Story: Thanksgiving Coffee

Hildene dining room table cropped.jpg

About this story

Many years ago, I used to write a Thanksgiving story each year. At the request of a former pastor, I read them at our Thanksgiving program. I wrote, maybe 7-8 of them over a decade. Last year, I thought I might write another. I never finished it. I just stumbled on the unfinished tale, and this morning completed it.

Here it is.

Tom

Thanksgiving Coffee

“I don’t have a story.”

The woman sat across the table from me, her gray hair, laced with dark brown, was windblown and still wet.

“I don’t have a story.” she said. “Somewhere, I lost it.”

She picked up the coffee cup and sipped, her eyes looking past me somewhere. She was, I thought, probably a little crazy. Maybe more than a little.

In the coffee shop, people were trying not to stare but failing. This willowy middle-aged woman, with her tattered, wet wedding dress and her hair drying in every direction, Medusa-like; with her make up running, dark eyes, and impossibly red lips, so dramatic, could not be ignored.

I had found her a few miles away, out in the countryside. It was Thanksgiving and I was heading home from my parent’s home, the heavy dinner settling in my stomach. I had a long drive in front of me. Seven hours. It would be late when I got there.

It was raining. One of those cold November rains, laced with snow and a little sleet. The wind blew and my car shuddered with each gust. I drove carefully. Maybe more than seven hours more, I thought to myself.

That’s when I came around the curve and saw her, walking in the rain. She was soaked, wearing only the simple white wedding dress, a satin sheath, stained and soaked. She was barefoot, holding a shoe – just one – in her hand.

Was she crying? It was hard to tell. The rain was falling hard.

I rolled down the window. “Are you OK?” I asked.

She looked at me, not seeing me at first, her face a frightened mask. Then she focused. Saw me.

“I’m lost.” she said.

“Get in.”

Her name was Cynthia, she said. No, She didn’t want to go home. Could we go where there was some coffee? She was shivering, and in my car, without the rain, I could tell. She was crying.

Which is how we ended up at Mill Mountain Coffee.

I smiled at the people watching. Trying not to stare. Fascinated. A little frightened.

“I lost it.” she repeated.

“What happened?”

She looked up, a coquettish smile, shy and seductive at the same town, despite her disarray. “I was married once.” she said. “I was beautiful.”

I could see it. Beneath the wreckage. Yes, there was beauty.

“He made me beautiful. His love made me beautiful.”

I was in uncharted territory. Like the people in the coffee shop, I was fascinated and afraid. And I had no idea what to say.

“So you do have a story.”

“I had one. It was ours. It’s gone now.”

“Gone?”

Her voice switched to a little sing-song tone. “He doesn’t love me anymore. He took my story with him.” She cocked her head.  “Do you have a story?” she asked.

“We all have stories.”

“No!” She slapped her hands on the table. Coffee spilled. People stared. Her eyes were suddenly full of fire. “He took mine. He said he loved me. It was my love story. And it was a lie. He loved others. So many others. I was just…. convenient It was a lie. All of it. My precious love story. A lie.”

She slumped and sipped her coffee. Her eyes were somewhere else again. I wanted to cry.

Her story was mine, it seems. A life of love, then betrayal. Then, a long time of finding my way. It had been a long journey.

She leaned forward, her hands wrapped around her coffee cup, as if for warmth. “Do you have a story?” she asked.

“Suddenly…. I’m not sure.” I said.

We sat in silence a while. People came and went. We finished our coffee and I got us each a second cup. Her hair was dry now.

“We got married on Thanksgiving.” she said. I nodded, unsure what to say.

“He left me this morning.” I nodded again, lost now in my own thoughts.

Our second cups were finished. “Can I take you somewhere? “ I asked. It was getting late. They would close the shop soon.

She reached up and pulled her hair behind her ears. She took a napkin and wiped hard on her lips, removing the red lipstick. Underneath her lips were pink and full. Another napkin and her mascara was gone.

“Take me somewhere I can start a new story.” she said.

I stood up. Sure now that I was the mad one, not her. I held out my hand. “Come on. I’ll take you home.” I said.  “It’s a long drive.”

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