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Drink to Me With Thine Eyes
It was our poem… To Celia, by Ben Jonson.
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.
He’d recite it as we drank scalding coffee on the steps in front of the Youth Centre. My dream was to open a coffee shop where people would not hesitate to come in, even if they were alone.
He painted the sign for me as a surprise—“To Celia.” I had the name of the shop, even before I had started saving up for it. We were just eighteen years old, and there was no Crowdfunding back then.
Eventually, I did open my shop. I practiced the Pay it Forward idea, on the off-chance that someone would want coffee, but not enough have money for it…
As I was saying…
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.
Oh, how we used to argue about this. He said the word should be sip, because you don’t eat nectar, and said it thusly. I said you can scoop nectar up with a spoon. Each time he said sip, not sup, I put my hands over my ears so that I wouldn’t hear the rest of the poem. Eventually, he relented and began saying sup.
I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope that there
It could not withered be.
He sent me a single rose, actually. And then he said he was going to Australia to make his fortune, and then he’d come back a rich man and marry me. It was a fait accompli — he didn’t even ask for my opinion on the matter. He didn’t even ask if I would go with him. I would have settled for much, much less than the wealthy lifestyle he envisaged. And I was under shock—so I did not ask if he’d like it if I went with him. And I was too embarrassed to ask him later because he might think I was foisting myself upon him.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself, but thee!
Ah. How we had laughed when we ‘did’ the poem in English Literature for Advanced Level extra credits. The teacher’s face was a picture, when we stood up and recited it; in all his years of teaching, he had never had a student who could. And here we were — two of us.
That, too, is just a memory now. One of the many, many memories that I have. I wonder whether he recalls them too…
I grew up — in more ways than one — when I opened my coffee shop. The old school crowd congregated there… and brought their friends. My business grew and grew, and soon I could offer franchises.
He was missing, of course, and there always remained a him-shaped hole in my heart. That is partly why I never wanted to get married… apart from the fact that some men were too obviously wooing me because of my wealth, and not because they hoped we could grow old together.
To the others, he was merely one of those who did not turn up, on and off, because he had emigrated, moved house, or… died? Inexplicably, indeed, I only ever received a few letters from him, so I considered myself a dead part of his past. And it hurt. So, I never asked after him. And it hurt even more. Damned pride.
I made work fill my life. I was constantly coming up with new ideas, new promotions and advertising campaigns, and new offers. I created the concept, now copied by many, of combined coffee shop and diner by day, and cocktail bar and restaurant by night.
Our old classmates often commented about how I had lost my joie de vivre, and a good couple of them told me they were scared that I was turning into a hard, driven businesswoman. I knew what they were getting at. I pretended I didn’t.
I decided to rope in the old clique; minus him (of course) and Andrew, who, alas, drowned when he was doing missionary work in Somalia, and Janet, who was having a very difficult pregnancy, into my nationwide campaign.
Obviously, it involves haiku, which I can churn out by the dozen:
autumn is my life
not quite spring, not quite summer
but never winter //
autumn leaves wafting
without a care in the world
gilded orange rain //
autumn’s bare branches
will be green again come spring
if spared by winter //
These, and dozens more, are appearing in random magazines and newspapers. Presenting four different ones to the Head Waiter will get the client a coffee, a long drink, a slushie, an ice cream, or a cocktail of choice — depending upon the time of day. The ensuing publicity more than makes up for the freebies… and anyway, money doesn’t matter to me anymore.
When I overhauled the menus, I concocted recipes for “Limited Edition” beverages and drinks, all with an autumnal theme. The colours of most of the ingredients are pale yellow to dark brown… but I threw in some red, for effect, occasionally… chili flakes in the persimmon slushie; pink peppercorns in the Ginger Caramel ice-cream; frozen cranberries floating at the top of the Campari spritzer; a speckled swirl of blood orange peel curled inside the hot whiskey toddy glass; strawberries skewered on the straw (actually a celery stalk) of the Frangelico-chinotto bevvy… you get the picture.
I never entered cocktail competitions; I didn’t need, or want, bragging rights, exposure, recognition, or fame. I wanted him. That is why I am sending “them” to do the interviews; in other words, actually, I bribe my partners to be my spokespersons.
Once I could afford it, I diversified. I marketed my own brand, To Celia, of Bar Syrup, Lemon Bitters, Nasturtium Anisette, and others. These are ingredients in the season’s offerings. They are available for purchase, too, on the premises.
For the same label, in the run-up to the launch, I designed matching bar paraphernalia; carafes, corkscrews, glasses, jugs, mats, openers, shakers, spoons, strainers, and more, again, in Autumnal colours. These were an instant success, though I say so myself, and personalised items are available on order.
Last year I issued shares in the stock market, but only because it’s a fun thing; actually, I had been offered a six-figure sum for the whole kit and caboodle, but I declined. I do not need the money.
Today, I am closing another chapter of my life. I’m glad that last week’s launch went well, and yet… I still yearn for what could have been.
I have only one regret in life. Now, I know that a resisted temptation is a missed opportunity. I was too proud to risk a ‘no’ for an answer. I will read his letters one last time, and then I will chuck them and the photos into the fireplace.
As I sit here, numb, I watch him through the window of the café. I grip my coffee mug so hard my knuckles go white. He is looking at the To Celia sign. The waitress, the daughter of a neighbour, later told me that I hadn’t even heard her ask me what the matter was.
She comes closer, and follows my gaze. She sees him. She understands, immediately, and, not caring that I am The Boss, she bends down and hugs me.
I’m getting married tomorrow.
It’s too late. Or isn’t it?
Please visit Tanja on her blog: https://paperjacketblog.wordpress.com/