Her doormat said ‘Welcome’. To what? He wondered. Anything. Salts. Mice. Her daily doings of things. Did she spice up her food? What was her smell when there was no perfume? He knocked. Always, he erred on the side of too softly and he wondered if she’d heard, rocking back on his heels and exhaling, trying to look like he didn’t have a gun through the peephole. He didn’t have a gun, of course, but he wanted to look like he didn’t have one, too. They had only met once before and he was a little bold in asking to pick her up at her place, her apartment, this place where his welcome was preempted, pre-approved. It was five minutes away and ten to the coffee shop. They could walk, he’d said, and she said they would walk. After all, what’s a nice afternoon? And maybe that’s why she had allowed him to meet her. There was no car and she might have felt she could outrun him. Her legs were slender and her movements were very controlled. She looked capable of ducking from danger if evenly met, like she could hop a fence or two. Deerish.
She did not answer and Harold had to worry about seeming impatient or too timid. What if she happened to look out the window to see if she could catch him approaching? What a creep! Hatching his schemes as he stands on my doorstep, hadn’t he time at home, the insufferable fool. Oh no, mister! I forgot. I’m with my friends. Angela had a breakup and–well you know how things go.
He could knock again. Hold it, already! Who is this man that I come right to the doorstep for him? He’s right on time! Who expects a ready date on the dot? There are things to be done. There are necessities. Not this servant girl, Mr. King, sir. I don’t even feel like coffee. Just some water, thanks, and off home! It’s getting late. It’s my mother, you see. She’s over on Hammel and I’ve got to go. You know how these things go.
So he walked away. Where is he GOING, the LOAF! What am I? Barrel Bottoms? Did he get some HOT TEXT!? What? Does he need to pee? What a goph! What did he forget to let his parole officer know he was leaving the house? I don’t think so, you flake! I know how these things go!
He walked back and knocked again. He heard something. There was movement inside. He wondered if she owned cats, a rambunctious dog. He could be licked. He could be licked and laugh and pet dogs. They made it easy! He’s the good guy and that’s a good boy–that’s the spot, yeees, that’s the spot, you good boy! Maybe they could go to the dog park. He pictured himself bending down with a tennis ball, tossing it– overdressed for play, but they were having fun. What’s a grass stain anyway, when you’ve got a dog like this?
It was her. The doorknob–should he open the–
She opened the door and didn’t walk out. An invitation to him. Maybe this was done with frequency. After all, though she favored an attire more homely than most, she was not an unattractive woman. That was plain. It was written on the real side of her. Her smile and greeting and her true disregard for her motions themselves. They were of her and she whisked them about with complete trust and precision. Martin was different. Every movement pained up his spinal cord. He was rigid with exactly where to act and rest. She was fluid. Maybe her homliness was a ruse. Maybe she lured and seduced. The ol’ bear trap. Quiet, unassuming men for her meat, her desire. They were timid, but, by jove! they got her off!
“Please don’t mind the place,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Martin looked around and saw a book open on the coffee table with some papers and there was a sweater draped over a chair of the dining table.
“What’s wrong with it?” he said.
She gave a light grufff, a feminine grunt of frazzle, letting her arms up and flap against her hips. It was stressing out, good natured and good enough to make him wonder where her trials were. Was he a relief or did he grate her? Where was she meaning to go and what were her troubles for?
“Oh, I threw some stuff in the hall closet when I heard you come. I forgot to not tell you it wasn’t like this a minute ago. Still kind of a mess”
“Fair enough,” he said. He smiled. She grabbed her purse. “Let’s go,” she said.
And they were off. It was just like that. The knock, the purse, the door. Why over complicate things? And now they were on a stroll. Officially. Walking beside each other–side-by-side beside–Martin weaving around poles and posts to give her room. The sky played nice and they talked openly. It turns out she loved this coffee shop. They wondered why they’d never seen each other there. She usually got to-go. Coffee and run. Martin would sit for hours with a window, a book, sometimes a laptop. She worked in finance for Ford and went to school. She would have herself bake and make beautiful things and as she talked, Martin imagined her flour covered arms working dough in the kitchen. He would taste her work and it would be exquisite. It would sweet and fill like the real sugar of her, he thought. Cakes, pastries–they would have tarts for breakfast on Saturdays.
Martin sold IT to businesses. He had trained to be technical right out of college, fresh off an English degree. It was all the same. It was money and there were words involved in some way. It wasn’t ideal. He would go to school too. He would write masterpieces over creamed cupcakes, powdered sugar. Together they could sweet the world and guide it.
Marissa walked up closer to the door and Martin reached to open it. Coffee. He wondered what the workers’ families said when they went home–pollinating java puffs, bringing hints of cream and a general sense of being pried awake. The place was empty. Every table to be had. The corner spot, the lovely coosh of the couch there, the low wooden table, a candle.
They sat down and he drank his coffee black. There was no steamed cream, no caramel in his fantasies, none of the sprinkled cinnamon, and he sat there, stared at this woman, and slowly filled his mouth with the hot, steaming milk of the earth.