if he slept with her. His admission came a week afterward at a bar we frequented. I sat across from him and ran my fingers over his arm, memorized his skin as he explained that he needed time.

Even though it’s been almost a year, Marlon called me about a week ago. Said it had been a long time and that he wanted to take me out for a drink. I agreed. I wanted to spend time with him again. He asked me to call him so we could make plans. I did, but he never answered.

I read recently that there’s not necessarily a coffee season, that harvesting is a constant process. As months pass, coffee crops lose what distinguishes one from another, and they fade. But another season means change, and different types of coffee to discover.  But maybe what I need for now is to grow before another season starts.