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Thread: Colette's Coffee

  1. #1
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Colette's Coffee

    Colette’s Coffee
    by Steven Hunley

    “I can’t think of a proper title,” I said to Toby.

    He ruffled his blue feathers.

    “And you’re no help at all.”

    Toby was mute.

    “Great, the parrot won’t talk, I’ve got no title, and…” I said, shuffling through my houseboat pantry, “It looks like I’m out of coffee. What do you say about that, Toby?”

    No reply was expected, but then,

    “Colette’s,” he chirped with a bob of his head, “Colette’s!”

    “Toby, you may be bird-brained, but you’re a genius!”

    I looked out the window and saw serious fog.

    “It’s pea soup out there Toby, but my editor’s on my back. There are such things as deadlines, my fine feathered friend, in the world of humans who publish. But maybe you’ve saved the boat.”

    My rent was due, my houseboat had sprung a leak, and I needed money and needed it quick. Fog or no fog I would trek to Colette’s. It’s not that I’m afraid of Jack the Ripper or Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, you understand. San Francisco fog isn’t London fog, even I know that. But a girl doesn’t like to go out late at night alone, fog or no fog. Still, obligations are obligations, and rent was due on the wreck my landlord called a floating palace. I took my warmest pea coat out of the closet, put on my sailor’s hat, tucked in my hair, and was off. I’d do my best not to get lost.

    “Jeez, it’s thick out here,” was my first impression, “I can’t see my hand in front of my face.”

    The first steps were easy. A left turn, then a right. The fog stole in. Was it on little cat feet? Then a right turn, then straight. The fog hesitated, and then crept on as silent as a whisper. I made another left, then another. I was buttoning up my coat when something behind me crashed like a Chinese symbol. I spun around. It was only a stray cat, pawing through overturned garbage. When I turned back, I came to a conclusion I didn’t want to reach. I was lost.

    I continued to wander, and lost my sense of direction and time. All I could see were outlines and shadows. The throaty moan of foghorns was all I could hear. It could have been 1800, or 1900, or even 2000, I just couldn’t tell. I needed a calendar or a compass. Finally, when I was ready to sit down and cry, I noticed a pink glow ahead. It was the neon outline of a coffee cup!

    “Colette’s, here I come!”

    Colette’s is a small place run by a red-headed French woman. I wasn’t just going here in hopes her coffee would give me an idea for a title. The coffee wasn’t enough. Writers hung out here. You’d always catch at least one. If there were more, then they’d be swapping tales, complaining about editors, doing re-writes or proofing. They were literally a literal crowd. Another thing besides coffee drew them as well. Despite California law to the contrary, Colette would let you smoke in the back room. She got away with it because it was her private property, and technically not part of the restaurant. But it still faced San Francisco bay.

    Seagulls soared overhead, misty mornings and bright sunny afternoons hovered in between the light and dark. Sun-warped wooden planks fit snug beneath your feet. Splintered pilings were firmly wrapped with coils of thick brown rope, and fabulous Pacific sunsets exploded every evening into exquisite colors. Black clouds, etched with gold on their rims by the dying sun, resembled dark pirate sails flown on stolen Spanish galleons, or ships stowed with treasure for ballast by well-armed desperate men with tattoos. Brass ship’s bells rang out hours which never seemed to pass. This was where the best writers congregated for stimulation. I couldn’t blame them. It was magic, and therefore a good place for conjuring.

    Colette spotted me when I came in.

    “Who’s here tonight, Colette?”
    “Two I don’t know, but you I do, Ma Cherie.”

    She gave me two kisses, one on each cheek. You know how the French are.

    I walked back through the door and into the cozy room. Talking at a table were two men. I didn’t know either. One was sitting smoking a pipe. The other, just pacing. The room was small, making it easy to ear-hustle. Considering they were talking like good friends, they were an unlikely pair. The one pacing was a stick man, his white duck trousers rumpled, yet he wore a black velvet coat.

    “Gee,” I thought, “I haven’t seen anyone wear a velvet coat since Stevie Winwood was in Traffic.”

    The sitting man was stocky, well built, and wore a neat safari coat from Abercrombie and Fitch. Sitter wore a beard on his face. Stander had a drooping mustache on his upper lip. Stander was chain-smoking cigarettes, while Sitter smoked a pipe. You see what I mean. They were a pair, but like some socks in everyone’s drawer, an unmatched pair.

    I must have caught their attention because they welcomed me.

