A Pinch of Sugar

A Short Story by Kip Knott

I drink a lot of coffee. I’m talking a lot of coffee. What’s a lot? Ten cups? Fifteen? How about thirty cups? Well, I drink six Mr. Coffee pots a day. That’s sixty cups. And I’m not talking about orange-handled pots of gas station decaf. I’m talking about sixty cups of black, full-bodied, caffeinated Eight O’Clock coffee with just a pinch of sugar to honor my late wife Daisy, who I called “Sugar” because she sweetened my life.

I never looked back after Sugar gave me my first cup and an ultimatum one morning to sober me up from a particularly hard night of whiskey doubles. Her hope was to get me to trade one addiction for the lesser of two evils. Before then, it was nothing but Bloody Marys in the morning, beer after lunch, and whiskey from dinner till bedtime. After then, it was coffee, coffee, coffee.

It’s no real secret how I’m able to down so much coffee in a day. Getting up every morning at 6:00 helps. And snapping off the light at midnight doesn’t hurt either. That gives me a full eighteen hours every day to squeeze in sixty cups.

This morning, just like every other morning, the first thing I do is kiss my Sugar’s picture on my bedside table and say, “Good morning, My Sweet.” Then I make my first trip of the day to the bathroom. I usually don’t make more than five trips there a day. And I never have to get up in the night to go, which you might find hard to believe given my daily liquid intake. Sugar, who must have had the bladder the size of a gnat, had to go at least a dozen times a day and twice in the night. She’d even leak a drop or two if she laughed too long or sneezed too hard. She always said, with a touch of anger, that I must be descended from a camel because of how I could hold my water.

Next I brush my teeth, which, despite the brown rivers of coffee that wash over them daily can still be classified as pearly whites. Sugar was a dental hygienist when we met back in ’65, and imposed upon me her own rules of proper oral hygiene, which began with a toothpaste concoction of baking soda and a splash of peroxide.

After I’m showered and dressed, I commence with the coffee by firing up Pot #1 on the Mr. Coffee that Sugar gave me for our fifth anniversary. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio wasn’t lying when he guaranteed a better cup of joe with Mr. Coffee. I’ve estimated its given me over 82,000 cups over the years, while I’ve only had to give it three new heating coils and one new power cord in all that time. And Sugar wasn’t lying either when she promised coffee could see me through the tough days ahead of me, that was if I still wanted her to stay next to me in bed every night.

I wash down my two sunny-side-up eggs, two strips of bacon, and bowl of oatmeal with my pot of Eight O’Clock while I scan the obituaries in the newspaper for any names I might know. After I do the dishes (Sugar never allowed a dirty dish to sit in the sink), I top off the two birdfeeders just outside my apartment window with the best black oilers money can buy. Then I settle in my La-Z-Boy with Pot #2 and watch the cardinals, juncos, and goldfinches fight it out at my expense.

At seven o’clock I flip on Good Morning America to see what’s new in the world. Sugar never missed it, but if I’m being honest, it wasn’t anything but background noise for me until after she passed just over a year ago. Even so, David Hartman’s deep voice was much more soothing to my ear than whiney George Stephanopoulos.

By eight o’clock I’m through with Pot #2 and ready for my walk. Seton Circle Senior Center has beautiful walking paths that snake their way through the wooded one-acre courtyard surrounded by our building. The paths are clearly marked with signs every hundred feet or so for the “Bad Memory Bunch,” as I like to call them. But my mind purrs like a super-charged engine fueled by caffeine, so the signs are lost on me.

The real trick for me every morning is to get from my second floor apartment, through the hallway, down the elevator, past the rec room, and out the doors without having to make small talk with any of my neighbors. What I see as a gauntlet I must survive just to get outside, Sugar—a true-blue people-person who loved to chew the fat with anyone willing to chew back—saw it as one of the highlights of her day. With a quick nod to Dorris Veech, the 92-year-old woman who thinks every day is Pearl Harbor day, I make it out the doors unscathed.

I take two trips around the courtyard, making sure to keep my head down except for when I check the two robins’ nests for any new progress before I go back inside, make my way past the rec room, up the elevator, through the hallway, and back into my apartment without running into anyone.

Once inside, I take my second bathroom break, then make a beeline for Mr. Coffee to get Pot #3 going, which will see me through both The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal. I’ve got to admit that Drew Carey was funnier as a heavyweight back in the ‘90s than he is in his current welterweight incarnation. And that Wayne Brady is a ball of energy that puts Monty Hall to shame.

