Mourning Coffee

The waters of the Pacific were warm, vaguely amniotic. I floated on my back and watched a lone frigate bird trace ever-expanding concentric circles in the sky high overhead. I sensed that it was searching for something that it was fated never to find. The poignancy of the animal’s solitary, dream-like quest made my chest tighten. I was almost hypnotized by the gentle lapping of the waves against my body. My ears were submerged and only my mouth and eyes were above water. The sounds from the shore, although muffled and distorted, possessed an internal logic, a rhythm, that seemed to communicate with me on some subconscious, even primal level.

I dove deep one final time and then began swimming toward shore. Once on the beach I dried off. I noticed the flashing lights of an ambulance and the practiced movements of two or three members of an EMS squad working on someone about a hundred or so yards down the strand to my left. I didn’t give it another thought. Scenes like that played themselves out on the overcrowded beaches of Waikiki on a nearly daily basis; someone struck on the head by an errant surfboard, cut on the leg or foot by the sharp coral or stung by a jellyfish. Our ancient fascination with the sea (a compulsion to return if only temporarily to the waters from whence we came) often carried a price tag.

It was a beautiful morning. The palm trees rustled dryly overhead in the light trades as I walked to a coffee shop I knew on an access path that ran between Kalakaua Avenue and the beach. The barista who poured my drink looked strangely familiar. She reminded me of a girl I dated back when I was in college. I recalled reading about her death in an alumni newsletter that came out a year or so ago. She had been killed in a tragic car accident. Obviously, this couldn’t possibly be the same person yet the resemblance was uncanny.

I smiled and accepted my coffee; I sat down at a small table in front of an open window and began to read the morning newspaper and, eventually, to do the crossword puzzle. The exotic scents of white tea and ginger were borne on the breeze and I had to fight in order to keep the paper from blowing away and my coffee cup from tipping. All of that, of course, was part of the appeal.

At one point I looked up to see a young man in army fatigues—not an unusual sight in Honolulu—standing at the counter. He turned and waved at me in recognition. It was my older brother, Tom. He had been killed during his second tour in Vietnam back in 1968. I remembered how his racy stories of good times spent in Hawaii on R & R had supercharged my adolescent hormones. He grabbed his drink, winked at the barista and strode out of the café like he owned the place. That was Tom for you!

Dazed now and somewhat bemused, I was just about to get up and head for home. My wife would be wondering what had happened to me. I was only barely aware of the middle-aged man who pulled out the chair opposite mine and sat down uninvited at my table.

Even considering what had been happening to me up to that point, I was still shocked by what I saw. When I looked up from my puzzle I found myself gazing into the face of my favorite uncle who had passed away recently at ninety-five. I still felt that loss. I likened it to the dull ache I imagined one must feel after they’ve had a limb amputated. It was from him that I had acquired my appreciation for music and literature. Instead of the wasted old man I had last seen in hospice, he looked just like the photos that were taken of him during his heyday as a newspaperman back in the ‘50’s and 60’s..

“Hey, kid,” he said in that tone he always used when we were on the verge of discussing something particularly weighty. “Sorry to disturb you but we need to talk...”

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James C. Clar teaches and writes in upstate New York. His work has been published in print as well as on the Internet. Most recently his short fiction has found a home on Antipodean Sci-Fi, Apollo’s Lyre, Flashshot, The Taj Mahal Review, The Shine Journal, Static Movement, Residential Aliens, Powder Burn Flash, Bewildering Stories and The Magazine of Crime & Suspense. His short story “Starbuck” was voted Story of the Year for 2008 by the editors of Long Story, Short.