by lunchtime, i found myself with, for the first time in years, absolutely nothing to do.
so i decided i’d return to one of my favorite places — downtown Memphis — and be a tourist. i’d lived there, but never explored it as a stranger, really, so i’d seen the movieplex and the Denny’s, but often missed out on a lot of the history.
i moseyed down Beale Street and read every sign, every historical marker, every cement-bound time capsule of a Memphis of the past. some things i knew, some i didn’t. i went to the river and watched it go by. i watched the trolley make its trek down Main Street. i went to see if Eddie was playing guitar in front of the Walgreen’s; he wasn’t. maybe i got a bite to eat. or not. i don’t remember. i just remember how unnatural — but wonderful — it felt to mosey.
about 4:30, with the sun getting lower in the summer afternoon sky, i found a little cheesecake place near the Arcade diner. i went in and ordered a piece of cheesecake and a cup of coffee. i almost choked at the $8.32 price, but didn’t want to seem a dolt, so i handed over my debit card. he told me i could sit wherever i liked, that he’d bring it out to me.
still a little annoyed at the cost, i got a seat on the sidewalk. the air was the perfect temperature. there was a cool breeze. it was not unbelievably hot on that day; that i remember. painted clouds hovered overhead. i imagined the view in front of me to be the modernization of some forgotten van der Meer landscape. for just a few minutes, everything was perfect.
i sat at the table and imagined that i was not alone. in the perfection, my Companion and i enjoyed a nice conversation as i shut my eyes and depressurized, the tension released into the vacuum around me until i was indiscernable from the beautiful climate in which i reclined, feet propped up on the wrought-iron chair across from me.
i was startled by the quick interruption of the waiter, who presented me with my coffee. the entire display was unexpectedly graceful for this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant which i’d never heard of. two saucers, one for my beautifully crafted cup and one for the minature metal pitcher of cream (accompanied by some sugar and a decorative spoon). i hated to touch it, as if it were someone else’s canvas. but — like the cartoon cliche — the visible wisps of steam trickled up from the cup and into my nostrils with a Platonic-ideal aroma of my favorite brewed beverage.
i smelled the coffee, drinking in the aroma before diluting it with cream and sugar. with the creamy foam still spinning across the surface, i laid my spoon back onto the doilied saucer and took my first sip. this was the best coffee i had ever had (and, to the day of this writing, have ever had) in my life.
as the surprise settled warmly in my tummy, my server startled me again with a giant plate, almost big enough for the oversized piece of strawberry cheesecake it bore. it was drizzled and dashed with all kinds of delightfully depraved tastiness — powdered sugar, marshmallow & strawberry sauce, graham crumbs, and the like. again, i hated to touch it, believing seeing it untouched would be its best display.
i took a bite, and immediately desired to pay another $8.32 just for the privilege of having tasted it. my appreciation for this dessert (and the shop owner) increased as the triangle of deliciousness decreased. all too soon, despite attempting to savor each bite as long as possible, it was gone, but the plate was still a charming sculpture of crumbs and sauce, smeared and streaked, telling the tale of this decadent dessert.
during this dessert, sitting by myself on this Memphis sidestreet in the warmth of the afternoon ease, the conversation continued.
“there’s a dessert you’ll like better than this,” He said. “the knowledge of it was lost thousands of years ago. you’ll never hear or taste of it in this life.” and before disappointment could settle in, “we’ll have some when you come Home.”
as the sun sank into the Mississippi, i slowly sipped the last of my coffee, now cooled by the evening breeze, but i was still warm, for the best is yet to come.