NINE A.M. by B.S. Allen



            Strange name for a short story, isn't it?  And starting a story with a question?  Unheard of?  Maybe.  But, it's the beginning of my story.  You see, I'm a writer, a creator of tall tales, and a magician with words.  My schedule is erratic.  I am at the keys all hours of the day and night.  Sometimes, I'm creating with my eyes half open.  Let me get a sip of this coffee . . .There, that's better.                

            Coffee.  The caffeine fortified wake-up-and-get-with-it steaming cup of alarm clock- trilling craziness for all writers.  Constricts the veins.  Makes the heart work harder.  Big, fist shaped organ trying to shoot a flood of rumbling red into itty-bitty, quickly shrinking vessels.  It's like self-induced hypertension.  Goes to show you what a death defying lot we word genies really are.               

            Every morning, I get out of bed just as the suns raising an eyebrow over the eastern horizon.  I pad to the front door -- barefoot, hair frizzed like Einstein's -- and let the dog out for her morning ritual. Bleary eyed, I turn, and stumble toward the kitchen.  The chiming of the schoolhouse Regulator, its pendulum still swinging after so many years, and so many moves, reminds me that it's six a.m.               

            Still half asleep, I stand in front of the kitchen sink, and with a flick of the wrist, the hot water tap is on.  None of that percolated Java for me.  Instant's the ticket.  Fast to the lips, a quick two-step in the tummy, and straight to the grey matter in the loft.  The water from the tap begins to steam.  I open the cabinet, and reach for the familiar jar.  Juan Valdez's best.               

            This morning, all I find is space!  My eyes snap open.  My gaze travels up my arm to the hand that's still groping for the red and blue hallmark embellished with a picture of a dripping coffee cup, and the stark white M.  Jars of creamers stand like sentries at the castle gate.  Amaretto.  Irish Cream.  Hazel Nut.  Their labels seem to taunt like a schoolyard bully.                

            It's been pushed to the back of the cabinet.  Yes.  That's where has to be, I reason. I go to the pantry, grab a utility stool, and return to the high cabinet. I climb up, and look into the yawning slot where the coffee's always kept.  Moving jars of creamer, saltshakers and spice, my memory begins to hitch and grind.

            Last evening I had been at the computer, doing a rewrite on Chapter One of my novel . . .the phone rang.  Irritated with the interruption, and totally absorbed in the rewrite, I picked up the receiver, held it to my ear, and growled an unpleasant hello.               

            "Hi, Sue.  It's Beverly.  Are you busy?"               

            Beverly Beecham.  My nearest neighbour.  She lived a mile away, and was the most self-centered human I'd ever met.  Her voice, high pitched and nasal, gouged at my senses like a toddler who's found the eyes of a new puppy.  A pinch faced, dumpling of a woman, she was a burr in the cosy blanket of my solitary lifestyle.  The last thing she could possibly care about was whether I was busy, or not.  Her intrusions came on a regular basis, and at the worst times.  Like the time when she called demanding my recipe for key lime pie ("Hank is having clients over for dinner!"), and my toilet was overflowing.  Afterwards, I called the carpet cleaning people, swearing at her under my breath, and promising myself to fortify my thin skinned attitude on hanging up on unwanted callers.               

            "Sue?  Are you there?"               

            "Yeah, Bev.  What's up?"  I began to tune her out.               

            "Hank and I are'.....Colorado....out of.....can we borrow......?"               

            "Yeah.  Sure, Bev.  Come on over.  The back door's unlocked.  Get what you need.  I'll be in the den, writing, and CANNOT be disturbed.  I'm on a roll.  See you later."             

            I plunked the receiver into its cradle, and began to tap at the keys, again.  About twenty minutes later, I heard Beverly clanking around in my kitchen.  In a short while, I heard the door slam.   Thanking the gods, I took a deep breath, sighed, and continued on with my work.               