By noon I’m ready for the first forty of my daily eighty winks. Coming up fast on 80 years-old counteracts any amount of caffeine I’m happy to put in my body. Truth be told, though, I’ve never had any trouble falling to sleep. Whenever I want, I can hit an internal “snooze” button and nod off. Sugar used to blame the booze, but once she boarded me on the Coffee Express and I was still able to slip off to Dreamland as soon as she snapped off the light, she had to admit that my conscience must have been clean enough to not worry about my fate in the dark.

 When my alarm rings at one o’clock, I’m ready for Pot #4. This is the part of the day I look forward to the most. Between one o’clock and three o’clock every day, I read a book from the list Sugar wrote me before she passed.

“You’re going to need something to get you through your days once I’m gone,” she told me. “When you read these, just remember I’ve read them, too. It’s like we’re reading them together.”

With more than a hundred books on the list, and with me being a slow reader touched by a bit of dyslexia, I’ll probably never get through them all before Sugar and I are together again.

At three o’clock I dog-ear whatever page I’m on, close the book I’m reading, then settle in for the second forty of my daily eighty winks.

I’ve never been one for dreaming. I don’t know why. Instead, when I sleep I have the sensation of floating; not in the air like a balloon, but like the way I imagine a ghost must float between this world and the next. Sugar believed that it was a sign of some kind of sixth sense I was born with. She believed that if only I believed myself, I could be some kind of link between me and whatever world it was she was headed for. Now that’s she gone, though, I’m not sure what I believe in. Except for coffee.

My alarm set for 3:55 p.m. every day wakes me in time for bathroom break #3, Pot #4, and Jeopardy. While I was always a fan of Jeopardy, Sugar didn’t really come around until Alex was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the same cancer she fought. From that point on, she never missed a show, even on the days after her chemo when she needed to have a bucket nearby just in case. No amount of nausea could dampen her competitive spirit, though, and she’d mumble “Shit,” every time I yelled out the question before her. Wheel of Fortune, which comes on right after Jeopardy, was never her thing. Now, just as when she was still alive, I watch it alone.

Pot #5 fills up precisely at five o’clock every day, and accompanies whatever frozen delight I choose for dinner. Stouffer’s lasagna is my absolute favorite because it tastes as close to Sugar’s cooking as I’ve been able to find. Banquet fried chicken is also a good bet. Better, I think, than the greasy rotisserie chicken that stinks up the grocery store on our weekly trips. Tonight it’s Panda Brand Kung Pao Chicken. I still have one of Sugar’s chicken tetrazzini casseroles in the freezer, but I’m waiting for our 50th anniversary to eat it.

By the last pot of the day, Pot #6, I slow my consumption down considerably so that it sees me through the local and national newscasts, the hour between seven o’clock and eight o’clock when I record the day’s events in the diary I promised Sugar I would keep after she was gone, all my primetime shows, and SportsCenter at eleven.

By 11:30 I’m ready for my last bathroom break of the day, after which I wash up and change into the pajamas Sugar got me on my last birthday with her.

I walk back to the kitchen and pour the last cup of coffee—always the sweetest yet saddest cup of the day—from the pot. I rinse out the pot and set it on the drying rack so that it’s ready first thing tomorrow. I snap off the kitchen lights and walk with my cup of coffee into our bedroom where I set it in front of Sugar’s picture on the bedside table. I reach under the bed and pull out a solid silver urn with lapis lazuli accents. The urn is cold and never seems to warm in my hands, no matter how long I hold it.

“How was your day, My Sweet?” I ask. “My day was fine. Still just coffee. I haven’t strayed. Lots of coffee. Nothing new with the robins.”

I run my fingers along the name “Sugar” etched in deep Gothic lettering on top of the lid. “I’m not sure how much longer I can last without you, My Sweet,” I confess.

I gently unscrew the lid, reach inside, and take a tiny pinch of ashes between my thumb and forefinger before replacing the lid and sliding the urn back under the bed. I gently rub my thumb and forefinger together over my cup. Sugar’s ashes feel soft and velvety before they drift down into the coffee. I hold the warm cup between my hands just as I used to hold her face when I would kiss her goodnight, then lift the cup to my lips and drink her in.

Kip Knott’s writing has appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Gettysburg Review, The Sun, and Virginia Quarterly Review. His debut full-length collection of poetry—Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on—is currently available from Kelsay Books. A new full-length collection of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is forthcoming in 2021, also from Kelsay Books. More of his work may be accessed at kipknott.com

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  1. This is so touching. So much emotion exhibited through small yet significant actions. Leaves the reader with a slightly heavy heart. Beautiful! 🙂

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