Dawn hesitated before she entered Benjamin’s Coffee Shop near her home in Vancouver’s West End. She felt queasy and hoped the Gravol would set in before her mom arrived. The door to the coffee shop looked impressive, tall with dark wood forming a frame around the oval glass. Her mom would find that posh, but she’d complain about the interior minimalist style of the cafe being cold.
The cement floor and the ancient school discarded chairs painted bright orange and turquoise suited her own sense of utilitarianism, but would her mom be too uncomfortable here? Her mom would have preferred that Dawn come to her place or that she visit Dawn in her apartment. But after five years of shutting her mom out, this seemed to be a neutral place. She hoped she could make peace with her mom.
In one corner of a back nook there was a macrame hanger with a spider plant and on the other side, a few bookshelves set into the wall, with a selection of old hard cover classics and an old Eagles record album. She put her satchel on the chair near the bookshelves and her spring jacket on the other chair, feeling lucky to get the seats and not have to sit with her mom at a communal table.
Dawn ordered a drip coffee for herself and declined the ubiquitous “Can I get you anything else?” The coffee looked weak in the small light blue ceramic cup with thin sides. She wanted to ask the barista with red short hair and long sideburns if he’d really given her the twelve ounce cup, but of course she didn’t. But her mom wouldn’t hesitate to make a fuss if she were here. When her mom arrived, she’d do everything she could to make sure her mom stayed seated and didn’t get up to make the order.
If her mom took much longer, she’d have to order something more. Dawn sat and placed her mug on the wood grain imprinted cement cylinder that was a table. The doctor she’d seen yesterday had given her some handouts for her to read. They were in her satchel. She didn’t want to look at them.
She took a sip; the coffee was weak, but the spasm she felt in her stomach suggested that it would rebel at anything stronger. Maybe she should take another Gravol before her mom came, so she could order them fancy drinks, maybe a latte or a cappuccino, and oh, her mom always loved desserts. Dawn knew her mom’s eyes would light up, and she’d savour the treat while she protested about the price and all the calories. Her mom would also comment aloud if any customers who took one or two bites and left their treat uneaten.
Dawn didn’t mind the discomfort of the seats in this shop. Had she decided to bring her mom here, knowing her mom wouldn’t want to stay long? But then she’d ask if they couldn’t go back to Dawn’s apartment. She shuddered at the thought of her mom coming into her apartment. Maybe that would happen before her disease worsened, but not yet. This coffee date would be the litmus test.
She checked her smart watch; her mom should have been here already. Outside, Dawn could see the usual busker in tattered jeans and a red halter top, arranging four or more partly filled garbage bags around two square yellow plastic cartons. Her guitar was in one of the bags. The woman had a wonderful voice and sang well. Dawn hoped the busker would be happy and not start screaming.
She imagined her mom sitting low in the seat of her old brown Ford peering over the steering wheel, negotiating all the confusing one-way and pedestrian and bikes only streets in the neighborhood. Her mom would have driven over forty minutes in traffic from Coquitlam, might have a break down trying to find a parking place.
This had been a grave mistake. She pulled out her phone, but then hesitated. Would her mom answer her cell phone while driving, or would she be so distracted by the ringing that she’d take her eyes off the road?
She sat for a moment, rocking the phone in the cradle of her palm. No text or phone notifications showed on her homepage. She shouldn’t have taken the Gravol to cut back the nausea as early as she had. The coffee tasted thin and filled the roof of the mouth with a bitter aftertaste. Yes, she’d have to convince her mom to have something better.
Then, Dawn looked outside and there her mom stood, framed in the door glass, wearing a navy blue trench coat and the black no-nonsense shoes from a hundred years ago with her grey permanent looking like a skull cap, her black purse strapped over her shoulder and tucked into her side with the crook of her elbow.
Her mom’s head was tilted in that way she had when she was listening to someone. Dawn realized that was what she hoped for from her mom; that same engaged attention. But her mom wasn’t with her. With alarm, she realized her mom was being held up by the busker with the bags and yellow plastic crates, who’d try to get money out of her. Dawn put down her coffee cup and dashed outside.
“Mom,” she exclaimed, and her mom smiled, thoughher attention still on the busker who had leaned in to her and was speaking in a low voice. Her mom nodded, and untucked her purse from her side and opened the clasp and pulled out her pink leather lady’s purse that Dawn’s dad had given her twenty years ago, and offered him a five-dollar bill. The busker said thank you, and her mom patted her exposed shoulder, and said, “It’s my pleasure.”
Then she held out her arms to hug Dawn. Thinking of her mom’s hand touching that person’s bare shoulder, she tried not to wince, and bent over to receive her mom’s hug.
“Oh Dawn”, she said and pulled her hair off her face like she used to when she was a girl. Her blue eyes had faded and more lines formed semi circles around her mouth and branched out from her eyes.
Tears balanced on her eyelids and threatened the cheap mascara she wore. Dawn choked when she saw her mom’s fresh manicure, knowing she’d made the effort for this visit.
She handed her mom a Kleenex and watched her dab at the blotches forming on her lower lids. “Dawn, I’m so glad you’re healthy. That poor woman out there told me she has cancer, and she’s lost her job and she’s busking to get some clothes to wear.”
“Oh Mom,” she said, and led her mom to their seats. Her mom sat with a sigh of contentment. Dawn waited for her to complain about the hardness of the chairs, but she didn’t. Her mom glanced out at the busker sitting on one of her crates. “I hope she’ll be all right”.
“She’s a regular around here. I’ll look out for her,” Dawn said, surprised at the warmth she felt in her chest and the sincere smile. “What can I get you, Mom? Not just coffee. I’ll get us something special and a treat as well.”
Her mom smiled, oblivious to the little black smudges below her eyelids. Dawn reached into her satchel and brought out a tube of makeup remover and a couple of Kleenexes. “Your make-up has run just a bit. Here, let me,” she said, and her mom sat still and trusting, as Dawn dabbed away the smudge.
“Thank you,” she said and opened the clasp on her purse. “Whatever you choose will be fine. “
“My treat, Mom,” she placed her hand over her mom’s.