Coffee Ghost

white ceramic mug with coffee on brown wooden table

Photo credit: Annie Spratt via Upsplash

I dump the compacted coffee grounds from the basket of the stove top espresso maker into the compost and sweep my index finger in the metal basket to free the remaining grains. The day old coffee puck smells like an ashtray, and reminds me of my mother.


I used to lie in bed listening to the coffee percolator burble. I sniffed for the first whiff of coffee and singed tobacco tinged with freshly lit sulfur from a spent match. The signals. To be sure the moment was really right – that I could squeeze between an inhale, an exhale and a sip, when she would be happiest – I sang “Mary Had a Little Lamb” twice. And then I bubbled into the kitchen.  With an elbow propped on the counter, hand raised, mother gently held her cigarette. Beside her were an empty ashtray and a full cup of fresh coffee.

“I’ll make your cinnamon toast and vanilla milk in a minute. Just let me finish this first,” she said.


I press freshly ground beans into the espresso basket and set the Bialetti on the stove. Steam hisses from it as the water boils and rushes through the basket into the top compartment. At the kitchen table, I wait and look out at the chickadees gathering at the feeder. I wait for the day to pour open, liquid with possibility, for daylight, like cream swirling into coffee, to lighten the dark morning hours. I drink the quiet seconds before my children thunder into the kitchen.


Mid-afternoon my mother stopped time. In the living room, she gazed through the window to the harbour, waiting for Dad to come up the road from the fish plant where he worked. She waited with a full ashtray and a half cup of lukewarm coffee. I nestled into her, placing my fingertip into the pink cave of her longest fingernail – a small place I could hide and insert myself into her quiet time.

person holding cigarette near window

Photo credit: Bart Scholliers – Upsplash