Shannon Connor Winward

Spotlight: At the Coffee Office

[creative nonfiction]

I should be writing.

You are not here. For the next one hundred and twenty minutes, you are not my job.

“Are you going to the coffee office?” you asked on the way to preschool, your cute phrase for what I do. Yes, yes. Three days a week, three slivers of a life that isn’t wholly about you.

I should be writing. There are only so many moments like this that are mine. I have a hot cup of coffee and the comforting weight of my coat across my lap.

But the café is drafty. I’m cold. I’m drifting without the business of mothering to hold me down. Thoughts of you are a hailstorm. My head hurts.

I’m tired. I hate February. I haven’t been warm, haven’t been right in weeks.

We were late again today—my fault. I forgot your bookbag and snack. I took too long at the computer. I was trying to be somewhere else, somewhere other than in the kitchen. You didn’t want to go. You think the other children are aliens with no names. You stand on tables; you throw crayons and blocks at their heads, rip pages from books. You wouldn’t eat your toast.

Everything a struggle.

I should be writing. They will call me if they need me.

But my head is in my hands.

You’ve been having night fits again. Midnight, every night, you wake up crying. You won’t tell us what’s wrong.

In weaker moments, I think you are spoiled. Maybe we did this. All those sleep-starved months, walking the halls, taking you into bed, not taking you into bed, Hush now. Nursing you silent. Did I wean you too soon, or not soon enough? What will we do with you? we ask, in the daylight, and you say, I’m sure I don’t know. But at night you sit in bed and just cry, wordless baby sounds. You’re bigger than this. You could get up. You could come get us. You could explain. But you don’t.

How many hours, how many lost dreams, muffled screams, prayers into the pillow, Please, baby, sleep? Did we do this? Did I do this? But it was always like this.

I should be writing.

But this is not normal.

You are not normal.

I have to start thinking of you as a diagnosis. It is not your fault. It’s not mine. We were born this way. A chemical imbalance, an accident of genetics. I recognize it. I know the sound of it, the way you scream into my shoulder. What four-year-old weeps, Make me not born? You are like me.

February can be fatal to the spirit.

I should be writing.

But you are not like me. You are heartbroken, for what? For nothing. Ridiculous things—a fallen block tower. A word. A world that will not align itself to your demands. We love you so much; we can’t please you. I look at you and think—so narrow, a child’s outrage. What of all the blessings that you have? What of all the horrors that we’ve spared you?

But I’m sure my parents thought the same thing.

This is what scares me.

They used to say I was lucky. Dance lessons, new clothes every school year. I never wanted for things. And I would think, even then, I want not to pick my drunk mother off the floor. I want not to play connect-the-dots between the fist-holes in the wall. Getting by is not everything. You don’t get to buy normal.

Is it me that’s narrow?

Am I overlooking the damage I do to you?

My painkiller is starting to work. It is taking the fists away from my temples. The café is not busy, no one is calling me from your school yet today, this moment is for me, I should be using it to write.

I have two documents open on the laptop in front of me. One is my novel—the work today is straightforward. I can make progress. But I can’t think, can’t see, can’t get warm, can’t.

The other is a poem of metaphors—pregnancy. Nursing. Semelparity, insects and animals that die after procreating just the once, a monster event, biological demands, similarities and opposites, bipolar impulses, the natural order of things. The poem unfinished; you are unfinished. You are still gaining strength from my essence. You are sucking my marrow and crunching the bones. I search for words to explain how I feel. To be okay with it. But I am not okay.

You are not normal. You are not okay.

I should be writing. Instead I am killing time here, waiting to get you, busy only outlining my morning, another morning, like all the other mornings. One hundred and sixteen minutes, almost gone.

I can live another day without writing. There is nothing fatal about uneaten toast. I’m just tired. I’m just thinking, a synopsis of a life edited down to this. I pack up my things, put on my coat. There will be other moments, other projects, but for now you are my work-in-progress, my broken little story. I should be writing.

I’m on my way.


Shannon Connor WinwardShannon Connor Winward is the author of the Elgin-award winning chapbook, Undoing Winter. Her writing has earned recognition in the Writers of the Future contest (L. Ron Hubbard) and the Delaware Division of the Arts individual artist fellowship in literature. Her work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, the Pedestal Magazine, Gargoyle, Literary Mama, Qu, and The Monarch Review, among others. In between writing, parenting, and other madness, Shannon is also an officer for the Science Fiction Poetry Association, a poetry editor for Devilfish Review, and founding editor of Riddled with Arrows literary journal.