The heat rose in the frothing pitcher, and the palms of Davin’s hand started to burn. The words barely came through the scream of the steam wand on his espresso machine. The woman who had ordered the latte was concerned about the city council meeting this evening.
“I don’t think they can do it” Davin yells, as he is cutting off the steam. The high pitched whine recedes into a burble. With a deft motion of the wrist the image of a flower ascends from the depths of the drink. “They simply don’t have the time or money to consider an expansion”.
Davins mind goes back to the night before. It is dark and the fireflies blink in and out among the trees on the bank of the river. A beer can is wedged in the rocks beside him, hopefully an antidote for the hallucinations of a sleep deprived week. Headlights play in the foliage, the illumination casting the shifting silhouette of trees on trees. In the darkness the bushes and branches take on a demonic life as they wave in the wind, threatening to pounce on him or come sneaking up behind.
The woman smiles at her drink and thanks him. “Well I hope you are right! You know what they are going to do with Family Affairs!”
Davin volunteers his morning hours talking to people with shattered families and custody issues. Sometimes his clients just need to talk, other times they are looking for resources. Usually they leave with a little less resentment and maybe even a bit of respect for the other parent. His afternoons are spent making hot drinks on a cart downtown, the milling patronage stopping by for a chat and coffee, always leaving with a smile.
His mind is whirling in trepidation. The folks at the child support office had revoked his license to drive some time ago, and he has no way to pick up his son. He still hasn’t met the new boyfriend that is living with his ex. If he is anything like the last one Davin has plenty of cause to worry. He goes over his lawyers checklist. White picket fence, check, tenured employment, check. Custody is two years away and every day he can’t see his son is another red mark on his record.
Exhaustion overtakes him and the demons lurking in the trees wend their way into his dreams, translating their intent for the new paradigm. He has fallen asleep now. The pain of leaning on the sharp edges and hard rocks has faded into a different reality.
It would seem funny, even alien, to a person watching from outside this situation. Such a nice man, they say, wonderful with kids. His own boy is currently in the mothers’ custody. Visitations have gone back and forth since the boy was born. Sometimes she leaves them together for months at a time. They might fly across the country or just hang out around home. Now the mother has found a new boyfriend and doesn’t have any practical use for a father figure. Davin already recognizes the pattern, It may be months before he sees his son again.
For now, they say, he keeps his parenting up to date by helping with the children of friends and family.
A little boy lays curled up in his lap. His own son, he knows, was dropped off with his mother two days ago. Confused, he watches as the boy stirs and squirms out of his arms. A word of consternation is on his lips but he realizes he is still paralyzed with sleep. The boy gets up. Davin, struggling to shout warning can only watch in horror as the boy idly looks around then makes his way across the perilous bank of jagged rock towards the swirling darkness of the river.
Davin jumps from his daze of exhaustion. The little stool he uses as his perch when there are no customers present squeaks as he hops to his feet. “Hello! You startled me!” He says.
A young lady stood at attention across the counter from him. She was new enough that Davin hadn’t met her yet, which is pretty darn new around this part of town.
“I like your snail.” she says, indicating the silver pin Davin had been wearing on his jacket. He had noticed that people tend to smile a little more often when he wore something shiny on his clothes, so had picked it up from a local jeweler. A jeweler who, surprisingly, was offering something he could afford other than the watch battery he had gone in for.
Davin takes in the ball of color and texture that had drifted up to his cart. Pretty. Adorable even, what with all the contrasting jacket and gloves and such. Not smiling. Maybe even a little hunched over for some unknown travail.
“Thank you.” Davin replies. “Its from Eleanor Jewelry, I was surprised I could afford it. May I make you something?”
“Latte, please.” says the colorful woman.
Davin goes about setting up the various cups and filters and pitchers he will need to complete the task. Again, the scream of the steam wand fills up the air and Davin’s mind drifts off in memory.
The boy has wandered off. Davins mind is screaming in horror as he struggles to move, struggles in vain to call out to his son. Finally, with a dragging feeling and an audible snap he comes awake. His voice shatters the stillness, the single phrase “Franklin, where are you?!” in desperate tone cuts into the air, across the river, across the rocks, throughout the demon shaped shrubbery and out to the busy street beyond.
“I like the scarf.” he says, waving at the blue and pink scarf she has tied around her neck. “Those are definitely your colors!”
The girl smiles. “Thank you! A friend of mine back home made it for me.”
“Not from around here?”
“No, Chicago.” She replies. ”Hopefully I will get to move back some day. I really miss being around my friends and family.”
She pauses a moment and says “My name is Amber.”
“Well I can understand that, Amber. I came here for three months ten years ago.”
Davin is rewarded with a chuckle for the irony of his mathematics. “What happened?”
“Well three years were for a girl, the last seven for my son. Here is your latte.” Davin hands her a paper cup with a delicately poured rosetta suspended in the cream.
Ambers jaw drops as she admires his work. “Oh my god, that is beautiful!” she exclaims.
“I guess you will be wanting a lid…” Davin feigns a morose pose as he covers up his art with a black plastic lid.
A sunny smile beams forward with the pretense of comfort. “Its ok. I know its there, that’s what matters!”
They exchange money. The girl wants to stay and chat but it will have to be some other time as she is only on a short break. Her smile, no longer feigned in jest is genuine and her caring nature shines in her eyes. Davin watches her walk away, her polished demeanor washing over the bustling masses to brighten the day.
Even as the echoes fade into the distance Davin realizes it was all just a dream. His son is with his mother, 45 minutes away. Still exhausted he shoves the empty beer can into his bag and heads to the trail that will take him home. Walking along he wonders who may have been around to witness his outburst. “Funny,” he thinks, “how in all this madness, in all the pain, anguish, guilt and fear, I can still find room to feel foolish.”