DEFEAT. 034 – espresso self

[DEFEAT. is Rendar Frankenstein’s truest attempt at fiction.   Presented in weekly episodes, the novella tells the tale of Daryl Millar – a hero who dies at the intersection of pop culture, science-fiction, war epic, and fantasy]

Bandini’s Café was lost in time.

The year outside of the diner was most certainly 1986. Ten months in and gazes were still directed skyward, accompanied by somber sentiments for the crew of the Challenger. The Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets were trading blows in the World Series. And twenty-three year old Katherine Hushaw reveled in an admiration only awarded to a Playmate of the Month.

The year inside the diner, well that was up for debate. The booths were wide and cushioned in such a way as to support the heavy aspirations of those celebrating VJ Day. The walls were decorated with yellowed posters assuring patrons that I Like Ike and asking them to Drink Pepsi-Cola. And the most recent hit that the jukebox would sing was I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch). Moreover, no one inside of the anachronistic haven had been born after the year 1940.

Except, of course, for Daryl Millar. But, not unlike the diner, Daryl was in the process of becoming timeless.

Daryl sat at the counter, finishing the plate of food before him. As he chomped on the last piece of bacon, Gramps recounted the adventures of the late evening and early morning. The eyes of the grandfather gleamed with pride.

“And that’s how it happened! The slob told Daryl not to come back to school until tomorrow! Can you imagine that?!”

“Ah, fanabla! I wudda smacka upsiddada ‘is’ead!” The proprietor of the café flicked his wrist with faith, flipped a pancake with his spatula. “But I guess Daryl wuzza too worked uppafo dat, wudda rippada mustachio offada bum!”

Clark laughed, “I think you’re right, my fine friend! If Daryl didn’t have such tremendous self-control, the principal would’ve been eating his own tie!”

With a pat on his grandson’s head, Clark raised himself up from his seat. Folding the newspaper and tucking it under his arm, he saluted both Daryl and Bandini. “Now if you gents will excuse me, I have some serious business to attend to.” He allowed himself half a stutter-step before swinging back around, “Hey, Bandini! Give the kid a cup of coffee — and don’t pass him the damn cream or sugar! He’s a Millar, he’ll drink it black!”

And with that, Clark Millar headed for the bathroom.

Bandini cleared away Daryl’s empty plate and then leaned in close, as though to offer a secret. “Caffè nero!? Gah! Lemme do-ah one better! Lookah here!”

Peering over the counter, the hero watched as the Italian yanked on a cloth covering. Underneath, as it was revealed with a magician’s flourish, was a strange metal contraption. Brass tubes coiled about the device and Daryl inferred that whatever moved through them would eventually be shot out. A small flue twisted around itself, working its way past an ominous lever and ultimately transformed into an invasive looking wand.

“What the heck is that? Some sort of robot-murder-drone? Are you going to kill me while Gramps is on the toilet?”

“Sei pazzo! You watcha too many-ah-dah movie fantascienza! Look-ah at-diss!”

Bandini began fiddling with knobs, twisting them with the precision of a damn engineer. Handles were swung into place. What appeared to be a thermostat was adjusted. An egg timer was set, reset, sworn at in frustration, and eventually tossed into the trash. The preparation concluded as a fine black dust was packed into a miniature crucible and loaded into the apparatus. With a deep breath, a lever was pulled.

In this moment, Bandini became a mad scientist.

He gritted his teeth and braced himself as the machine began to awake from the dead. For a moment only sporadic whispers came from the mass of metal. But these soft murmurings became regular. The strange device began to vibrate as the humming got louder and louder, which attracted the attention of the few patrons who hadn’t seen this operation before. Within seconds of its activation, the machine was spraying steam and shaking so much that Bandini wrapped his arms around it for stabilization. “Ahh! Dog-bitch diabolico!”

Mamma, the plump wooden-spoon touting hostess of Bandini’s Café, gasped in horror and ran across the diner to her son’s aid. Playing the nurse to his surgeon, she tried to wipe the sweat from his brow with a washcloth but was dismissed with a wave of the hand. She mumbled curse words from the old country and returned to her station at the register.

Daryl spun around in his seat as a gray-hair in a booth protested. “Bandini, what’s going on?! That semi-automatic danger machine of yours is going to blow up!”

“Silenzio! I needadah concentrazione!”

In between turns of manipulating the controls, Bandini bent below the countertop. When he reemerged he held in his hands what Daryl believed to be the smallest coffee cup in the free world. It was slid underneath a thin silver spigot which expelled mahogany fluid. The liquid cresting with a bit of froth, the cup was put onto a small plate and slid in front of the curious hero.

Daryl handled the offering before him, skeptically looking at the machine from which it had just been vomited. “Not that I don’t trust you…but what is this?”

“Dewnta worry Socrates – izzanotta hemlock!”

The tiny cup was lifted with care, given once last scrutinous inspection, and then brought to the lips. This isn’t coffee! The fluid smoothly made its way into the mouth, greeting the tongue and gums with the confidence of an urbane city-dweller. A slickness to the beverage, perhaps the aforementioned city-dweller’s hair gel, coated everything in its path. When it first bathed the tongue, the dark nectar bragged about just how bitter it can be. But given a moment to relax, a rich, more evenhanded, if not slightly nutty quality was revealed.

