Coffee Clutch


Jenny pushed the cabinet door harder than she’d meant to.  It let out a loud thwack upon impact and bounced once before closing.

“Damn it,”  she grumbled under her breath as she walked back into the bedroom.

Andy was still in bed but no longer sleeping.  “Was that for my benefit?”

“No, sorry.  I totally forgot to buy coffee.”

“I’ll run and get some. You crawl right back in this bed.”  He said patting her side.

“I can’t make you go.  It was my blunder.  Besides, I’m up.  You just keep that side you’re patting nice and warm for me.”

Andy didn’t put up an argument.  He was drained.  Two 12-hour shifts at St. Mary’s followed by  a 24-hour shift at the Ellis Emergency room had done him in.  

Jenny threw her hair into a ponytail and put on a baseball cap.  She grabbed her hoodie from the hall closet and zipped it over her t-shirt.  She had on her gray sweats, the ones with the white and blue paint splotches but didn’t think this early on a Sunday she’d run into anyone who’d give a shit what she was wearing.  She shoved her feet into her sneaks without socks and without  untying them, letting the backs flap down under her heels.

She leaned into the room dangling a keyring.  “Borrow your car?”  

“And why?”   he asked.

“Forgot to put gas in mine.”

“Won’t you have to eventually drive it, put gas in it?”  

“I just want to make this a quick run.”

“Sure.”  he said and put his pillow over his face.  He hated when she drove his car, adjusting the seat, the mirrors and always, always  leaving behind some remnant, tissues, water bottles, receipts, and sometimes even the ungodly fast food smells.  He liked bragging that his car was showroom pristine.

Jenny pressed in the front door lock and pulled it closed behind her.  

“Why do we have to live out here where there’s not a Starbucks or Dunkin’ within miles.”  She spoke out loud to no one.  Just to let the universe know she was pissed.

Price Chopper, the closest market, was about five miles away.  She got into the car and adjusted the seat and mirrors before buckling up. The drive was a quick one because of the lack of morning traffic.  The parking lot was also deserted, which gave her the choice pick of spots in which to park.  She parked as close as possible without being in a handicap spot.

Upon entering the store, she seized the opportunity to pour herself a cup of the free coffee they offered up to shoppers each morning.  It was fresh and hot and black.  Aisle five was coffee and tea territory.  That was her destination.  She grabbed a bag of Starbucks Morning Blend and headed for the express lane, the only lane with the step-on-into-my-lane light on.  There was just one person in line before her.  Jenny stood balancing the cup of hot coffee in one hand and rifling through her purse with the other.  She had just yanked her wallet out  when she heard the deep voice of the man in front of her making a strange demand of the store clerk.   

“Give me all the money in the register.”

Jenny’s legs went rubbery when she looked up.  It wasn’t a joke.  The clerk was pale, young, and looking completely out of her mind afraid.  Her fingers with nails painted a shade of blue tailored to match swatches that pushed through the dirty-blonde ponytail came up to her mouth, like they were going to hold in the scream that wanted out,  Jenny didn’t take her eyes from the clerk to look at the man, the man with the demand, the man with the harsh tone and the gun pointed so close to the girl’s face.  Tears were now pouring down that face, eyeshadow mixed with eyeliner, black and blue, watercolors.  It was like an art project that’d gone so wrong.  

The girl was trying to say something, but her words were masked by her building hysteria and her blue-tipped fingers.

“I think she needs to scan something, process an order.  The drawer won’t open without a key or without her doing that.”  Jenny said.  Her voice sounded remarkably calm, controlled.

“S’at so?”  he turned and looked at Jenny, but she still did not look at him.  He then looked back at the clerk and waved his gun in a get-going motion.  “Well, then fuckin’ get to it.”

Jenny handed the girl her bag of coffee, glad to give the girl something to do with those hands.  The man stepped a little forward, as if Jenny had invaded his personal space.  The clerk’s hands were trembling and she dropped the coffee twice before being able to run it over the scanner.  

“That’ll be $8.22.”  she said between breathy sobs.

Jenny opened her wallet and handed the clerk a 10-dollar bill.  To which, the girl hit the keys and the drawer opened.  She then handed Jenny a dollar bill and 88 cents.  Jenny put the change in her purse.  

“What the fuck are you two doing?” He reached across and pulled out the drawer.  Jenny could see it was a meager sum, which meant he was probably going to ask for her cash and jewels next.  That’s what always happens on television.  She squeezed her wedding ring off her finger, which was the only bling she had at 6:30 on a Sunday morning and palmed it into her left hand.  He didn’t do it, however.  He took the maybe hundred bucks from the register drawer, stuffed it in his pants pocket and walked quickly toward the exit doors.  

Jenny moved in the same direction once she was sure he’d gone.  Police sirens were coming closer.  She did not want to wait around.  After all, she never did she the guy, couldn’t possibly be a witness.

Jenny walked quickly to her car and popped inside.  She set the cup of coffee in the cupholder and fumbled through her purse for the keys.  Once the car was running, she managed a deep breath.  She was still clutching her wedding ring.  She had been squeezing it so hard that it left an indent in the palm of her hand.  She put the ring back in its rightful place on her finger.  She secured her purse and the purchased bag of coffee on the passenger seat floor and drove out from the parking lot using the back entrance in hopes of avoiding the police.  Once driving, she began to feel more like it was some bad dream.  She relaxed a bit.  Route 9 allowed her to pick up her speed to 55.  When she got to Bay Boulevard, she curved the car into the center median to make her turn. That was when she knew she was not alone in the car.  

“You ain’t turning here, lady. Keep on going straight.”

Jenny looked into the rearview mirror and saw him for the first time.  He was in his mid 30s maybe, dark sweaty hair hung untidy into his face.  His eyes were like dead earth, dark and unremarkable.  He had a horrible scar above his lip, perhaps from a cleft or something.  She observed that his teeth were uneven, spaced too far apart, when his lips next moved.  She didn’t really hear what he was saying.  She was thinking about the approaching SUV, trying to figure out time, distance, trying to see how many people were in it.  When it got close enough, she was sure it was just a man driving, probably going to the grocery store for coffee, she thought.  She picked up the coffee cup and flung it into the back seat in one quick movement.  It was still hot. He jumped sideways.  She took her foot off the brake and put it on the gas, turning sharp.  The SUV hit the back passenger side of the car.