The smooth black monolith squatting serene
The heart-master dynamo of a squalid house
A lurker not at the threshold but at the center, where teem
Full four failed men, friends, each a souse
Ever thus desperate for a noonish elixir
With strong flavor and stronger power
To uplift and overcome—fuel to conquer last night's mixture
Of folly and liquor. Each day's foul routine repeated first: one dour
Figure shambles into a fetid kitchen, himself rancid as any forgotten dish,
Shifts through drifts of filth to fetch filter
And find bean or grounds according to which
Sad wretch first fled sleep to flinch the day. A welter
Of debris on the counter faces whichever one of four
Founds the day. Woe betide the step
Of that becalmed wretch who finds no brown reason to live to pour
'Pon arising, who must scrounge the couch for cash and trek
Instanter out to 'plenish the go-juice supply,
In iron accord with the one law of the High Style.
"If you get up first, you make a pot of coffee." No need to describe
The punishments for this frank sin; any violator would greet exile.
Let all that passed be prologue only, though,
A mere sketch of regularity, lines of a still life
Like ruts in the exhausted earth, a ditch-image existence in a field better left fallow.
Because today is no stock gift of same, but a novel slice—
Nearly an attack, this new obstacle now, this new failure
This morning of things broken (besides the men
(A known quantity, and one none too large)) following the sure
Setbacks suffered last night, then the stumbling back to this den...
The coffee maker's busted. That's what's different.
There's little enough coffee, but that's not the problem. The money's fucking spent.
There's no more replacing the ancient Braun than there is overpaying rent.
Like a cattle-gunned child stands MudMan silent, staring at where once happiness came from, where hope went.
A few times he tries what makes sense.
Checks the cord and plug, jogs the switch.
There's power to the outlet, he means to check (twice). When
Did it last work? Doesn't matter. No good now to wish
Now were then, with then's things working still.
MudMan's morals founder on a challenge this big.
Would yours? A feint, he thinks: go back to bed, let somebody else uncover this rotten deal.
He slumps to turn and slip down the stairs. "Oh. Hi, Rig."
"'Man. Coffee yet? Man, my goddamned head.
Shit, it's not even on, you must have—"
Rig flips the switch, sees no light, stops. Looks at what's dead.
MudMan stands mute to history, knows there are no words for some facts.
Jerry recapitulates MudMan's actions with plug, cord, and outlet,
To of course no particular avail. That's not how these things work!
The futility doesn't stop him. He pauses, and the friends stale the air with cigarette
Smoke. "The hell are we gonna do?" Rig sighs. "This one hurts."
Humidor slumbers. Dekka, like always, keeps to his bed.
He hates making coffee—for anybody else, anyway—
So he's careful to avoid stirring before there's something to stir, playing dead
To the world. Let others prepare potions at the break of day.
"I'm gonna find a tape—" "No. There's no point.
That won't fix this." "Helps me think."
Rig slouches out; 'Man left, bereft, wishes his exit had been so adroit.
No coffee. Nothing to drink. Maybe a drink?
Bleak. Harsh realm for sure. A lamestain unlikely to be caught
On the flippety-flop. Or anywhere else. Almost
Unnoticed, MudMan's second beer is half gone.
Rig noisily munches on toast.
Some horrible blare rackets away and the coffee maker sits, inert.
"We'll clean it up!" Rig blurts. "Act like it's new
And return it for exchange." "Without a box? Wrapped in your shirt?"
MudMan's far from buying this shit. Few
Retailers would mistake the questioned unit
For anything made in recent times
Anyway. Even if divested of the crust of years accrued to it,
Its like hasn't haunted shelves since cigarettes cost just dimes.
An impasse. Rig spits crumbs. "Well? You solve this,
Then, dick." MudMan opens his fourth.
The center is not holding. The house is cracking. The risk
Is that the coffee/beer cycle—the last strong support
Of any kind of reasonable life these men know—
Will collapse forever, and they will be lost.
Humidor's on the couch already, already crying. Rig: "I'll fix—" "No."
"We've lost enough today. We can't stand the cost
Of some stupid fire or any more broken shit
From you kit-bashing our stuff for parts."
Thus Akka/Dekka, roused and moved to roust or rout. Rig takes the hit
Silently but sour, fingers his wallet and departs.
He'll buy his own coffee. Gawp at the girl
Working the counter, if there is one,
Heaving his heavy load about the place, hiding a grotesque whirl
Of emotions. A ghastly attempt to flirt. Dumb.
He'll be half-mute and will say nothing smart
As his sausagy body, smock-stuffed, phocine
And hardly gainly, repels faintly. Rig didn't start
The day with a hot shower. Or a cold one. He nor his clothes are clean.
Gross. Leave him his self-hewn hell. Contemplate the High Style
Anew. Humidor has uncovered surprises. Two,
In fact. First, he revealed Akka/Dekka's own coffee machine, hidden the while.
Second, an admission his footfall had known Dekka's little room.
A violation uncool. Chamber of Solitude! But protocol be screwed
For the moment, as the small tool gets shoved
Onto the counter and stoked with solid and liquid that coffee might brew.
"Smaller than the house pot," notes 'Man, "But enough."
Fuming Dekka stomps a sulk away. Humidor anxiously flits.
MudMan's hands dole the groups—use the very last
To full fill the hopper, topped to the brim. Turning back, he jars his wrist
Against the unfamiliar dimensions of the new maker. With a blast
The carafe falls. On the floor it irrefixably shatters!
Stumbling back, Humidor flails in shock
And strikes the machine's basket. It too falls. Grounds scatter
Amidst broken glass and into standing water. Fuck.
Everything's ruined. No coffee. No money. A pair of
devices down with no prospect of change.
Let alone bills. The 'mates despair of
Resolving this with money. Their minds are made strange
With lack of coffee and so many awful blows
Delivered by this shitty world in one day.
They retire from the fray as from life. Hosed,
They yield. MudMan and Humidor run away
Now from everything. The night now to fall will be the end.
The end of all things. The end of sobriety.
The end of any bond to bind the friends.
Coffee—the ritual and the drug—was the last anchor to the world they flee
And sure the only world they'll see again
Will be at the bottom of cans, tops endlessly popped.
Without coffee, eternal night of yellow beer descends.
What little forward motion these men could caffeinated muster now forever stops.
Hours later, all wallow in something like fate—or frank doom.
Rig sits in a state trooper's car. Long story. He's ripped.
So are his pants, and the other 'mates. MudMan and Akka are sad at the bar, Humidor same in his room.
Unseen in the Chamber of Solitude sits a circuit breaker only tripped.
Words & drawings by C. Collision