Then he swallowed.

Daryl’s first sip of espresso made its way down his throat and into his gut. And boy, it sure didn’t hold back. It wound up and socked him. He almost doubled over, putting his hand to his belly for a fleeting moment.

From there, the bloodstream took the caffeine and shot it right into his brain. Almost immediately, pupils dilated, hands began shaking, and the heart began pounding. Daryl had drunk plenty of coffee and soda in his time, but never before had caffeine hit him so hard. His head was reeling and sweat began to accumulate on his upper lip.

“Bandini, what the hell is this doing to me? You sure this isn’t hemlock?”

“Oh, izzabit strong, but yule-ah be-ah — ”

And that’s when Daryl saw her.

She couldn’t have been sitting further away from him. But there she was. Staring. With keen interest. And although he had just noticed her, Daryl knew immediately that her eye had been on him the entire time.

Rimina Jacoby was having breakfast at Bandini’s Café. A breakfast of coffee and cigarettes.

The Woman in Gray Robes pushed her coffee cup aside. She then picked up an espresso identical to Daryl’s in every way. How did that get there? Bandini only made one shot! She held it up, tilting the cup towards Daryl as a toast, and threw it all back. Chasing the espresso, the clairvoyant took a long drag from her cigarette. Once her lungs were filled to capacity she exhaled and watched the smoke move towards Daryl.

The smoke swam with alarming rapidity and grace. It danced under tables, over bald spots, and completely defied the beck and call of the ceiling fan. But only Daryl felt any sort of apprehension, as no one else even noticed this phenomenon. The other patrons seemed to look right through the eyepatch-clad mystic.

As though she weren’t there at all.

If Bandini had seen an impossibly concentrated plume of smoke drifting towards the grandson of his favorite customer, he surely would have reached for the fire extinguisher. But his back was turned to Daryl, and his assurance that “izzabit strong, but yule-ah be-ah okayee” stretched into forever.

The smoke hit his nostrils and Daryl realized that everything had turned into slow motion. Everything, except Rimina Jacoby and the gift she had sent his way. In this state of underwater-locomotion, Rimina’s leisurely gait was faster than the light speed. Daryl could see her, but to everyone else she was an invisible presence. A questionable chill up one’s spine. A force that could be perceived if a mind was open, but few ever were.

When she saw that Daryl could not help but inhale the vision, Rimina Jacoby walked right out of the diner in plain sight. Plain sight to those who could see. But with only her intended recipient having noticed, the Woman in Gray Robes left the venue in supreme confidence.

As though she had never been there at all.


Traveling, for the second time in the same week, outside of the corporeal.

The physical world turned abstract. The tangible subverted, hypothesized into abstraction. This was the realm of transcendental actuality.

All the spheres of possibility witnessed from afar. That is, of course, until the elucidating gray smoke pushed Daryl’s vantage point right into them. Moving at a speed incapable of being reached on Earth, the hero wanted to scream, fearing that he would smash right into the cross section of two spheres. But the structures of opportunity are not impenetrable, and so he passed through them just as child runs through fog.

With a smile.

As the vision became more clear, as consciousness broke through one side of the dimensional bleed and spilled into another, comfort washed over all. Waves after wave of wellbeing and euphoria bathed the vision bearer. He had left his body on a stool in a suburban diner, yet contentment swept up and down every single nerve ending. And then, the final lingering wisps of uncertainty dissipated before him.

And then he saw it.

A path to absolute tranquility.

A path to tranquil absolution.

Yes, he had seen glimpses of it before. Deep within, past any point of accessible consideration, Daryl had stored this very prophecy. But it had remained an apparition, coming out to dance only in times of fatigue or inebriation or self-doubt or other moments in which the overwhelming beauty can be denied.

Blood would be shed. That much he could never quite deny. And for some time, even the most fleeting images of this act put him in a state of unease, closing off the mind to the truth. Closing off the admission of creation through deconstruction. But now he understood the purpose of the horror.

The gift the sword the love the screams the blessing the agony the sacrifice the heart.


The world resumed standard operating velocity.

Daryl coughed hard, sending out stray droplets of espresso. His return was marked by a full realization, an understanding that while what he had just witnessed was surreal this was not surreality. This was all happening and he could actually take advantage of the promise before him.

“See, izza fantastico! Un espresso per un uomo’onorato!” Bandini was proud of Daryl, even though he had no clue what the teen had really just experienced. He just thought the kid managed to choke down an espresso that could strip the paint off a car.

Clark returned from the restroom, sized up the situation and jovially offered his two cents. “Well, I didn’t think you’d go through the hassle of firing up that European piss-percolator! But I’m flattered that you’d go through the trouble for my grandson.”

“Oh, heesah a good man. And da good guys, daysah should gettadah best!”

Clark tried to pay and Bandini refused. He dropped the money on the counter anyways. Courtesies were exchanged and the Millars made their exit.

As Daryl crossed through the threshold, he heard a familiar but impossible whisper…

Heed my words — this is but one of the many, a mere sliver of a broken shard from the entire mirror of existence, whose inward reflections of itself far outnumber the outward. This fate has been neither determined nor surrendered. If it pleases you, think of it with cautious optimism. If it displeases you, change the world so that you may best fit within yourself.