issue thirteen

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(4350 words)
Endless Cup
[Updated monthly on the full moon]
Emily Ross
Just before saying goodbye, Jacob went over to the window and said, "Miranda, come look." When I stood beside him, I saw something, not out the window, but inside of me, inside of him. It can never be described, but I'll try because when something like that happens, you have to try.  I saw flowers but they were also words. They told a story that flowed from the beginning of time to the end. And I was there, carried on a river of petals. I experienced the history of mankind, and at the same time of myself, and I knew that I was infinite, that we all were. The words were a song made of love. To hear it, to feel it, was to know in a way I've never known before. When the song ended I looked at Jacob. He told me it was time for him to go.

The world opens and a door closes. After he left, I fell into darkness. I came to doubt everything I knew, including the Bible. I thought, how about that Mary Magdalene? She falls in love with Jesus and he leaves her to save the world. Some excuse.

Since then, I think about what happened all the time. It intermingles with my daily life, especially when I'm working at the Magic Kettle. To the casual observer the Magic Kettle might just be a restaurant that specializes in breakfast all day long, but to me it's the archetypal center of being. I am standing in my red uniform with a plastic name tag that says Miranda on the pocket, and my two feet are planted right on the very heart of the world. Flat plane, four walls, up down, over under, all relative terms when you are spinning through space and any commercial establishment can be reduced to its raw geometric dimensions. I love being a waitress. It calms me. I serve. With a smile.

Jacob isn't around anymore, but that doesn't alter the fact that he changed my life. 

       Ellen's talking to Ron again, asking what he's doing when he gets off work. Her wavy blond hair is pulled up in a high ponytail. It's been two years since we graduated from high school and we're still friends. She got me this job. She said that after Jacob, I needed to get in touch with the real world. People at the tables are giving her the evil eye, but she just stands there, still talking to Ron.

I'm not sure what the big deal about Ron is. Ellen sees him as prince charming just because he wears ironed shirts and he's the manager, but he's nothing like the long-haired hippies we used to swoon over in high school. He has his act together. I try not to hold that against him. After all, the sixties are over. It's only been a couple of years, but for me it's like they are sealed away behind a black mirror that I can't step through, a line I can't cross.

I'm giving this couple their coffee (from the never ending pot) when Ellen taps me on the shoulder and says, "Drinks after?"

I hesitate and she says, "Ron might come."


"But don't you think he's cute?"

"Does this mean that things with Gary are over?" 

She smiles. "Of course not, I was thinking about you."

"Ok, I'll go." I feign indifference, but I actually do have a little crush on Ron. He has deep brown Mediterranean eyes and a sweet soft look like he wouldn't know how to be mean to a girl, but there is nothing urgent about my feelings. The movie marquee in my brain still flashes, Now Appearing: Jacob - One and Only True Love. Ron will never be my true love, though he might be fun. And even though he pays some attention to me, he also acts like he likes Ellen and that's OK. She can have him if she wants him. Even I can tell he's a vast improvement over Gary.

Gary plays heavy metal, so Ellen loves heavy metal. He's an animal rights activist so she threw away her rabbit fur coat. They're both vegetarians, of course. Kindness to animals is Gary's mantra. Kindness to women is not. Ironically she feels sorry for me. Even though she's always saying how amazing it is that I get along so well alone, I can hear the condescension in her voice. She thinks that I must be insanely jealous of her entire existence. I used to be, until I met Jacob.

As Ellen turns to go, the cup I am filling overflows. Coffee spills into the saucer. I quickly tip up the pot, smile, and say, "Sorry, but your cup runneth over."

The guy at the table frowns. "You should have been paying attention. Aren't you ever going to take our order?"

I pause to let them know that no one is entitled to my undivided attention. That was reserved for Jacob and he is gone. Then I write down their order, after having first made sure they don't want the Patti Melt International. According to Ron, no matter how silly it sounds, we must ask that first.

When I walk away, I can feel the guy's gaze on my back. I'm very sensitive to vibes. Jacob was psychic. He told me that I could do what he did if I concentrated. I wondered what he meant by concentrating. Should I just shut my eyes real tight and wait for the insights? Did he have X-ray vision like superman? Would I be getting special powers? Did I even want them?

I met him in a café the summer after I graduated from high school. He was sitting at the back reading Tarot cards. Ellen was the one who pushed me forward and made me get a reading. I was nervous but from the moment he touched my hand, a feeling of lightness went right through me and I could feel the soft blue, almost like flower petals around the velvet darkness of my pupils.

