So here is a little story from my life. When I am not writing critically acclaimed (and adequately selling) historical fantasy sagas, I work in an office engaged in tasks that involve pens and paper, among other things.
In the office pantry is a “Flavia” coffee machine.
(Yes, I am very uncomfortable with the name “Flavia.” It doesn’t make me think of coffee. But that’s a debate for a different day. Just so you know, I am not comfortable using the word “Flavia” in polite company. But it’s important to tell this story as it really happened.)
Yesterday, I went into the pantry, put my coffee mug in the receptacle, put a coffee envelope into the machine, and I pushed the “brew” button. The machine began to prepare to brew.
(It takes a minute or so before the coffee begins to squeeze out of the machine into the cup.)
I then paced to the back of the pantry, where the xerox machine resides, next to an alternate exit.
So you see the setup?
The coffee cup was sitting in the machine, and the machine was just GETTING READY to dispense the coffee. I was in the back of the pantry, not standing by the machine. I was in back of the pantry, pensive, quiet.
At that point, the nice lady came into the pantry. You know who I mean – that lady who works in the cubicle in the far north of the office, just before the glass doorway. The nice one, who always has a nice word for everyone.
Anyway, she went to the coffee machine, and as soon as she got there, it BEGAN to dispense the coffee, unasked, into a ghostly coffee mug.
The nice lady gasped. She took a nervous step back.
At that point, I walked over and said Good morning.
She breathed a sigh of relief.
“Oh thank goodness,” she said. “I thought it was a poltergeist.”
We had a good chuckle, a sort of office chuckle.
“I totally, totally believe in all of that,” she said.
So here is how legends get started:
I am nearly fifty years old, just a few weeks shy of 50. I look a little gray, a little sickly greenish. The pallor isn’t, you know, good. (I once fell asleep in a meeting, and when I woke up, the young direct marketing woman was standing over me, crying. “I thought you were dead,” she sobbed. “On the one hand, I was sad. On the other hand, it was beautiful. Because you looked so peaceful.”)
I have a very distinctive coffee mug. It has a picture of two grubby angels. One of my daughters bought it for me when she was little. Everyone knows this coffee mug, because I’m always leaving it in other people’s offices after meetings and pissing everyone off. “Come in here and get your stupid coffee mug, you idiot.” Oh, if I had a nickel for every time ….
So just imagine if I had put the coffee mug into the Flavia receptacle, paced around, then thought of something I needed to do, left via the back exit of the pantry, forgetting about my coffee mug as I am wont to do, just as the nice lady entered the pantry. Then imagine that on my way to whatever-it-was I needed to do, I collapsed in a heap, dead before I hit the floor.
The nice lady would have seen the coffee machine begin to dispense coffee by itself, prompted by an invisible, ghostly finger. She would have recognized the coffee mug.
She would have heard news of my death moments later.
“It was his spirit, his ghost,” she would have insisted. “His ghost was getting one last cup of coffee before departing the Earth.”
And she would have believed it.
(Collapsing in a heap is not such a stretch of the imagination, apparently, at my age and with my light turd-gray/green skin color. Most people, I understand, have been expecting it for a while and are kind of surprised to see me each morning.)
This would have become the story of the Ghost of that-stupid-guy-with-the-stupid-Coffee-Mug, the Poltergeist of Wall Street. No actual magic would have been involved, no spirit, no ghost. Just a Flavia coffee machine that takes about a minute to brew and dispense coffee, and a distracted middle-aged man who always forgets to take his coffee cup with him.
Yet, still, this would have been an incredible mystery, proof of eternal life. And from then on, whenever one of my kids or grand-kids went on a job interview, someone would recognize her last name and say, “NO! Not the Poltergeist of Wall Street. Holy what-the – ! I LOVE that story.”
Get back to whatever you were doing.
This recollection first appeared on Steven S. Drachman’s blog, years ago, before the pandemic.
Steven S. Drachman is the author of the Watt O’Hugh historical fantasy trilogy. The final book, Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead, is available in trade paperback from your favorite local independent bookstore, from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and on Kindle.
Image, Stefano Pollio/Unsplash