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Photo by Mikesh Kaos

The Man Who Could Never Finish

This is what happens to people who leave dregs in their coffee cups.

The groom pours stale coffee into a cup, leaving a half an inch of the black liquid in the bottom of the percolator. He brings the cup to his dry lips and takes a long swig to relieve the cotton wool sensation that plagues his tongue.

He needs distraction. He retrieves his phone from his trouser pocket and taps at the screen to access his documents. He skims over the latest draft of an article he’s been battling with for weeks. It’s good. It’s almost perfect. He just can’t seem to find the right words to conclude it.

And he probably won’t be able to find them now as the nerves swirl in his stomach. He takes another sip of coffee and reaches into the inside pocket of his suit, pulling out a cigarette and a lighter.

She’ll turn up her nose when she catches the whiff of stale fag on his breath. He told her he’d quit. She doesn’t know that he never managed to kick that first and only smoke of the day.

When the nicotine has delivered a surge of faux confidence, he tosses the cigarette — only two-thirds smoked — onto the ground and grinds it beneath his shoe. He can probably go through with it, he thinks. It won’t kill him. He’s managed three years already; a lifetime won’t be all that bad.

He thinks back to their first date — the day it all started. It had gone well. There was chemistry there, no doubt about it. They’d laughed together, flirted together, shared details of their pasts with one another. She’d poked fun at the way he left a mouthful of lager in the glass at the end of each pint, and a forkful of food on his plate at the end of each course.

It wasn’t until the three-month mark that he felt it fizzling out. She would make jokes that fell flat against his sense of humour. He’d recommend a television series or a movie for them to watch together and she’d merely feign interest before choosing something else. They’d bicker endlessly about which radio station to tune into every time they took a trip in the car. Somehow, he never found it within him to break it off.

He has always known their relationship isn’t quite right. He has talked to her of his doubts and described at length what their problems are. But when it comes right down to it, like everything else in his life, he has simply been unable to finish it.

He glances in the mirror, adjusts his tie, tweaks the flower in his buttonhole, takes a final sip of coffee, and prepares himself to be wed.

Dregs of coffee remain in his cup, growing colder and staler.

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