The Coffee Conspiracist
The Saturday morning of October 29th was one that would stay in Elbert’s memory until he was an adult, which for a seven year old was saying a lot.
The day started quite normal. First, he walked down the stairs to the living room where he saw Mom curled up in a blanket with her usual coffee. Whether it was her first or second cup, Elbert didn’t know. Every Saturday morning she waited for him to come down, sitting on the couch. Not reading, not on her phone, not talking to Dad. Just sitting. Elbert didn’t know how she didn’t get bored, but figured it’d all make sense once he was thirty-three like Mom.
Everything was normal. Elbert’s Spiderman pyjamas that had been washed yesterday had the comforting hung-dried crispness that was a common result of Mom’s old fashioned laundry approach. Dad’s sprawling setup that covered the entire kitchen table contained the usual opened journal, glue stick, pens, scissors and scraps of paper from the cutouts of printed images. The usual staples of his Saturday morning “vision time” which to Elbert, seemed like a much more productive and less boring Saturday morning activity than Mom’s. Dad never seemed to be bored. He also was drinking his usual cup of coffee.
“Good morning honey.” said Mom as Elbert sat in-front of the fireplace. “Cheerios?”
“Mhmm.” nodded Elbert, too focused on the dancing flames to care about breakfast. As she hugged him from behind the warm, perfectly soft skin of her aging face and neck heated him up in a way that rivalled even the fire in-front of him. She held on for a while— long enough for
him to notice the soft beat of her heart against his shoulder. This was another feeling commonly associated with Saturday mornings. Once he’d had enough he shook her off so he could be fully attentive to the fire, resting his chin on his hands as he lay belly down on the red living room rug.
As Mom prepared his Cheerios, Elbert became bored of watching the fire, so he decided he would get on with his morning. He turned to face the kitchen where he had the choice of bothering either Mom or Dad. He got to his feet with a quick groaning pushup, walked over to where Mom stood, and for a reason unknown to even himself, Elbert picked up her coffee, and gulped in an entire mouthful.
Reflex took over as Elbert widened his stance in preparation for what would come next. After all, he didn’t want to get this horribly bitter black drink on his feet.
“Elbert! What are you—” Silence overtook the kitchen as Mom and him shared a moment staring at each other, both shocked for different reasons. She looked down at the brown puddle between his feet through shocked eyes, then back up to his face as he began to cry. “Ohh-h-h Elly come here,” she said pulling him into a tight hug, shaking in her failed attempt to hold in laughter. “Why’d you do that Elbert?” Holding his shoulders she separated from the hug, still trying to conceal her widening smile. “Not the biggest coffee fan I assume?”
“Noooo!” cried Elbert, interrupted by staccato sniffles and gasps for breath. “W-why is coffee s-so gross?” Before he could receive an answer, he lifted into the air unexpectedly, growing further from Mom who was no longer trying to hide her amusement.
“Let’s get your wild boys cleaned off Elbert,” said Das he carried him up the stairs to the washroom. Elbert didn’t know why Dad called feet “wild boys” but he liked it.
“Are my w-wild boys gonna be stained forever?”
“No-n-no Elly they’ll be fine,” Assured Dad with his deep rough voice that seemed to vibrate Elbert all the way to his core. Another part of this Saturday that wasn’t usual. Dad only held Elbert if Mom wasn’t available, which was mostly on Wednesday nights. Mom taught pottery on Wednesday nights.
The rest of the day felt weird to Elbert. Although only seven, Elbert was “brilliant”— a piece of information he acquired listening to Mrs. Rhode’s conversation with Mom after school one day. (At first he hadn’t known what it meant, so he Googled it on Dad’s laptop one morning when he had left to make a sandwich). With this brilliance came the burden of thinking too much. Elbert felt as though his whole seven-year life was some sort of lie. Countless mornings observing his parents through the warm glow of Saturday sunshine had painted a picture of joy and comfort when they were drinking coffee. Now that all felt fake. That bitter sensation that had caused his reflexes to take over, pulling at every muscle in his mouth to release it’s contents surely couldn’t be a sensation that his parents willingly partook in. Could it?
