Coffee sizzled on the hot plate. Drip, drip, drip. Sizzle. I watched the plate change color as the droplets fried and scorched the finish.
I wished fervently for a cloth, to experience the rush of swiping it across the plate before it, too, could scorch. But no bejeweled fairy godmother appeared to grant my wish. A cloth was dangling from a waitress’ uniform pocket, but she was currently delivering coffee and congealed eggs to a patron on the opposite end of the bar.
“Glorious day, huh? Finally Seattle gets its summer.”
“Mmm.” My typical response to talk of sun in Seattle. Drip, drip. Sizzle.
“Could get used to it.”
The cloth was sauntering over to the pie racks now. The waitress carved a thick slice of apple pie and plunked it on a plate. According to my watch, it was 8:30am: a little early for dessert, I thought, but to each his own. Actually, some apple pie a la mode with a steaming cup of joe sounded really good…
“So you’ve been getting out there and enjoying the sun?”
With great effort I tore my eyes away from the swaying terry. The owner of the voice had a scruffy beard and jovial eyes, the kind that would make you smile inwardly if you passed him on the street, like there was still some good left in humanity.
He pushed the bill of his ball cap back and favored me with an easy smile. I felt the corners of my mouth tug upwards in response.
“Well, not really. Been enjoying it from inside. You know, looking out the window.”
His bushy eyebrows like squirrel tails met quizzically in the middle. I was used to that look from native Washingtonians who adored the sun like a god.
Prolonged silence. His eyes got a little cloudy, just the way I like the Seattle sky. The terry cloth moved to an excited tourist family at a table by the window.
“I think I have an allergy to the sun like my grandma,” I threw out. It wasn’t the whole truth, but it was close enough for government work.
The sun once again broke through the clouds in his eyes and beamed down on me, a wink briefly eclipsing the sun.
“Ah, well that’s a shame.” He tossed back a swallow of coffee.
“Me, see I live for the sun. Used to fish. Down there.” He jerked his head towards the water front. “Yessir, for days it would be grey – grey sky, grey water, grey fish. I like a little color in my world.
“But when that sun came out, the world exploded with color. Suddenly the color of the water had depth and it would even sparkle like half-buried treasure. I could see the different colors in the fish’s scales, too, like a living rainbow. Yeah, the world came to life alright.
“My wife loved it, too. She’d say the sun coming through the clouds was like hope riding to the rescue.” He smiled gently. “She was my sunbeam. It was a sunny day when we buried her.”
He fell quiet, a single tear escaping from a silver lash and glistening down his cheek. He scrubbed it away with the back of a paw and stared intently into the bottom of his mug as if it was the only place he couldn’t see his pain.
I felt like the terry cloth I so wanted to swiped had leapt into my throat. I swallowed thickly. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
He nodded, eyes still boring a hole into the cup.
I looked down at my own mug, the contents the color of a sandy beach. The coffee maker dripped its rich fluid, each drop fizzing out its short life on the hot plate. I looked at the machine then back to my mug, back and forth. A thought was blossoming, shy at first but as it gained confidence it exploded into its full glory.
Each sizzling drop left a mark; that’s why I wanted to swipe them up, to keep the finish from staining. I like things new and clean, always had. But I thought of something now, how a single drop–though its journey was brief–left a permanent mark on whatever it contacted.
I realized I didn’t want that terry cloth anymore.
I cleared my throat, thinking of the sun that had cleared the clouds in the old man’s eyes. I kept my eyes on my coffee.
“Like you said,” I started gently. “She was your sunbeam. And I was thinking…sun in Seattle, no matter how brief it is, it always leaves an impression. A good one. Your wife was like that, wasn’t she? She gave you hope, helped you to see the good in life. And even though she’s gone now, she left a lasting impression on you.”
I hazarded a glance at him. He was staring at me with tear-reddened but bright eyes. Slowly a radiant smile split his face.
“You got that right! I think of her every time the sun shines, how good it makes me feel…” Tears spilled down his cheeks.
By now the terry cloth was within reach and I swiped it with an apologetic smile to the waitress. She frowned, but when she saw me hand the towel to the old man her face softened and she nodded at me.
The old man thanked me and laughed as he wiped the tears. I noticed that their stains remained on his cheeks, but they looked just fine there.
“Tears of joy, my friend,” he was saying. His sunny smile returned. “Thank you.”
I could have asked, “For what?”, but I already knew. He was sunny before, but now a new light shone in his eyes, the kind of bright light that beams down in the wake of a long and gloomy storm.
I nodded instead and raised my mug. “To the sun.”
He grinned and raised his own mug. “Amen.”