He didn’t believe his cravings for caffeine were going to get him out bed ever again. That was until the smell of finely roasted coffee beans wafted through his window from the café one floor below. His addiction was equivalent to a smoker’s craving for cigarettes and he was addicted to both.
“Dammit”, he thought, slamming his hand hard against the wall. He continued to lie silently in bed, looking towards the ceiling, both arms now rigid by his side. He laughed pitifully at himself, then turning his head to the right, saw the remains of the night before - books off their shelves, his work scattered like a fanned deck of cards across the stained wooden floor boards; half-finished coffee cups and bent, yellow butts everywhere. The room reeked of stale smoke. He closed his eyes in an attempt to escape. Who was he kidding? Of course this happened again. And like it was a chore, he got out of bed with even less enthusiasm than the day before; and the day before that.
Scurrying around his room for some trousers and any sort of shirt, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and flinched. ”Oh God”. Grabbing his hairbrush, he worked desperately to comb his hair down, but the bristles quickly snared within the tangles of his hair. No wax, nor any other kind of hair product to be found, he licked the palm of his hand, and aggressively slapped down his hair. He continued doing so for a while. The excessive slapping, soon with both hands, resembled something closer to self-harm than hair maintenance. He turned back towards the mirror, expecting to see something more to his liking, or even someone completely different. “Uggggggggghh”. Grabbing his mirror violently, he slammed it against the wall, slicing his hands slightly. “Fuck it!” he yelled, grabbing his wallet, keys and bag, he stormed out of his apartment wearing slippers for shoes.
His addiction to coffee was the result of living one floor above a café and the waitress who worked there, Peta. She seemed about seven years younger than him, but that was only because he held the characteristics and cynicism of an old man at the early age of twenty-three. There was definitely something about her that drew him to her. She had dark hair cut into a bob, and a figure that he thought was out of this world. But above all, what drew him to her was that he was lonely and she liked to talk to him.
“Harry! What are we having today?”
“A blueberry muffin, butter on the side and a long black for the coffee”.
“Sure thing.” Her eyes at that moment grew large, drawn to the book he had left open on the table. “I see you’re reading more of the classics. I loved Fitzgerald! I named my goldfish after his wife. I’m reading Huckleberry now.”
She noticed. In an awkward bitter tone, that can only be recognised as jealousy, he replied, “Yes, yes. He’s brilliant.” But then, having noticed her eyes were distracted to the still raw cuts on his hands, he asked the name of her fish. “Zelda.” She replied and walked away. So damn lovely.
He sat there in silence, slicing his muffin with practiced precision, sipping at his coffee after every bite, and occasionally looking up to see Peta smiling or singing to the radio. At 11.45 she routinely took her brief lunch break, and like clockwork she threw her apron on the bench, came and sat at his table outside, pulled a cigarette out of his deck, and lit it.
“You know what your problem is? You’re the definition of an artist.”
“What does that mean”, well aware of what she meant.
“You’re so damn temperamental. Erratic, even.”
“Thats a new one.”
She smiled and took another drag from his cigarette. She was right though.
Arriving home, Harry dropped all his purchases on the kitchen bench. He put away the milk and large tin of coffee into his fridge. Cupboards in his kitchen had become storage for his incomplete works; he refused to buy furniture when he already had unused storage space. He wasn’t much of a cook, in fact, he didn’t see himself as much of anything. He placed his new mirror against the wall on the ground and his new book purchase on his shelf. Then, carefully lifting a small plastic bag filled with water, he spilled its contents into a large glass bowl that he had found under his kitchen sink and waited, staring at the bowl in anticipation.
It was there, motionless just beneath the surface - a small, orange figure that seemed paused in time. He walked away in frustration, unwilling to face yet another failure of his. I can’t even keep a God damn fish alive! But, as though at that thought, the little fish began to swim down. Suddenly ecstatic, Harry opened his bag to find the accessories he had bought for his fishes’ new home. He became a zealous interior decorator for the next half an hour, placing various pieces of mini furniture into the bowl for his new companion. “Scott, welcome to your new home. May this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, quoting Casablanca. The fish continued to swim.
Harry slumped into his favourite couch as though a small world of tension had lifted. He took a cigarette out in celebration, overjoyed that he hadn’t lost his fish’s life that day. However, Harry’s smile began to rapidly dissipate as he caught himself looking around. His fingers began to tap against the arm of his one-seater couch and then his foot against the ground. Mugs, papers, books, discarded cigarette packets and butts, every genre of clutter and mess he felt were possible. His apartment looked like it had experienced the blow of an anxiety attack, and now Scott was here to judge him. Harry sprung out of his chair, “I am so sorry about the mess, Scott!” His face now contorted – clearly uncomfortable and somewhat ashamed - Harry began to tidy. All cigarette butts and ash were swept up, his papers were sorted and mugs of coffee were thrown out or cleaned, and all coffee rings and spills were wiped away. “I am so sorry. I’ve been so busy with this new book, I had no idea it’d got this bad.” Silence followed his words. “Yeah, I know, but its best that I clean up anyway.”
Having settled down from his cleaning frenzy, Harry gripped his new book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, keen to read to Scott. With an unsteady, hesitant tone, he began his rambling narration. “This is good, Scott, this is real good”. Getting quite worked up, Harry began skipping pages ahead, quoting the book, “If you tell the truth you do not need a good memory!” Silence trailed his words whilst every line sunk in. Why does God hate me? “Women are the devil, Scott! The devil!… they say they want poetry and romance but all they really want is someone successful and RICH! I bet Mark Twain was a fucking millionaire!” So damn typical.
Several hours had passed and half a dozen unfinished cups of coffee once again littered various surfaces. Harry’s restless movements through the night could be effortlessly traced by the trails he had left behind; the coffee spills, the mugs on the kitchen bench, in the bathroom, on his bedside table, and the cigarette butts accompanying each cup. “If she loves Twain she can fucking have him!”, he yelled breaking his hour’s silence. His night had become a haze of outlandish statements and irrationally drawn conclusions. And with that last statement, no alcohol in his system but unhealthy amounts of caffeine and nicotine, Harry built the courage to pull out his laptop to try and vent about his frustrations. “That’s what you do with women, Scott! You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature - quoting Henry Miller - “And so I’ll do the latter.” Yet, although Harry had his laptop there, out in the open, ready for use, he couldn’t bare to look at it for long. He was like a child struggling to make eye contact with an intimidating stranger. Now trembling, and with those slight trembles he began to pace back and forth, to distract him from his weak knees.
“Fidelity… women are like, no! Uh. The truth is found within the…”. Harry had discarded his laptop, opting for the traditional pen and paper. Oh my lord I will never amount to anything. But with every thought, every attempt to capture just one phrase of substance, Harry felt the weight of failure building. It was a fear that struck him at an early age, and had plagued him since the day he decided he loved words. His pen began to feel heavy as it began to burn hot in his hand. “I’ve had enough!” Harry swept the papers off his desk with his right arm like a broom, and then grabbing its hinges, he flipped the bulk of wood over. At that moment, he saw his bookshelf in the corner of his eye, and stormed across the room, pulling each book of the shelf as if in a silent protest.
Harry, exhausted by his reckless war path, lit his last cigarette and fell, defeated, onto his bed. Taking its last drag, and as if he had been fighting sleep this whole time, Harry began to decide what he would have for breakfast in the morning, passing out as he mumbled his order.