Morning Coffee

A short piece of writing, in response to the idea of ‘love in lockdown’, to be published in a collection of short stories in 2021.
Yes. It was this. Most mornings. Morning coffee, soft taste of Arabica, a wondering: will he answer, did he sleep well, is he more or less worried than yesterday? The dialling, the relief when he picks up with his familiar warmth, the loving greeting. This person, this constant in my life, is okay, is still on the other end of the phone. Still with me. With us. A deluded assumption of forever nestles confidently within me. It overpowers logic. It threatens to punch any part of my mind that dares to imagine that bond ever being broken.
That bond. It has grown, jumping from childhood neediness over the gap where I found my own path, to land on a couple of decades of something truly special. And that bond has tightened during these strange times, its knots rewound into new configurations, holding firm all that was, that is.
Conversations about nothing much become the everything. The weather is first on the agenda, to my amusement and incredulity that it is always the answer to ‘how are you?’: how warm or mild it is, how sunny these last days, we’ve been so lucky here in England since it happened, how is it there, oh, raining, really?
The weather is just the entrée. We delve into other subjects after that’s been taken care of. Some days he is upbeat, chuckling about his cats or mine, engrossed in a new painting, boosted by hearing the voices of those close to him more often than usual, at least down the airwaves if not in the same room. Surprised at how little time he has to do all the things he wants to do every day, even though he can’t go out. A sentiment shared by most people on the planet right now. On other days he is uneasy, quietly stressed, mildly depressed, again like us all, as the unknown stalks us. I try to make light of things, though I can’t see the light that clearly, chat about people we know, dream of futures. ‘When..’
How important it is. How vital, this calling during morning coffee, its aroma mingling with our chat and filling the spring air, hearing him say hold on, let me just have a sip of my drink, listening to his slurp and his pleased ‘mmm’ as he swallows. Touching minds, checking in, reconfirming. Hoping. Hoping for an end to this enforced game of solitaire. Never much to tell, but we tell it anyway. Many times, in varying formations. And so. And so it goes on, a daily reaching out, through half of March and nearly all of April. I am comforted, as is he, by knowing the other is there. Making this moment feel better. Making our –

But. Then. The end comes suddenly. The start of the end during morning coffee, soft taste turning bitter, my throat burning, the handle of the mug freezing. I don’t know yet that. That it is the end. Yet. I am afraid. The voice I have known. Known and heard since birth is. Is wrong. Its tone is odd, its pace slower, its. Its vocabulary confused. Slurred. It was. It was the last sighting of its sound for me. I think I. I think I told him I loved him, after asking him to call 111. I hope I did. I –
The slow confusion gradually. Stills. And. Only hours after. After the smell of Arabica leaves the room the voice stops. The silence. The silence shifts our world. Across land and seas, two thousand kilometres away from me, it stops. The voice that spoke five languages. Just. Stops. Just –
Over the next few days the diagnosis, also confused at first, clarifies. That brain. That brain that wove the twelve notes into piano sonatas and string quartets, that could tell you how many letters were in a word immediately after you said it, that brain that still loved to learn, that wanted to add a sixth language to its roster and new painting skills to its palette, that knew the birth and death dates of all the classical composers, that loved wordplay and Monet and food and Chopin and gardens and cryptic crosswords and colour and us, his family, most of –
Achingly, impossibly, that brain is- Isn’t. Can’t. Won’t ever. The machine keeping his. Keeping his body turning is taken away, and. His physical self breathes unaided for. For one final day. The last. The last conversation we have is not a conversation What do you. What do you say, as a phone is pressed to an ear that can’t hear? To someone who is not. Not there. Not them. But maybe. Maybe there is a sense of. A pulsing, a warming of your. Some vibration of something reaching inside their. And the actual words don’t. Don’t really matter anyway. Only the –

He. He was there. Now. I still drink my morning coffee, but. He won’t. He won’t answer his phone. I cling to the imprint in the air around me of his voice, the echo of our time following me like a persistent puppy, pulling at my trouser leg to remember. I will never not remember, I tell the echo. It’s not. It’s not possible to forget. The pieces. The pieces of me are held together by different webs of string, in. In many colours. Each one is the. Is the presence and the legacy of someone who is part of me, who has made me who I am. His string is bright red. He leaves it woven tight, even though. For him, because of him, to honour him and his love, I must not unravel. I will not, not too much. I sip my coffee and –

In memory of my dad, Papa Ping.