    “You’ll like it here kid, it’s a clean, well lighted place,” said Sitter.

    “Colette keeps me in quill pens and India ink, Madam,” said Stander, twisting his mustache into a liquorish whip, “and her coffee is superb.”

    “Thank you both, gentlemen, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it,” I answered, not telling them I’d been there before.

    I took a nearby table and fiddled with the buttons on my coat. My ear-pirate set sail the moment their conversation continued.

    “Bob, it’s like this. An old Cuban goes fishing but has no luck at first.”

    “The way you state the matter it sounds awfully weak, almost consumptive, one might say.”

    “You know me,” he observed, “I like to keep is simple.”

    Sitter relit his pipe. Stander, now pacing, stubbed out his butt, lit another cigarette, then Sitter took a silver flask from his back pocket and emptied a couple of fingers of something strong into his coffee. Stander took a puff of his cigarette and started coughing.

    “You gotta watch that stuff, it’ll kill ya.”

    “I’m not spitting blood quite yet, Papa. Yet I could say the same to you.”

    “A Scotsman telling me not to drink Irish coffee could only happen in Sausalito,” said Sitter taking a sip, and gave out a great laugh through his beard.

    “So what kind of a fish does he catch, your fisherman?” said Stander.

    “Well, I dunno yet, but it’s gotta be something big.”

    “How about a record breaking tuna. I like tuna.”

    “Naw, not enough class. I need a bigger battle, something more dangerous, more dramatic. I want him catching this fish to be real tough. A fight, like it’s some kind of duel or something.”

    “Duels are fought by dukes and princes with swords, Papa, not fish.”

    “I’ll make it a sword fish then, a fricken marlin.”

    “That sounds eminently suitable.”

    “Sounds good to me, too.”

    “At any rate, what is your intent for a proper title?”

    “How’s about something catchy, like maybe, Swordfish?”

    “That would be much too short. You need something longer, it’s not descriptive enough.”

    “Longer! With you, it’s always longer! Your sentences are too long, your titles too long. My God man, look at your tall skinny self,” he said looking up at him, “Even you’re too long.”

    “Being long is just my style. Your problem is, Papa, you’re too short. Your sentences irritate my sensitive soul with their extreme brevity. They’re too short, too simple, and in the end, I put it to you old man, much too declarative.”

    “Can it Slim. That’s my signature style. So what’s your newest one about?”

    “It’s about a boy who gets kidnapped by his own miserly uncle.”

    “Sounds weak Bob. Sounds mighty weak.”

    Circles of smoke swirled all about them and floated up to the ceiling.

    “Well, they wander all over the Scottish highlands in the rain, Papa, in the pouring rain!”

    “Do they go on a boat? I like it when they go on boats.”

    “Yes, as a matter of fact, they do, at times, go on a boat.”

    “Do they fish? I like it when they fish.”

    “Well I don’t think…”

    “Well, do they bullfight? I like it when they bullfight.”

    “No, they most definitely do not bullfight. The story occurs in the highlands of Scotland Papa, now really, how can I have them bullfight?”

    “Oh yeah, I forgot. So what are you gonna call it?”

    “I was thinking of using ' The Incredibly Marvelous Adventures of David Balfour’, or ‘While I was tramping about in the Dangerous Highlands of Scotland I was Kidnapped.’

    “Too long Bob. Much too long!”

    They were getting so loud that Colette had to step in.

    “Mes amis,” she announced, “You must place a bet. Let fate decide. I flip zee coin. Whoever wins decides the other’s title and he must make do with zat.”
    She pronounced it zat, you know how the French are.

    “However,” she continued, “if it lands on my side of zee coin, I choose.”

    Then I spoke out.
    “Since there are only two sides to a coin, let her. Besides, it’s her coin.”

    Colette looked at me and winked.

    “It’s a deal.” said Papa.

    “I would be more than happy to accede to the lady’s wishes,” Bob said, with a bow and flourish.

    Colette reached into her bosom and produced a twenty dollar gold piece and tossed it in the air.

    Someone called, “Heads,” but it didn’t matter who.

    Stevenson watched it turn summer-salts in mid-air. The golden glint from the coin reminded him of a peg-legged pirate’s treasure hidden on a sandy island.

    Hemingway watched it spinning. To him, the shine on its surface was the reflection of late afternoon sun hitting a bullfighter’s sword in the ring at Pamplona.

