He still remembers how she took her coffee.
Dark roast with a splash of cream; just a splash, not a teaspoon or a half, but a splash large enough to dye the color one shade lighter. No sugar. Sugar made the coffee too sweet, and coffee was not born to be sweet. “It’s supposed to be bitter,” she would say. “You can’t make it change.”
“Why the cream, then?” he would ask.
“You burn it,” she’d laugh, and then she’d tilt back her cup and drain the whole thing in one enormous gulp. She would kiss him and her lips would taste like coffee and cream. The burnt-coffee smell would cling to her all day. She left and the smell would waver in her wake.
There’s a coffee shop down the block from the flower shop where he works the till on lazy summer afternoons. They heat their water a second too long and the burnt-coffee smell that wafts out the door makes his eyes water.
He stopped in once, on his way home, just to see if she might miss his coffee so much she might rest in the arms of its long-lost twin.
A group college girls nestled in the corner with textbooks and spilled coffee and napkins with muffin crumbs crosshatching their table watched him order a small cup to go. He hasn’t gone back since, but when he makes coffee in the morning he still reaches for two cups and a splash of cream.
He doesn’t even like cream. He never did, but after two years of finding it snuck into his grocery basket while he searched for not-yet-ripe bananas and one year of swinging by the milk display of his own volition it felt a sin not to drop an extra $2.75 for a carton. He has a stockpile now, the little half-pints building an army in the back corner of the top shelf of his refrigerator. He should probably get rid of the spoiled ones at the very least, but each time he opens the fridge and finds them there he can’t bring himself to grab one. Why should he, when there is no one to pour a splash for?
He found one of her tee shirts balled up in the corner of a dresser drawer just yesterday. He bunched it up beneath his nose and breathed in deep. The burnt-coffee smell was still there, underneath the soft powdery scent of the perfume she wore in spring.
It’s almost spring again.
He thought about throwing the tee shirt in the donation bin behind the church down the street but could not bring himself to do it.
He left it out on the dresser, telling himself he would do it in the morning, but now it’s morning and he’s thinking about the way she drank his burnt coffee with just a splash of cream.