Written as a writing exercise, in response to the prompt: “Write your morning” (from a time when I was working with the Postal Service and was indeed “dragging my butt into work at 3 a.m.”). The allusion is to A. E. Housman’s “Terence, this is stupid stuff” in his A Shropshire Lad.
Is there life before coffee? My morning started with coffee. Or rather, it started with a loud, rude alarm. Some dainty, polite alarm would never have worked. It was quarter to two in the a.m., for God’s sake.
After the daily miracle of making it downstairs without breaking my neck, the first priority was—yes, coffee. Blessed coffee!
But even in squinch-eyed stumbling semi-conscious coma, no way would there be instant. Or even pre-ground. Bean. Bean, boy, bean’s the stuff to drink, to open eye and kick-start think. (Apologies to Housman!) I measured the water into the kettle, measured the coffee beans into the grinder (more than once dumping the water into the grinder—wonder I wasn’t electrocuted!), ground—the buzzing whine my real alarm call of the day—the beans, dumped into cone lined with paper filter, gurgled in the boiled water. Then—the bliss of the brewing coffee’s rising scent, the tantalizing drip of bitter brew in cup—come on, dammit, drip!—and then, the finished cup. A quick splash of heavy cream—forget half-and-half—and the soothing tan nectar was coating tongue, cascading throat, warming stomach, infusing blood. Ah! The day begins. Now I could do what God never intended: Drag my butt into work at 3 a.m.!
That was the routine. But this morning was a little different. The night before we had been to Joan’s for dinner. We had provided the entree—a leg of kid, raised, slaughtered, and cooked on our place, offered up as a celebration of Ed’s birthday. A great birthday bash, though unfortunately a night before one of those ungodly work mornings for me, when I still had to show up at 3 a.m. to sort mail one torturous letter at a time, fighting to maintain a semblance of consciousness.
Anyway, when we had returned from the birthday dinner we had brought home the cutting board, which we inelegantly left sitting on the kitchen counter as we stumbled off to bed. Now here was the cutting board, redolent of roasted kid goat, which I noticed as the caffeine kicked in and I began to focus. There was a sliver of meat on the board. I looked at the meat. An idea coalesced like dew in the fog of my mind.
Alfie the Dog, I knew, was upstairs on our bed, snuggled up next to Ellen, adrift on the delicious sea of sleep now denied me. He never came downstairs while I stumbled into my day’s routine. Never, ever. Indeed, his usual pattern was to lie abed long after Ellen herself arose; and then, like the lord of the manor, to take his leisurely stroll downstairs and into his daily doggie routine. Ah, but on the other hand: Alfie was a pig for treats. If there was a chance of a treat in the offing, he was instantly on high alert, too-big ears perked, nose quivering.
I picked up the sliver of meat, placed it in Alfie’s treat bowl—the Sacred Blue Bowl. In absolute silence I bent over and placed the bowl on the floor; then straightened, listened.
Four paws hit the floor; then the snick-snick of toenails on stair treads as Alfie scampered down the stairs. He was already aimed toward the Sacred Bowl as he entered the kitchen. He snapped up the piece of kid, swallowed, turned, then—at the door—looked over his shoulder as if to say, “Anything more?” Then he was back up the stairway and onto the bed.
Now I know a dog’s smell is keener than ours—what, by a factor of a hundred?—and their hearing is also keen. But I also know that I made no sound whatsoever as I leaned over to place the bowl—certainly far less sound than I was throwing off creating my morning miracle drug. And the scent of the meat had been in the kitchen all night. Besides, there were three walls and a stairway serving as baffles to any wafting of the scent.
Nope, think what you will, there is no doubt about it: That dog read my mind!