    It flipped and flipped and flipped. It flew up to the rafters then down to the wooden floor. But when it hit, it bounced, landed on its edge, rolled a bit, then became wedged in a crack and stood firmly edge up, on its side.

    Although the two were ill-matched as a pair they were twins finally in one thing, they now both had eyes the size of the orbit of Jupiter, not saucers.

    ‘Voila!” Colette squealed, “I shall have my way! You Monsieur, will choose his title, and you monsieur, his!”

    It was then that both of them, being men of the world, knew they’d been bested.

    “O.K. Bob,” Sitter said. “What’s it gonna be?”

    “Make it, The Old Man and the Sea, since that is what it’s primarily about.”

    But that’s the longest title I’ve ever used!’’ he whined. “It’ll never sell!”

    “You have only to try, Papa, so try.”

    “Now, how about you?” said Colette to Sitter. “It is your turn to decide.”

    “You make it Kidnapped, Bob, just plain, Kidnapped, that’s all.”

    “But that will be my shortest title yet,” he sobbed, as tears ran down his mustache. “Will my readers know it’s me?”

    “That’s for you to find out, Bob.”

    My coffee was finished. I pushed the cup away and slid out of the chair and grabbed my coat and turned to Bob.

    “I’m taking my leave Bob, thank you ever so much.”

    “I was a pleasure to meet so charming a girl, but if you must leave, fair lady, Adieu.”

    Then I turned to Papa.

    “See ya’ Pops. I’m outa here.”

    “See ya kid.”

    “But,” said Colette. “Don’t you need a title too?”

    “I’m fine now,” I sang. “I’ve finally got it.”

    “What’s that, Ma Cherie?”

    “Why, Colette’s’ Coffee, what else?”

    ©Steven Hunley 2012

    Wiki says this of Colette:

    She was a member of the Belgian Royal Academy (1935), president of the Académie Goncourt (1949) (and the first woman to be admitted into it, in 1945), and a Chevalier (1920) and a Grand Officier (1953) of the Légion d'honneur.

    During the German occupation of France during World War II, she aided her Jewish friends, including hiding her husband in her attic all through the war. When she died in Paris on 3 August 1954, she was the first woman given a state funeral in France, although she was refused Roman Catholic rites because of her divorces. Colette is interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

    Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash paid tribute to the writer in the song, "The Summer I Read Colette", on her 1996 album 10 Song Demo.
    Truman Capote wrote a short story about her (1970) called "The White Rose

    Author's note: I read in Stevenson's bio. he read Colette and it gave me an idea.

  2. #2
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    In addition to infusing your work with show biz and pop culture allusions, such as the Steve Winwood line, (which I loved!), this piece also includes two literary giants conversing over a cup of coffee at Collette's, which doubles as a literary salon, like Gertrude and Alice's living room in Paris in the 1920s, or the eponymous restaurant in New York City, Elaine's, which was a gathering place for literary figures until the proprietress passed away. The informational footnotes about the French author(ess) are appreciated, although I have heard of her. I only wonder why she had to resort to opening up a coffee shop -- had the cheques de royaltié dried up?

    I also noticed that you are once again using a nautical theme (as in your delightful sailor trilogy) and that you are "stretching" so to speak, by employing a female point of view, the writer-narrator in search of a title. The talking and "thinking" parrot is a nice touch, a little magic realism, as well as the idea that Hemingway(1899-1961) and Stevenson (1850-1894) could co-exist in time as contemporaries. All these elements add up to "post modern" -- and this is a good example of the contemporary literary style.

    Just a couple more comments:
    1. If you have time, plug "Dwight MacDonald" and "Masscult and Midcult" into
    the Google machine. I believe you can download that seminal essay in a pdf file. Read what he says (said) about The Old Man and the Sea.

    2. There's one sentence I wonder if you would consider revising:
    They were literally a literal crowd.
    to: "They were literally a literary crowd.

    Once again, Steven,your work seldom fails to surprise and delight me.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 01-15-2013 at 06:33 PM.

  3. #3
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Can I post this again? After all, it's been over six years.

  4. #4
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Can I post this again? Can I? After all, it's only been six years. SIX YEARS!!!????

  5. #5
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Can I post this again? After all, it's been over six years. SIX YEARS!!??

  6. #6
    Registered User DATo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Hunley View Post
    Can I post this again? After all, it's been over six years. SIX YEARS!!??
    I'm glad you reposted it. I missed it the first time around. Really enjoyed it! I did something similar with a story called Lonely People which I posted here some time ago.

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