Now Elbert, Mom and Dad drove to a forest for a family hike. Elbert found that as the distance from home grew, so did the scope of his view on this situation. As he wrestled more with the problem, he realized that it wasn’t just Mom and Dad that drank coffee. It was all Moms and Dads. He had to do something about this, so he started to investigate.
“Why do you guys drink coffee even though you don’t like it?” he asked.
After Mom and Dad exchanged a shared chuckle, Dad looked back from the passenger seat and began. “Well Elbert… All us parents have an unspoken agreement that we’ll drink coffee everyday. Not because we like it, but because it makes us feel more grown-up… Makes us feel like we know what we’re doing as parents.”
Elbert didn’t respond. This piece of information was more than enough to ponder for the day.
“You pumped for this hike dude?” Asked Mom, smiling at him through the rearview mirror “Hope you’re excited to get your wild boys muddy!”
“Yes,” Elbert responded in a dim tone, trying to hold back the smile that forced it’s way onto his mouth. Elbert was excited to get his wild boys muddy. Maybe just excited enough that he could forget about the coffee dilemma for now and enjoy the rest of his day with Mom and Dad.
Monday at school exited Elbert, as it brought opportunity for him to resume his investigation. He decided on the drive over that Ms. Rhodes would be the next adult he interviewed. The first chance Elbert was presented with took place in the playground before the morning bell. He looked down at his Spiderman shoes, gave them a stomp causing them to light up red and blue, and began his stride.
Mrs. Rhodes was standing on the other side of the recess area. The long walk over gave Elbert time to think about this soon-to-happen conversation with her. As he approached, he reminded himself that despite his adoration for her he would have to stay unbiased in his questioning. Although she would probably be his wife one day, he couldn’t let that get in the way of his search for truth. If his hypothesis was correct, uncovering this would potentially change the way she looked at him forever.
Mrs. Rhodes stood still, gently hugging her torso, alternating her gaze from left to right. Elbert admired her constant vigilance for any wrongdoing. Today she was wearing a long floral skirt and a short jean jacket. A nose length piece of brown hair blew into her face. She removed it with a swift brush and sipped her coffee. As Elbert got closer she crouched down in anticipation for him to speak.
“You look cold Mrs. Rhodes. Your cheeks are very red,” said Elbert, trying not to startle her with any hard hitting questions too early on.
“Are they Elbert? Likewise upon your behalf,” she said paired with a light giggle.
Elbert didn’t know what that meant. “I have a question”
“Why do you drink coffee?”
She paused for a Moment to think. “Hmm. I guess coffees the only thing that gets me through my day,”
Exactly what Dad said.
“Thank you,” said Elbert.
“See you in class Elly!”
He turned, stomped his light up Spiderman shoes and ran back to his usual standing spot with his arms pointed backwards. This made him run faster. Once alone he thought about the information he had just gathered. It seemed that Dad’s words were true. Like Mom and Dad, Mrs. Rhodes couldn’t get through her day without coffee. She needed to partake in the consumption of this bitter black liquid to stay in a numbed state of believing she had it all together as an adult. Elbert was satisfied with his research for now. Next he needed to think about what he would do about it. As he went through the motions of finishing Monday at school, Uncle Ben’s words ran through his head over and over again, urging him to take a stand.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Elbert felt like a stranger in his own home. Mom and Dad had no idea their only son was anti-coffee. But how could they not see this coming. Did they expect him to turn a blind eye to their corruption, throwing out all the values they had instilled in him since the day he was born?
A week or so had gone by since his conversation with Ms. Rhodes. Since then, he had thought long and hard about how he would go about making change. Stressed out days lead into sleepless nights over and over and over… until it all came to him one day when Mom and him were at the public library.
Millions of books surrounded Elbert as he followed Mom, row after row after row. In this exact Moment, he felt a shared struggle with the authors who’s works surrounded him. Individual souls, burdened with the need to share their story with the world.
As Mom was scanning some books at the check out, Elbert spotted an elderly lady, who was likely 100 years old. She was drinking coffee out of a big white mug that had pink flowers
on it. Her mug matched her shirt. He walked over, but the desk she sat behind towered over Elbert making it impossible for him to speak to her. Itching to conduct more research he decided to walk around it. He grabbed onto her blue Jeans, and gave them a pull to get her attention.