He knew I was an artist, and that I'd had meningitis when I was fifteen. I mean he even got my age right. And he knew that my father was dead. As he spoke, for just an instant something like a cool silk scarf brushed my face and once again I could see the snow falling on my father's shiny wooden casket. I looked up at Jacob after he said this and in his eyes I saw the same electric darkness I felt in mine. It was the darkest violet, like a strange wine. He said, "We are a lot alike. You could do what I do." I was so amazed that when he asked for my phone number, I gave it without even worrying that he was a stranger. Putting the folded piece of paper in his hand made me feel lighter than air, like I was part of the outer universe. And it was very quiet.

After he read my Tarot cards, that light airy feeling stayed inside of me. I could summon it at will and when I did my mind would open up and it was like my thoughts were rushing toward the stars. I came to believe that it was my destiny to become like him and imagined that we would share a life, cooking, talking, love, and that he would become my teacher. But none of that happened and now I'm not so sure about my destiny. One thing I do know is that it's probably not refilling the Endless Cup at the Magic Kettle.

       I hang around waiting on tables till eight o'clock. Then we close up. It's a slow night as usual. People don't come to the Magic Kettle much after dark unless the lines are too long somewhere else. It's rarely their first choice. But then it wasn't my first choice to be working here. Ellen sees her choices dangling in front of her like sugar plums on a sugar plum tree. She thinks she might become a famous model, or get some rich business man to be her sugar daddy. She says that she once served a martini to Frank Perdue, the chicken guy, and she is about one hundred percent certain that he liked her.

Ron watches as I clean the coffee maker. I turn to him. "Are you worried that I'm gonna screw it up?"

A smile crosses his face. "I just like watching you. You're so efficient." His unwavering gaze makes me uncomfortable and happy at the same time. With Jacob I always felt he was looking beyond me, through me, over me, under me, away from me, but never really at me. It was like he was afraid of seeing how much I loved him. Just thinking about this makes me sick as I stack the washed white mugs. They fit neatly into each other, forming a tower that won't fall. It's satisfying to know that everything is ready for the morning when a never-ending line of people will come to get their never-ending cup. 

Ellen comes out of the Ladies room with her red apron over one arm. Her hair is brushed back so tight that little blond hairs spring around her forehead. There is fresh pink lipstick on her lips.

"Hot date tonight?" Ron says to her, making me a little jealous. When he sees my frown, he gives me a friendly shove and says, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do." For some reason I amuse him, which is odd because I'm a pretty miserable person when it comes right down to it.

Ellen says, "Come on, Little." This nickname is her way of keeping me in my place. She thinks of me as nice little Miranda who's been screwed over by falling for the wrong guy. She has two criteria for judging men. If they're in a rock group, like Gary, then they are past all judgment. Otherwise she judges them by their earning power.

Ron looks up as we leave and says, "Have a nice time, girls. I'll probably come by after I lock up."

"He has the most sensuous eyes, don't you think?" Ellen says when we are outside. I'm puzzled as to why she is talking so much about Ron lately. He can't possibly meet her definition of cool. Though he's only a little older than we are, I can tell that he was probably one of those kids who joined the stamp club or the Latin club in high school and completely missed the Sixties. And he's not rich either. I used to care about stuff like that but I don't anymore. As the wind whips silver grains of snow in my face, I think about how after I met Jacob, I was certain that there would never be anyone else in my life. But now I can still feel Ron's gaze lingering on me, like maple syrup falling on the snow, soon to congeal into candy. Perhaps my perfect devotion is failing the test.

I used to be religious. I kept a figurine of the blessed Virgin on my dresser. When I had meningitis, my Mom prayed to her. She woke at dawn to see lilac petals scattered round her porcelain feet and she knew I would get better. When I got home from the hospital my mother gave her to me. She told me that she would answer my prayers, as long as I wasn't too greedy. On the night that my father had his heart attack, I stared at the figurine's white porcelain face and said, "Please save him. This isn't too much to ask." Sometime in the middle of the night, in the middle of a dream maybe, I saw her covered with lilac petals. One was even balanced on her bowed head. I was certain that he was going to live. But the next morning the petals were gone and we got the call from the hospital that he was dead. I wondered what the point was of lilac petals that meant nothing. But my mother told me that the lilac petals were a miracle, a sign that his death was meant to be.

       When Ellen and I get into her red Escort, I scrunch up in the seat and try to concentrate on Jacob. Lately it's been hard to picture him against the movie screen of my shut eyes. His image used to come softly like someone slipping out of shadows, but now there's nothing. I hope I'm not forgetting him. We drive to a place called Charlies on the other side of the street from the mall. As we pull into the parking lot, the cars are all lightly dusted with snow.

"Isn't it great to be out of the mall," Ellen says, locking her Escort. I agree, though we've only gone across the street. After Jacob left me, I used to wander around the mall for hours. I always made up a reason for being there like needing make-up or batteries, but what I really needed was just to see other people, to brush up against their normal lives.

