Something's Burning

By Ritta M. Basu

Gladys had always loved the smell of coffee. Even though she didn’t relish her first cup until she was nearly 25 and Starbucks had made coffee drinking a fad, she remembered well the constant drip of the coffee pot at her parents’ home. They never stopped drinking coffee. They drank it all day long.

Back then the smell was only distinct first thing in the morning. After 8, the aroma blended into the odors of cigarette smoke, fresh dirt brought in on shoes from the garden and the chicken pen, the smell of eggs frying, the pungent tang of fresh goat’s milk, and a fragrant mixture of strawberry shampoo, Ivory soap and Aqua Net hairspray floating from the bathroom.

As she sat in the noisy midst of the sandwich and pastry shop, Gladys breathed in the scent of rich coffee being brewed. Her nostrils filled with a hint of hazelnut that rose above the strong, dark aroma of European blends.

She watched as two teenage girls sipped their iced lattes and felt important as they talked about the hideous shoes one of their teachers had worn every day of school last year.

“How could she possibly think those shitty things matched anything, much less every fucking thing in her closet,” the girl with the tinted blond hair said, crumpling her face in disgust.

Gladys smiled, remembering how at that age she had thrown useless curse words into her sentences, thinking it made her seem far more mature than her prissy classmates from high-class, church-going families.

It was almost sweet to think of those days of her youth – summers spent with her sisters playing in the blistering heat then cooling off in the mist of the water hose; canning tomatoes, peaches and green beans with her mother. There were the early evenings spent hiding from tornadoes in the cool dampness of the underground storm cellar, and at the end of the day there was the storm of her father from which to hide. He came home looking for anything or anyone to punish for the existence of his emotions. It was best at that point to adhere to Daddy’s insistence that children were to be seen and not heard.
Gladys felt her sweet memories turn to burning anger.

She had just come from the old man’s funeral. He had finally died, 23 years after her tender, loving mother had been blessed with a fatal escape from his longsuffering abuse. By the time he sucked his last belabored breath, he had to have someone wipe his ass and bathe him. Gladys was filled with fury he had escaped this tortuous life he so justly deserved.

She glanced back at the two girls, chewing on straws like children and talking about how little their parents knew about life and how they simply did not understand anything. The smaller of the two wrinkled her nose and asked, “Do you smell that? Smell’s like something’s burning.”

Half smiling, Gladys whispered, “It must be Hell.”

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