            Now, I stand here, gaping at a cabinet that's devoid of coffee, and cursing Ms. Dumpling with every ragged breath.  I step down from the stool, and in anger, give it a swift kick.  Then, I spend the next fifteen minutes hopping around my home, like Bugs Bunny at a rabbit round up, thinking I've broken a toe.               

            I limp into the living room, a pan of ice water in hand, sit on the sofa, and submerge my throbbing digit.  I think of Beverly Beecham as a victim, staked to an anthill in the desert heat, and I, above her, pouring honey on her plump, crisping body.  I think of her roped to a railroad track, red hair splayed over the rails, a freighter chugging downhill. . .  closer. . . faster,  and Dudley Do Right’s horse being mysteriously lamed.  I imagine myself, slithering into the darkness, the pried off horseshoe in my clenched hand.  No rescue, dear Beverly.  Annoying person: zero.  Author/Plagiarist: one. 

            Maybe she's still home! The thought flits into my mind on fairy wings.  I snatch at the phone, a finger length too far away, and spill the icy soak into the expensive carpet.  Receiver in hand, I punch up her number, and sit for five minutes, listening to the shrill tones.  I hang up on the one hundred fifteenth ring.                 

            Coffee.  I need coffee.               

            I hobble into the bedroom, open the closet, and choose my clothing for the day.  A yard sale purchased sweatshirt, and comfortable Levi's.  The clock chimes seven.  The seam is ripped in my favourite jeans.  I thread the needle, sew quickly, and only prick three fingers.  I add Band-Aids to my shopping list.                

            My eyelid begins to twitch.               

I grab my keys, and deadbolt the door on my way out.           

            I back the Cherokee out of the garage, and head for town.  I flip on the radio, hear Willie singing about those crying, blue eyes, and settle into the seat.  Five miles down the road, I look in the rear view mirror and see the flashing blue/red lights.  I also notice that I forgot to comb my hair.  Seventy in a fifty-five, and no hairdo.                 

            The ticket's a hundred and ten bucks.  My court date is on the twelfth.                  

            I pull into the asphalt lot of The Dandy Dollar, park the jeep, and walk to the door. I give it a jerk.  Locked.  I read the store hours.  Eight a.m. to eight p.m., Monday thru Saturday.  Sunday, noon till six. I check my watch.  Eight-twenty.  Would you like to guess what day of the week it is?  Amen.           

            I turn to leave, feeling a vein in my temple start to pound, and I notice a new convenience store about a block down the road.  A tall sign, twirling in the morning light, reads:  Minit Mart. . . Open Twenty-Four Hours.                 

            Yes!  Coffee!               

            Two minutes later, I'm walking through the front door, sniffing the air for the robust aroma of the Brazilian bean.  Nothing.  Nada.  No scent of anything but the pine cleaner used to mop the floor.  I step up to the cashier; a young man, with a face full of pimples, and bad breath.               

            "Where's your coffee machine?"               

            "Oh. Um.  Sorry, lady.  It's broke."  He says, and bends over the counter, then laughs at my feet.                 

            I look down at the fuzzy, pink slipper and the orange Converse.  My swollen toe pulsates with pain.               

            "Got any small jars of instant coffee on your shelves?" I ask, and watch his gaze creep up my faded jeans, over my Ohio State College shirt, and then, lock onto my dishevelled hair.               

            "Nope.  Truck won't be here till tomorrow.  We sold the last jar about an hour ago.  Say, you're a little old for a college kid, ain't ya?"  He said, and giggled again.               

            I felt my eyes bulge in their sockets, and, gritting my teeth, I grabbed his tie.  It was a clip on.                

            There must have been a silent alarm.  The police were there in a flash.                

            The plastic cuffs were too tight, and the fast seam I'd sewn in my jeans gave way when the officers pushed me into the back of the cruiser.               

            Aunt Zee's on her way to post my bail, though she said it would take her three hours to get here from Houston.  I asked her to bring a thermos of coffee.  She said the thermos was cracked and wouldn't keep the contents hot.                

            And, by the way, the last time I saw my watch, it was nine a.m.               


END  ©  B.S. Allen 2003

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