** SPOILERS **
A new version of this story is in the Grand Guignol live show. If you like your comedy and your horror to come with surprises, and you think you may come to the show, please don’t read this.
“This is good! This is really good!”
The new customer was starting to grate on Clive.
“Ethiopian, I think. You can tell from the hints of citrus. Ethiopian farmers plant tangerine trees alongside their coffee crop, and the flavours permeate the beans”.
The American spoke with one of those expansive accents, dragging each vowel out like a razor on a strop. The way he said ‘beans’ was particularly revolting, popping crema through his sandy-coloured moustache on the opening ‘b’, and letting the air hiss out at the end. Clive knew he should just let it go, give the man his petty, ignorant victory. But he could feel the heat bubbling within him, forcing the words up through his throat.
“Actually”, said Clive, “it’s local. Single origin.”
“No!” said the American, “you can’t grow coffee in Australia. The soil’s all wrong”.
“I promise, you can”.
“This is definitely Ethiopian. I’d stake my life on it”.
Clive sighed and went back to filling orders. It was a busy and particularly irritating day. The regulars were all on holiday, and as one of the few eateries open at this time of year, the cafe was full of tourists.
“Then the farmer is Ethiopian”.
Clive sighed again, and forced a smile.
“I promise you, this coffee has not been in, over, under or otherwise nearby an Ethiopian. It’s an Arabica bean, grown locally, by a local farmer”.
The American seemed happy with that, but hung around just the same, sipping short blacks and keeping an eye on Clive over the top of his newspaper. Seven times Clive asked him pointedly if he needed anything else, and seven times the American ordered another coffee. It was unnerving.
“I’m sorry”, said Clive, finally flipping a chair onto one of the tables, “It’s four o’clock and I have to close up”.
Unperturbed, the American beamed, showing two rows of yellowed teeth.
“Great! You can introduce me to this Australian coffee farmer. I’ll make it worth your while”.
“It’s at least an hour’s drive from here”.
The American stretched his arms across the back of the couch, as if to encompass the whole cafe.
“Son, I’ve come 8000 miles. Another hour is nothing to me. I’ll pay for petrol, I’ll pay you a thousand dollars for your time, and I’ll give you something to spice up that coffee menu”.
And that was that. It was a good 90 minutes to Katoomba, over windy highways and through toy box mountain villages. The American did not shut up the whole way, waxing lyrical about cream, and flavour wheels and the impoverished Australian coffee scene. Near as Clive could tell, he was some kind of wholesaler, looking for the next big score. But still the heat kept bubbling, up through Clive’s head and threatening to pour out his ears.
“You see, son, Australia has no coffee culture. Australia has lattes, on account of your dairy industry and all your Western Europeans. But real coffee is a man’s drink. It’s a pioneer’s drink, on the open range, over an open fire”.
“Bullshit”, thought Clive, though he kept this to himself.
The car turned turned into the driveway and came to rest with a puttering crunch.
“Here we are”, said Clive.
“And where’s the coffee farmer?”
“I’m the coffee farmer. The farm’s around back”.
As they rounded the weatherboard house, the American gasped and Clive felt a little better. The back garden was a jungle of flowering coffee and cocoa plants, untended and wild, green leaves and white flowers spilling over each other like a scrum of gumnut fairies, and every few metres, another stake with a picture and notes.
“Son, this is … extraordinary”
“The beans you drank are from back here”, said Clive, cutting through the garden, until they came to one of the younger bushes. He bent down and picked up the notes. Clive paused and looked abashed.
“I’m sorry”, he said. “You were right. This one was Ethiopian,” and turned the card around, revealing a photo of young African man, his lips blue and bloodied, with a nasty gash across the forehead.
The American’s lips puckered and pulled apart like a goldfish, and Clive caved in his skull with a trowel.
“Clive, this is delicious! Really, really good!”
Clive smiled. It felt good to have his regulars back in the shop. He found it calming. There was no bubbling heat, just a soothing, cool drip.
“What is this? Another Ethiopian?”
“No, Jill,” said Clive, “I call this blend Americano”.
© 2012 Dave Bloustien