The green front door of Charlies has a stained glass panel, like a church. Jacob wasn't into churches. He told me that if you make a place for God within yourself, he will come. He said if you wait, God will strew flowers on your inner altar.

A few weeks after he read my Tarot cards he came to visit me. I was living with my mother in a little house, all she could afford after my father died. I was embarrassed by the peeling wallpaper and the scuffed pine floors, but Jacob didn't seem to notice. He set himself down on our worn plaid couch and played with a coaster with a picture of the Eifel tower on it, while I poured out my life story. He was very quiet. He followed me to my room so I could show him some drawings I'd done in red Conté crayon. They were life drawings, nudes. He nodded and said they were nice even if they were naked. Then I showed him the figurine of the blessed virgin on my dresser. As I told him about the lilac petals, he held her on his palm and turned her round and round.

My Mom made us omelets and even offered him a glass of wine but he said he didn't drink. He told me almost nothing about himself. Didn't tell me where he came from, or where he went to school. He did say something about thought-traveling at the speed of light. I didn't ask what he meant by that because I got the sense he assumed I understood. After he left I realized I hadn't even found out his last name.

       Charlies is crowded but Ellen and I find a table near the back. She orders a banana daiquiri. I get a strawberry one, and clasp my hands around the tall tulip-shaped glass. My fingernails are painted rose madder, a deep pinkish red that is almost too intense. I use it in my pictures a lot though it's not a great color for painters because it's fugitive. It fades. All around us people are laughing, talking, dancing. There is a sense of rising gaiety. I feel that electric blackness in the pupils of my eyes that I felt when Jacob read my cards. I wonder if this feeling is the beginning of being able to read minds.

Anne Murray sings "Snowbird" on the jukebox. Ellen sips her daiquiri and says, "I like her."

I say, "I thought you and Gary only liked heavy metal."

"That's him. This is me."

I say, "Let me see your rings."

She holds out her hands. "Here's my sapphire," she says pointing to a gold band set with sapphires like tiny blue stars. She rolls her eyes when I ask if that's her engagement ring and says, "Miranda, you don't understand the essentials of romance. I've told Gary, if he doesn't give me at least two carats, he's not to even mention the word engagement." I nod, noting the faint bluish bruise beneath her eye that the makeup doesn't quite cover.

"Why don't you find someone else," she says looking straight at me.

I shrug. "Why don't you?"

"How can you even ask me that?" She pushes her golden hair away from her face and adds, "Remember when Gary and I tripped together and set helium balloons free into the sky?"

"I do."

She pauses. "That was the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me. We saw our past lives, and that we'd been in love before. How can I doubt that? You have to hold on to the beautiful things, right?"

Of course what she hadn't seen was his closed fist, but I'm not about to mention that. I say, "It was like that with Jacob. That's why I hold on to him."

She frowns, "But you're not with Jacob. There's nothing real for you to hold on to."

"You don't know what you're talking about. He's the most real thing that ever happened to me," I say, though I can tell by the look on her face that she doesn't want to hear this. I've told her too many times already.  

She drains the last of her daiquiri and replies, "Tell me really - why don't you find someone else?"

I turn my glass round, and stare at my red drink as I say, "Because the sex was good, the best. Jacob said it was transcendental." Actually Jacob never said that and we never had sex. We didn't even touch except when he took my hand in his when he read my cards. But I know that Ellen will never believe I could be so hung up on someone I never even had sex with, so I just put it out there. And I like to think I know what the sex would have been like:

We have dinner. He is a vegetarian so he makes miso soup, brown rice with sea salt. We share a Greek wine called restina. Though he doesn't drink he makes an exception for this occasion. The wine is a faint red gold color and tastes of sweet wood. It makes me feel as if I have always lived and will always be living. As I sip it he slips his arm around my shoulder and before I know it, his lips are on my ear. He whispers in an ancient language. We share slow teasing kisses and hold each other tight. I don't want to let go, but we step back from each other. A golden chrism drops between us. We are anointed with dew. He leans me back on his bed, touches me softly. A thousand bells go off inside of me. After we make love, I stare at his pale arm flung on the pillow, the dark curls in the hollow of his armpit. Everything about him is so inevitable, it's impossible to believe that this never happened.

Ellen smirks, "If the sex is good, dear, men don't leave."

"Thank you for those words of wisdom," I glare at her. Just then Ron walks right up to us, his jacket over one shoulder, shirt open at the neck, his cheeks stained a deep pink from the cold.

"Hey ladies, mind if I join you?" He sits down in an empty seat opposite Ellen. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything," he adds.

She leans across the table, "We were just talking about sex and Miranda's ex."

He smiles. "Don't let me stop you." The waitress comes by and he orders a beer.

