Before I’ve Had My Coffee

As she pored through her late mother’s personal effects, Paulina was desperate to find her father’s coffee spoon. Three years earlier when Paulina’s father The Reverend Carlos Serrano passed away from Alzheimer’s, Paulina’s mother Ylaria kept tight watch on Carlos’ favorite spoon, but after four hours of searching, no luck. No spoon.

Paulina separated Ylaria’s effects into three piles: donate, trash, and keep. She couldn’t decide if the bags represented memoires or an unexpected practicality about death. The spoon, however, was the one thing she wanted to keep, even more than her memories. The spoon was the last tangible thing that remained. When Carlos passed, the family went through a similar exercise, but Paulina didn’t help Ylaria or her sister Luz sort through Carlos’ effects. She didn’t want any of it, except the spoon.

“What about his spoon?” Paulina asked.

“I found it in his sock drawer,” Ylaria answered. “Fijate! His socks!”

Among his clothes, they found a plastic urinal The Revered used to avoid leaving his room after the stroke. It hadn’t been emptied and fermented into syrup. They found a shaving kit with hundreds of out-of-date condoms, street signs from around town, magazines with the covers ripped away, and a basket of broken TV remotes. And among the missing flatware: one spoon. 

The small wooden spoon was impractically small, but Carlos insisted it was the spoon that made his coffee so damn good. Ylaria attributed it to the act that they shared the coffee together, but she let him have his spoon theory.

“The spoon comes from my old canoe,” he’d explain. “When I stir with it, whew, that’s the secret.”

He even sang a coffee-making song, using the spoon like conductor’s baton: Look out panza/here it comes./Tastes so sweet/yum, yum yum. Carlos protected his spoon like a loaded pistol. 

After Carlos’ passing, when Paulina would visit, Ylaria would make sure Paulina saw she was using the spoon to serve them coffee. “Mira,” Ylaria would say, “The spoon!” But coffee wasn’t the same. In fact, Paulina couldn’t stand coffee anymore. She complained it tasted chalky. In fact, Paulina would often find something to complain about visiting Ylaria. 

“This place is swallowing you, Ma. The roof is caving in. The foundation’s sinking. The vines block the windows. Just get rid of it.”

Ylaria wouldn’t hear it. “Your hate makes you bitter,” she offered.   

It wasn’t hate. At least, it wasn’t all hate. The Serrano house was decaying.  Alliance Airport was a mile behind their backyard, and airplanes flew over the Serrano house every 20 minutes. Paulina told her friends the only way she’d visit Ylaria was if she had a plane to catch, so she’d have an excuse to leave. Paulina made the declaration after the visit when The Reverend had his hands around her throat.

“You’re not mine,” he said. “You mother was not faithful, and you’re not mine.” Paulina couldn’t breathe, and Ylaria was locked in their bedroom.

There was nothing cold or menacing in The Reverend’s accusation. It came out of him as easily as a sigh. When he pulled Paulina away from the wall and rammed her head into it, her graduation photo fell to the ground. Carlos let go of his daughter and looked to the ground as Paulina collapsed froward.

“You… crazy…” she gasped, struggling to spit out the words. Like an infant, she crawled wildly to her mother’s bedroom to release her.

As Paulina embraced Ylaria, Carlos approached them holding the broken picture frame. A trail of blood followed behind him, as his hand had split open on the glass.

Ylaria broke her embrace with Paulina and hurried Carlos into the bathroom to treat his wound.

Paulina was unable to convince Ylaria to leave The Reverend and stay with her.

“I’m all he has,” Ylaria said. “What if he hurts someone else?”

“What if he hurts, you?” Paulina pleaded.

Paulina wouldn’t worry long. A stroke hospitalized The Reverend. After a month of care, the complications took his life, but in the valleys between his manic swings, Carlos made it clear: “I don’t want people to see me like this,” he explained to Ylaria. “When it’s time, cremate me. Scatter me to the sea. I want to be like my canoe. I miss the water.”

The family obliged, but Ylaria couldn’t let him go completely. She filled an empty Sanka tin halfway with Carlos’ ashes.  

“He loved making his coffee,” she said. “He wouldn’t want to be in a fancy urn.”

Mostly, she couldn’t bear to think of him alone, and every day until she passed, Ylaria missed him madly.

For months, Paulina tried everything to get Ylaria to leave the house. Realtors, relatives, clergy—she recruited everyone, and they all reported the same feedback: Your mom will not leave, and her coffee is terrible. But with Ylaria now gone, the house fell to Paulina and her sister, but for Paulina, her only interest was the spoon. Everything else was meant for a bag.

In the kitchen, Paulina stacked a heap of useless appliances: the blender, the George Foreman Grill, the toaster—they were all headed for the dump. Paulina had no room for china or a Crock Pot. Whatever appliances her mom had, never made her life easier. They were made to fill cabinets—made to be hidden. To the landfill with all of it.

When she stumbled on the family coffee pot, Paulina could only shake her head.

“Finally,” she said, tossing it to the junk heap.

In the back of the cabinet, she found the Sanka tin and recognized it immediately as her father’s remains. When she opened the plastic top, she found Carlos’ spoon. She removed the spoon in relief. She could exhale. Even if the house collapsed under her, the spoon was finally accounted for. However, it took her an extra breath to see that Carlos’ remains had dwindled away. The remains that remained were barely a sigh. She raked the spoon among a dash of ashes and bone bits. She began opening every kitchen cupboard, desperate to find a different coffee tin, a bag of coffee grinds, or coffee beans. The Sanka urn was the only coffee tin in the house. She dropped to the floor but held tight to the spoon.

With the kitchen emptied, Paulina sat among the litter and thought about every coffee pot Ylaria had poured since The Reverend’s passing, every bitter cup she had shared with her mother, and every cup her mother had served for others.

She squeezed the spoon trying to break it in her grip, waving it, hoping for the planes soaring overhead to fly into the house and burn away every smell and taste and shadow and memory.

She wanted to scream but could only whisper her father’s song: 

Look out panza/here it comes./Tastes so sweet/yum, yum, yum.

Abram Valdez hails from Denton County, Texas. He writes a whole bunch. He is getting better. He swears. His work can be found at The Daily Drunk, HAD, Bridge Eight, The Exposition Review, Fourteen Hills, Complete Sentence, Latinx Lit Audio Magazine, and a few bathroom stalls. You can find him at and tweeting @abramvaldezCS.

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