Chapter 1: Black Coffee, Hold the Sugar
I sat with my black cup of coffee at the kitchen table, fiddling with sugar packets that I wouldn’t dare to use. Sugar, a rush of sweetness that dances along the tongues of unruly children, told too much. Indulging in such things flushes the brain with dopamine, making it exceptionally difficult to resist the sigh of joy one would feel from letting it cross one’s taste buds.
But I fiddled with it regardless, tearing at the weak seams of the white packets that opened helplessly. The white grains scattered across the table and I couldn’t help but swirl it with my finger, the gritty sensation sending pleasant chills up my arms. Biology, I thought, pleased with my body’s natural reaction to the rough texture. Biology was safe. It was strict, logical, and governed by science. It was the closest thing we had to feeling anything at all….calculated reactions to stimuli that defined our function.
“You’ve made a mess, North,” I looked up, meeting my father’s warm chestnut eyes. He smiled, unafraid, and I pushed my chair aside, closing the curtains quickly, in fear of any watchful, wandering eyes. “Come now, we’re safe here,”
“You said that last time when you danced with Mom in this very kitchen – and now she’s gone. So I’m sorry for being careful,” I said coldly. My father’s smile vanished and he sighed, pulling one of the kitchen chairs at the table to the side. He sat, kicking his feet up, causing some of the sugar to tumble to the floor. His blue jeans were faded and caked with dirt. His steel toe work boots were obviously worn, the laces frayed and soles curving from hundreds of hours of use. My father worked in construction, even in light of his thinner build and softer features that catered more to one interested in books, rather than concrete. Physical labor, like biology, was safe as well. It allowed for exertion in place of feeling. But my father was also a writer (he hid a journal under his pillow. His poetry was exquisite and only I knew of it), warm at heart, and far too laid back for our stark, grey world – he welcomed the sun when it showed its face, while I prayed for another day of overcast that allowed us to hide in shadow.
“Just drink some coffee with me, will you?” He said, waving his hand over to me to sit with him – “pour me a cup while you’re up, if you’d be so kind,”
I followed his request with a sense of reluctance and guilt. Mom was on my mind as of late – she has been gone for ten years now and was taken when I was 17. She was the definition of all our society craved: a fiery woman, with a heart so large that you could see it from a mile away. She was a painter – I remember days that she’d work in our basement, her forbidden studio, hidden from the outside world. When she’d work, she’d wear overalls that were plastered in acrylic paints – reds, blues, and purples, explored every crevice of her brushes and sometimes her cheeks. She had round glasses that were much too big for her narrow, angular face, and unruly, curly hair the same color of her fiery heart.
Her paintings were always soaked in emotion, something taboo enough for people to spend a significant amount of money on. If we weren’t allowed to feel safely in public, we could fantasize about said feeling by staring at an abstract painting of a person weeping through a flurry of blues and greens. It’s as comforting as it sounds, really, but it kept us afloat financially. Mom would never sign her work and my father would seek out art enthusiasts who would pay top dollar for any piece that displayed a wealth of feeling. The arts were by no means illegal, but it drew a significant amount of attention – only the most masterful of minds could create art without letting their emotion flurry across their skin in the face of the public, giving the Splicers and Ardent Elite something mouthwatering to fantasize about.
It’s no wonder so many famous artists: writers, actors, and painters alike, disappear within a few years of surfacing. My mother being one of them – even without being in the spotlight. This is why I stuck to science. I studied physiology in college and carried my technical skills to a small local hospital where I perform research on changing bodily functions and evaluate patient’s vital systems. I’ve dabbled in pharmaceutical work, but tinkering with anything that could affect the function of the limbic system and its ability to translate emotion leaves me raw…but still sparks a disturbing sense of curiosity that keeps me in the lab long after hours.
“Are you going to drink your coffee, or just stare at it?” Dad asked, sipping his after stirring in a healthy portion of cream. He picked up one of the open sugar packets still on the table and poured the remaining amount in his coffee. I narrowed my eyes, but softened shortly after. My father has enough on his plate – I can’t keep blaming him for experiencing love. It won’t change anything. “Want some? Maybe it’ll make you less bitter,” he cracked a small smile and handed me another sugar packet. My heart fluttered for a moment before I poured precisely six grains into my black coffee. “…It won’t kill ya, I promise,” he said, sipping his drink.
A quick bite of sweetness bounced in my mouth after I took a sip – I was so used to avoiding anything sweet, that even the smallest introduction was noticeable. A warmth spread across my chest and I smiled for the first time all day; as Dad said, I was safe. For this fleeting moment, I believed him.
North’s story will continue…