"I don't need to tell you that Gary is an absolute animal," Ellen says. "What I feel just doesn't count."

"That's too bad," Ron says. "I mean that he doesn't care what you feel."

"The only one with a perfect sex life is Little here and that's over. Did you know that she was in love with the reincarnation of Jesus Christ?" Ellen says as she points at me and tosses her head back.

"Really? That must have been quite challenging." Ron turns to me.

"He was the most powerful person I ever met. He was psychic." I say, hating the way Ellen takes the things I care most about and makes them sound stupid. She gets up, and goes over to the juke box. Ron calls out to her to play something upbeat. Soon she will have him dancing. She's a great dancer.

Ron leans toward me, "I'm not sure I believe in any of that psychic stuff but I try to keep an open mind." His eyes are a warm shade of brown, something between burnt umber and sienna.

"I didn't choose to believe in it. I have to. I can't deny what I've seen." My voice trails off. Each time I talk about this some of the magic is rubbed away. I worry that soon there will be nothing left.

Ron is about to reply when Ellen taps him on the shoulder and says, "Dance with me." They start dancing to "Laylah." They move so well to the music. I always try too hard and end up missing the beat.

       I only saw Jacob three times, the time when he read my cards, the time when he visited, and that last time. They say the third time is a charm but in my case it was an end.

After he visited, I waited for him to call again. He finally did a few weeks later to tell me that he was moving. His words knocked the wind out of me. I stared at the phone. I knew he would hang up and that would be it, so I pushed myself forward through the silken layers of my reticence and asked if I could come to say goodbye. He said OK. I'd never seen his apartment before. I remember walking down a street lined by red brick buildings. A light snow was falling. It was twilight. I hoped he'd ask me to come with him. At the very least that he'd give me his address so I could visit.

His apartment was almost empty. There were no photos, no empty pizza cartons, no dirty socks on the bare floor, no books, no favorite magazines, no aftershave or cologne, no candy wrappers, no unpaid bills, no postcards from friends left around just to let me know he had them. There was nothing that gave the slightest clue as to who he was, except some closed cardboard boxes and a cot with the sheets stripped off. I stood there, sensing my chances slipping away, and that was when he asked me to come over to the window, and I saw what I saw. I have to believe he saw it too, though I never asked him and he never told me that he did.

Since that time, in my mind, I hear him say the things he never had a chance to say to me. I hear him say, The more real things become for you, the more you will realize they are infinite. I hear him say, I love you Miranda. But I still can't understand why he left me here to figure this all out alone.

       Ellen and Ron sit back down, winded. He puts his hand over mine. A surprising warmth floods through me. His face is flushed. He leans forward. I can't get over how soft his lips are. It's strange, I'm in love with Jacob, but this is the first time that just looking at a guy's mouth  makes me want to kiss him. I close my hand into a tight fist. 

Ellen stands up. "Gotta tinkle," she says and sashays off.

"What are you holding on to?" Ron asks. He playfully uncloses my fingers. "Abracadabra, nothing," he says and I frown. He strokes my nails. "That's the reddest red I've ever seen."

"It's rose madder."

He smiles. "Hope you're not mad at me."

"Why should I be?"

"You seem like you're mad at someone."

I'm surprised that he can see this. "Maybe, but it's not you."

"Great," he says, seeming relieved.

Our eyes meet for a moment and then we each look away. I want to tell him that I've been to the beginning of time, that I know what that feels like, but that even more than that - and this is so hard to admit - I want the chance to begin again. I think, infinite table top, infinite salt and pepper shakers, infinite Ron and infinite me. We are all here in the moment. But these are just words. I pick up the salt shaker, a rooster with black shiny eyes and feathers that are ripples in porcelain. As I tip him over, salt runs out.

"Sleeping, Little?" Ellen says, jostling the table as she sits back down.

I glare at her. "My name is Miranda."

"Oh excuse me, a little touchy aren't we?" She gets all flustered and starts fiddling with her hair, so I tell her I didn't mean anything by that.

Ron stands in front of me and says, "Wanna dance?" I hesitate and he adds, "Come on. Come down off your astral plane."

Ellen swings her legs to one side. I squeeze by. It's a slow song. Ron slips his arm around my waist. I shut my eyes so that I can feel the music inside of me, and in that inner darkness I see another vision. It comes through faintly at first and then clearer, a little house, children, scatter rugs, my collection of mismatched china that will never be complete, curtains swaying in the breeze, windows that frame the sky, and Jacob far away on a lilac cloud, maybe forgetting about me though I will always remember him. All of it is in my head, like a tightly folded paper flower waiting to spring into being.


M  C  R

This work is copyrighted by the author, Emily Ross. All rights reserved.