“Ooh,” she yelped, jumping in her seat as she looked down at Elbert. “Oh honey you startled me.”
Elbert didn’t respond.
“What can I do for you Sir?” she said, removing her glasses and placing them into her curly white mass of hair.
“Why are you drinking coffee?” Asked Elbert.
“Well honey, this is tea in my cup.”
Tea. Elbert had heard of tea. Mom sometimes drank it. Probably before she gave into the pressure to switch over to coffee. “Why are you drinking tea?”
“Well… I suppose i’m drinking tea because… Well because I enjoy the way it tastes sweetheart,” she said over a laugh that indicated years of smoking.
“Thank you,” Said Elbert. Then he turned away and walked back to Mom who was still scanning books.
This was big. Elbert was finally coming to a conclusion. Just one piece of the puzzle was left for everything to make sense.
“Ready to go Elly?” Asked Mom.
“Before we get home, can I drink Tea?”
Mom laughed and picked up Elbert. “Of course you can young man. Mind if I join you with a coffee?”
“Okay,” said Elbert. If it meant furthering his research, Elbert would begrudgingly engage in coffee culture, regardless of it’s questionable ethics.
Tim Horton’s. The final destination in Elberts search for truth. Mom sat him in a booth while she ordered their drinks. In the couple minutes that passed, Elbert observed the many adults that occupied the busy coffee shop. Rustic red brick played it’s part as a fairly neutral canvas— it’s painting being the many characters of the coffee shop. An old man in a black leather jacket with many patches sewn on sat by a table to his left. The rosy round features of his face were made wise looking with a well kept short white beard. He was probably drinking tea.
A lady sat at a table to the old man’s right. Her nose was long and almost seemed to reach down to her lips, which were coated in a lipstick that matched her long purple leather coat. Elbert guessed she was drinking coffee.
This was becoming tiring. Would Elbert ever be able to view things the normally again? What once had been a happy life as a seven year old with an untainted view on society, was quickly spiralling into an existence riddled by the inability to view anything outside of this dark duality. Tea or coffee. Moral or immoral. Superheroes or Villains… Although with that being said, Spiderman surely was a tea drinker.
Then to Elbert’s surprise, the old man, who seemingly could read minds approached Elbert. “I couldn’t help but notice your light up shoes. Spidermans also my favourite superhero.”
“I like the patches on your jacket,” said Elbert.
“Well thank you.”
“Are you enjoying your tea?” Asked Elbert
“Oh this? This is coffee.”
“Why do you drink coffee even though you don’t like it?” Continued Elbert, spontaneously deciding his investigation wasn’t over just yet.
“Well who says I don’t like coffee brother?”
“My Dad says adults only drink coffee so that they feel grown up.”
“Is that right?” laughed the old man.
“Well,” a long pause followed “I suppose you’ve given me a lot to think about then,” The old man winked, turned around and slowly walked away laughing to himself.
Now Elbert had even more to think about.
Mom came back with his tea soon after the old man left. Finally. Weeks of anticipation had lead up to this Moment. The final part of his investigation. He took the lid off the red cup, leaned in, and slurped a medium sip of the mysterious liquid in front of him.
Oh no. Elbert didn’t like tea.
On the drive home Elbert was silent. Mom talked to her sister on the phone. The background noise of car engine and sisterly chatter paired with the boredom of passively looking out the window of the car lulled Elbert into a deep state of thought, where he eventually decided his investigation was over.
Maybe, all adults who drank coffee weren’t hiding from adulthood’s responsibilities, fearful of the constant marching of time, therefore drinking coffee to gain some sense of control over their lives. Maybe the old library lady wasn’t as courageous as Elbert had first guessed, and her decision to drink tea wasn’t the brave act of rebellion that Elbert had thought it was. Maybe the old man he just met was telling the truth and he really did enjoy drinking coffee. Maybe there were more layers to this paradox than he had first presumed. Like an onion.
Maybe it would all make sense to Elbert, once he was thirty-three like Mom.
Luke Del Cantero is 21 years old and from Vancouver Canada. He enjoys writing fiction about any unique ideas that enter his imagination.