De-caffeinated and agitated.

We didn’t mean to hurt her, but she had breached the social contract. She had to be sacrificed to preserve the spirit of community. Here’s how it went down. Really.

Sunday brunch was winding down in the dining hall. The resident artists and writers were getting ready for an afternoon of work. I stared at the coffee carafe, and the machine brewed drip by agonizing drip. A semi-circle of coffee drinkers formed, and the air sparked with taut words and grunts.

We were caffeine deprived, but not wholly depraved: It was understood we would take the proper turns serving ourselves coffee. What mattered most was that I was first. Me. I had set the coffee to brew, and earned the spot closest to the machine.

An elderly man approached, mug in hand.

“You all waiting for coffee?” he asked.

“Why else would we be standing here?” answered a blue-eyed poetess. Her words sizzled like drops on a burner, and the man hurried away.

“That was a stupid question,” she muttered.

“True that,” I said, and we clinked coffee mugs.

“Will one pot be enough for all of us?” asked a painter. The semi-circle had grown to about one dozen. I couldn’t remember how many ounces were in one cup, how many cups the pot held or what to do with those numbers to figure out the answer. I didn’t matter to me.

“Well, I’m first,” I said in answer.

An illustrator piped in, “Well, maybe you should have made two pots of coffee.”

“Maybe your lazy ass should make a second pot,” I said, and shook the cup in my fist at him.

A woman we did not recognize walked right past all of us to the coffee machine. The brewing was not complete, but she grabbed the carafe handle.

“What are you doing?” growled the blue-eyed poetess.

The woman looked at us as if we’d materialized suddenly.

“Oh, I’m just getting some coffee.” Her smile and wink did not win anyone over.

“Like hell you are,” I said. “I’m first.”

“You mean there’s a line?”

“We’re all waiting,” answered the illustrator.

She kept smiling like we were exchanging pleasantries while waiting for individually brewed lattes. Like we weren’t itching for the jolt to get us going for a five-hour stretch of work. Her reply confirmed she misjudged the seriousness of the situation.

“Well, I’m in a hurry.”

Arms and voices raised in outrage. Someone called out, “And look, she’s got a travel mug!”

Indeed she did. It was a monstrosity of a container that looked like it could hold four mugs-full of coffee. Not that I knew how many ounces that was or by how much that would reduce the total pot or if square roots would help me figure out any of it. I just knew it was a lot of coffee, and that woman was out of turn.

She protested when the packet of artificial sweetener hit her cheek. Then things got ugly. The carton of half-and-half that hit her temple must have hurt. Her lashes were wet with dairy product and, I think, tears. I’m not certain because I turned away when the group closed in on her, mugs clenched in fists. I have a weak stomach for violence. Anyway, the coffee was brewed and I was first.

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