The kitchen was cold, cold as the light that leaked through the gathered clouds, cold as the conjugal bed. Keith shivered and scratched himself through his grey sweatpants.
The screen of the thermostat in the hall said 60. As he muttered a curse at whoever had turned it down so low he remembered it was himself, last night, drunk, frustrated, and hungry. He might have called Tanya an Ice Queen. In fact, he did. Lowering the thermostat had been an emphatic flourish. Really, she hated the cold. But she was the Ice Queen because last night she was prepared to sit and watch tiger documentaries on Netflix while he starved.
He had wept at her feet and she had dismissed him.
He was ashamed he had begged. That shame had led to his anger.
“Even a single hot pocket. Just microwave me one, please!”
She hadn’t looked up from the screen.
“Do it yourself.”
He screamed into the carpet. What had happened to his loving wife? How had three weeks of his constant presence and attention turned her so cruel?
“You know I never learned how to use the microwave!”
“Yeah, yeah, because your mother told you you’re sensitive to radiation.”
“Go away. I’m trying to watch this.”
His dinner had been a can of pineapple chunks. The last can in the pantry with a pull-ring on the top. The rest of the cans, the tuna, the beans, the Vienna sausages, would require a can opener. Did he look like an engineer? No, but Tanya did.
At least wine came in a box, and Tanya had opened the box. He had poured the juice from the can into his glass of wine. Sometime after that had come the shouting and the thermostat adjusting. Then he nearly chipped a tooth on a frozen hot pocket.
He pushed open the curtains above the kitchen sink. Their perky carrot motif made the sky they framed look grimmer. Like the weakest of denials, the final one before capitulation, they could not stop the grimness from flooding the kitchen and Keith.
At least he could make his own coffee. He had discovered the simple miracle of Nespresso machines at his friend Jasper’s house. Jasper’s wife had bought it for him. It had changed the man. Infused him with confidence, even superiority. He had been so cocksure as he showed off his selection of coffee pods and demonstrated the machine that Keith had been envious. When he discovered no radiation was involved in the coffee-making he had demanded that they, too, buy one. Back then, before the pandemic, when their love was still free and strong, before she became a chilly bitch, Tanya hadn’t even rolled her eyes at the idea, despite her devotion to her stovetop moka pot.
Now he had a neat stack, a tower, of those beautiful, narrow cardboard boxettes in the kitchen next to his sleek black and silver machine. As he shook boxette after boxette, he began to throw them to the floor as his frustration rose. They were empty. He had somehow run out, despite cutting back to eight cups a day. He crushed the boxettes under his feet. He needed coffee. The ache of caffeine deprivation and mild alcohol poisoning was starting to grow in his head. He had a novel to finish.
Maybe he could force some of Tanya’s loose ground coffee into the machine? No. It needed perfect factory-produced pods. Maybe he could chew on discarded pods, just to get through the morning? Tanya had taken the trash out last night.
Sitting between his Nespresso machine and the stove was Tanya’s jar of coffee. He flipped up the wire clasp and opened it. It smelled amazing. The moka pot was in pieces in the dish rack. It wasn’t allowed in the dishwasher. The dishwasher tablets would taint the flavour, she claimed.
His increasing headache was enough motivation to ignore the mild panic he felt while handling the pieces. He knew water had to go in the bottom part. That he could do, since Tanya had replaced the twisting faucets with a single magic arm. Then there was the coffee holding bit, like a funnel with a screen in it. He was halfway there. He spooned in some coffee. It made a little mound in the middle of the funnel. No. His head was pounding. He needed some serious caffeine. He spooned in more coffee until he had to press it down with the heel of his hand. Then he added more to fill the slight depression remaining then pressed it down again.
He was nearly reduced to tears by the final step. Things with screws and threads always defeated him. They were black magic crossed with a secret handshake. Tanya used to try and explain that clockwise and anti-clockwise business, but she might as well be explaining quantum physics and relativity to him, or east and west, or left and right.
Whimpering, panting, the base held against the counter with his left hand, the top in his right, he had closed his eyes and wiggled and twisted things at random. Suddenly they were stuck together. Something he had done with his right hand was working, so he kept his eyes closed and kept his hand moving until the parts seemed to meld together. He peeked out one eye. He had done it. Now he understood why people pumped their fists in the air. If only Tanya was here to see it. Maybe she would warm to him again.
He placed the pot on the left front circle etched into the black glass of the stovetop and eyed the controls. He stood back, because of possible radiation, and punched and twisted controls at arm’s length until red rings began to glow under the glass.
Another success, but it had been draining. He lifted a mug off one of the hooks under the cupboards and placed it next to the stove, then sat on a stool at the kitchen island and waited. The Nespresso was so much faster. He put his head down on the counter. The marble was icy against his forehead. It was soothing. He felt he might be able to doze like this, a little nap, just until the beeping that would signal his coffee was ready.
He woke up to the smell of burnt coffee. The base of the moka pot was glowing red, but it still hadn’t beeped.
“What are you doing?” shrieked Tanya from the doorway. Wasn’t it obvious?
“Making coffee,” he said. He was going to add “Do you want some?” when the top of the coffee maker embedded itself in the ceiling, blasted upwards by a column of high-pressure coffee. The shockwave blew Keith’s hair back and peppered his face with coffee grounds. His ears were ringing, but he could still hear the coffee dripping off the ceiling onto the counters and the floor.
His cup sat unharmed next to the stove. He walked over and picked it up. A shot of coffee, falling from the ceiling, had collected in the bottom. Success!
“Keith!” screamed Tanya. She looked like she had been in a dust storm and was wiping coffee grounds from her eyes.
He sipped the coffee. It was strong. Much stronger than he had ever made with the Nespresso. His headache vanished. His mood lifted. It was a complicated way to make coffee, but he felt he might be ready to make the shift.
“It’s pretty good,” he said to Tanya. “Want me to make you one?”