Wake Up & Smell the Coffee

by Shelley Burbank

She shouldn’t be smelling coffee. It was morning. She liked coffee. But she lived alone, and up until ten seconds ago, she’d been asleep. Unless she’d developed a sudden and mysterious sleep-walking-coffee-maker-operating syndrome, someone had broken into her apartment . . .

And made coffee?

Wide awake now, Emmy pushed aside the heavy sleeping bag and blankets she’d thrown over her bed at the beginning of this long, cold winter and pulled on a sweater over her Victoria’s Secret pajamas–the silky ones with the polka dots her mother had sent her for Christmas when Emmy broke the news she wouldn’t be coming home to Maryland for the holidays–and tiptoed across the scarred floorboards of her room. Easing the door open a crack, she peeked out.

The aroma of arabica beans was stronger now. Her heart-rate sped up, thudding in her chest so hard that it almost hurt. She couldn’t see anyone from this angle, just the living room with its beige walls and beige couch, the throw pillows in her favorite bright colors: turquoise, plum, ruby red. Then, she blinked. A sheer glass vase filled with red tulips had been placed on the old steamer chest she used as a table. A spray of fashion magazines fanned out neatly where she’d left them haphazardly stacked the night before.

She considered her options. Grab her cell and call the police or go out to the kitchen and see who was there. She could also lock the door to her bedroom and yell out for whoever it was to reveal themselves, but that just seemed embarrassing. If someone wanted to hurt her–or steal from her–they wouldn’t have made coffee, brought flowers, and decluttered her reading material. Would they?

She eased herself out of the bedroom, padded silently across the living room, stepped into the kitchen.

Emmy’s head spun with relief and happiness to see her mother standing at the kitchen window and sipping from a mug. Not a burglar. Not a psychopath with a coffee fetish.

She’d forgotten. She’d given her parents a spare key, telling them to use it if they ever came up to Maine to visit. Outside the windows chickadees poked at the birdfeeder Emmy had stuck there last fall when she moved to Portland.

Emmy was happy, so she grinned and yelled, “Mom? What are you doing here!”

“Oh!”  The mug flew out of her mother’s hand. Coffee arched through the air, splattered against the window. The birds flew away.

Her mother looked down at the shattered pottery and then at Emmy. One hand pressed against her chest, and her face went pale as cream.

“You SCARED me!” she said.

January 29, 2014

442 words



  1. I was inadvertently inspired to write this piece after reading Liz Naves’s piece on http://ripmeansreturnifpossiblebook.wordpress.com/. I got to thinking about parents–being a parent, being a child–that relationship, the familiarity…really, the FAMILY…and how it sometimes has unexpected or maybe kinda funny-sad consequences once the child grows up and heads out on her own. Then, I was thinking about coffee…because I always think about coffee. And I had this Polyvore.com set already created. So I went for it. Big props to Liz (I didn’t realize I was sorta riffing off a theme until I was finished), and I hope you don’t mind the sorta similarities.

    • Thank you, Mary Ann! You know, you can submit a story any time. Throw in a couple mentions of clothing or style, keep it to 500 words or less, and create a Polyvore outfit if you want! I’d love to have you guest blog here.

    • Well, thank you very much:) I’m new to flash fiction. I tend to ramble. This is a good exercise. How about you? Do you ever write prose or is it all poetry all the time? (ps: I once wrote a sonnet sequence. 48 poems in all. It was horrible, though I totally enjoyed the process and some of the imagery wasn’t bad. I tossed the whole thing last year. I am in awe of anyone who can do it well.)

      • I am sad you threw it away…. I’m sure it would have been nice to read. I, myself, have published all the early sonnets I could dig up, so to speak. Some, I will admit embarras me some, but the are genuine. And I feel there is some value for me in getting to know myself again as a much younger man reading sonnets I wrote over a half century ago.

        I choose, not to publish anything other than sonnets and their introductions, but yes I have written works of major length and everything in between. I choose only to read them to Mrs. Emeron, though. At least for now.

        Thank you for your kind and considered comments.

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