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Single Origin

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** 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.

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“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

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Boxing Day

Oh, okay. One more. It’s a peculiarly positive Christmas this year, so let’s see if I can’t ruin it.

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None of the grown-ups seemed to know why it was called Boxing Day, but here was Dani on the day after Christmas at half-past five in the morning. And here, under the tree, was an extra box. It was done up in cream paper with a green ribbon and a small card that simply said “To Dani: for being so nice”.

And Dani had been nice. Dani had been good all year, she was sure of it. She’d kept her room tidy, eaten all her vegetables, and never yelled. Not once. Not even when Old Connie Bryce’s yappy dog made her drop her favourite book in the mud. Or when Old Connie Bryce’s yappy dog picked up that book and shook it in his hateful little teeth until the pages were all torn. She’d gripped that yell in her lips, bent it into a smile, and told Connie Bryce that it was okay. That she wasn’t mad or upset, and that she liked dogs, and that’s just how yappy dogs behaved. Then later that night, Dani stole back across the fence and sliced off his ears with a pizza-cutter. Because that’s how cranky girls behaved when your mean yappy dog rips up their book in the mud.

She’d written out a list and stuck it to the fridge for Santa: one Butterflicious ConformoPet (machine-washable), the latest Angelica Manson mystery, an Autopsy High Real Death Doll (with Real Scream action), and so on, and so on.

But Santa had ignored them all. Well, Mummy and Daddy had ignored them all. All except the ConformoPet. and even then they’d bought the wrong one. Then there were jumpers and socks and other Important Things. And again, Dani hadn’t yelled or sulked or been ungracious. She’d smiled at all the presents and said thank you. She’d even made a big show of wearing that stupid jumper before excusing herself and scaling the laundry cupboard to where mummy kept the medicines.

Mummy and daddy spent all night in bed, sobbing and clutching their tummies and thinking about how naughty they’d been. So this box couldn’t have been from them. And it couldn’t have been from Santa. Could it?

When Dani stroked the ribbon, it was warm and humming, like a sleeping bird, and when she fingered the edges of the lid, her fingertips came away wet.

“To Dani, for being so nice”.

Unable to wait any longer, Dani ripped the ribbon away and prised open the cream paper lid, before the box was ready. It gave a ‘snarf’ of surprise, licking its cream-coloured face with a tinsel tongue. Then, quick as a sugar plum, shot that tinsel tongue around Dani’s neck and dragged her inside.

Ho ho ho.

© 2012 Dave Bloustien

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