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Ashes and Caffeine (Greenwich Village, 1958)
by Patricia Carragon
Elaine placed her hand on Michael’s shoulder and whispered that it wasn’t a sin for a man to cry. She urged him not to keep his feelings bottled up, because it wasn’t healthy.
After giving her Catholic/Buddhist/Feminist psychology, she handed him a box of Kleenex before putting up the coffee. Michael blew his nose into the tissue, but used another to dry his eyes. After tossing the tissues in the garbage, he kissed her hand. Elaine took his hand and led him to the Formica table.
The Eight ’O Clock coffee began to perk. She turned off the jet and poured the coffee into the cups. She placed the percolator on the cork rooster hot pad, however, she returned for the pack of Chesterfield’s and the matchbook left on the counter. Unfortunately, there was only one match left. Michael lit Elaine’s cigarette and used her cigarette to light his. Luckily, Elaine remembered that she had an extra matchbook in the kitchen drawer. Relieved, she could relax and talk, enjoy a few cigs and light the jet to brew another pot of coffee.
Elaine queried, “Michael, have you thought about the future, now that you might be a father of two?”
He lowered his eyes and tightened his lips. His flicked ashes missed the blue ceramic ash tray. Elaine sat cross-legged on the chair, took another drag, and laughed.
She said, “Well, my dear man, after I have your kid, I plan to get my tubes tied. My uterus and brain have a two-kid limit. Hell, I’m an artist and model, and it’s tough being a single mom supporting herself and her daughter. Now, I’ll have another mouth to feed. It’s hard to be a feminist when it come to money, honey. It’s still a man’s world, and women still have to fight for crumbs amid the chronic bullshit dealt from men with fragile egos. I know you don’t make as much as Mark. But the good news is that Leo, the guy who runs the gallery, is currently sleeping with me. He’s very generous and is getting me more commissions for my sculpture. He gave me space at his studio for me to work. He even asked me to move in with him should I get bored of being independent. He also likes kids. I’m thinking about moving to a larger flat by Abingdon Square. He offered to pay for my new digs as well. There’ll be no pressure from me to have you support me and your kid. Even Mark won’t have to worry about Little Suzy any more. I plan to finish my education, perhaps major in Fine Arts or Education, and get a job in a gallery, school, or an ad agency just in case I fuck up with my sculpture career. I don’t expect Leo to always be with me, nor should I assume that the modeling agencies would continue to knock on my door. I’m getting older and will eventually have to find another way to support my kids.”
She poured more coffee into his cup. Michael noticed that her dark bristles looked longer than usual and asked if she was growing her hair for Leo and her modeling jobs. Elaine smiled and answered no. Out of convenience, she planned on keeping it short, but not as extreme.
“Okay, Michael. It’s your turn to talk about the future, not my hair. Have you made your decision about Mara?”
Michael shook his head and said, “The ball is in Mara’s court. If there is a child, she wants no part of me or my child. You’ve heard our conversation.”
While holding her cigarette in one hand and the coffee cup in the other, she stiffened her lips, as her green eyes stared straight into Michael’s brown ones. He looked away, opted for another sip of coffee before lighting another Chesterfield.
After placing her cup on the table, Elaine flicked her ashes into the ash tray, but decided to put out her unfinished cigarette, applying pressure while crushing it in the butt-filled tray. She moved her chair closer to Michael.
“So the ball is in her court, not in your pants? Oops, I didn’t mean to castrate half of your manhood, darling. Are you implying that it’s her fault, not yours? I don’t blame her for being pissed off! First of all, you may have planted the seed, but you don’t own her mind, body, and future. Second, you lied to her about getting married before you proposed to me. Third, you’re no better than the average Joe who thinks that a woman’s mind stops developing when she gets her first bra. Fourth, you don’t understand that it’s the woman who has to do most of the sacrificing, not the man. If she gets knocked up, it’s always her fault. The man can do whatever he wants and gets away with it. He could marry her, but that wouldn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams, like getting an education or a better job. The woman would have to forfeit her name, and most possibly her dreams. If she does go after her dreams, she would have to wait until the kids are old enough to take care of themselves. I understand that you want a large family. By that time, she might grow too weary after raising enough kids to fill a station wagon.”
Michael flicked his ashes into his coffee and excused himself for the bathroom. Elaine emptied his cup in the sink and turned on the faucet. She moved the flexible rubber spray for the ashes and caffeine to float down the drain. She washed his cup with the other dishes. Still tired, she needed another caffeine boost and poured the remaining coffee into her cup. She drank the lukewarm coffee and swallowed the few grinds that floated on the surface. All of a sudden, she heard a commotion coming from the bedroom. She hurried inside and saw Little Suzy crying in Michael’s arms, saying, “mama,” over and over again. Her second day of saying, “mama.”
“Elaine, I was playing with her and noticed that her bottom was wet.”
She retorted, “Well, Pappy, if you plan to be a daddy, you better learn how to change a diaper. Are you ready for your first lesson?”