Black coffee with lavender honey by Caroline Gonda
Never knew a man who liked his coffee sweet the way you do. Sugar’s not sweet enough for you. Lavender honey from Provence, curled thick around the spoon, slowly melting into black coffee so strong my heart kicks when I taste it. Your skin smells of cedarwood soap and smoke: your first cigar of the day. Never liked the smell of smoke on a man before, but on you it makes me weak. You look at me with that lazy mischief in your eyes, and I am lost.
Coup de foudre, the French call love at first sight. A bolt from the blue. What do you call it when lightning strikes after seven years, with one look from someone you don’t even like?
We were in your car, at a stop sign, me sitting in front with you for once, and my lover in the back seat. I said something that made you laugh. You turned to look at me and bam. There it was, the ambush and the shock of it. I couldn’t breathe for a moment, so intensely aware of you it made me dizzy.
Later, in that little bookshop, I looked across at you and there was nothing between us but the air, as if everything else had fallen away. My lover wandered along the shelves, oblivious to what was happening between us. I bought you some small gift, a hospitality present, I don’t remember what it was now. That was the start of it all.
Coffee with honey and your first cigar of the day was what you had instead of breakfast. A drinker’s habit, though I didn’t know it then, like the apple juice you mixed with wine to disguise it. What the sweetness masked couldn’t stay hidden for ever. I wanted to run, but I didn’t. Your friends begged me to stay; they worried about what would become of you if I left, or maybe they just wanted to protect themselves from what you became when the drink was on you. I was the human shield, the sacrifice they wouldn’t call by its true name. But it was my fault, after all, for wanting you in the first place. Wanting something I had no right to. Wanting more than I had. I had no right to walk away now.
It was you who left me, in the end. I waited long enough, and you found some other woman to be your goddess of love, your mother, your scapegoat, your enemy, your jailer, your target. I parcelled up your letters and cards, all the honeyed words you wrote to keep me in thrall through the years of abuse, and sent them back to you. I walked back from the post office and danced around my sitting-room to Bing Crosby, singing There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth The Salt Of My Tears.
These days, I drink decaf with oat milk and stevia, and I run when I need to. I take care of my heart.
Caroline Gonda writes flash fiction, poems and occasionally songs. Her flash stories have been published by Reflex Fiction, Lunate, and Ellipsis Zine, and are forthcoming at Pastel Pastoral and in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology. In her academic life she teaches and writes on literature, gender and sexuality, with a particular interest in lesbian narrative and queer reception.