COFFEE OR TEA • by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

Bird chatter floated in from the open window. She sat on the wooden chair and kicked at the table leg. He stood looking at her, holding two large mugs of steaming coffee, waiting for her to finish.

“I think…” Her voice trailed off.

“Go on.”

“I think I want to try something new.”

He raised an eyebrow at her.

“Stop looking at me like that.”

He sat down at the chair across from her and set the mugs on the yellow tabletop.

“What kind of new?”

“I don’t know, I just feel stuck in a rut, like I’m stagnating somehow.”

“You can’t stagnate in a rut.”

“Stop making fun of me, John, you know what I mean.”

“Sorry.” He took a sip from his cup and looked at her. “I don’t. I don’t know what you mean. I really don’t understand what you want.”

She shrugged. “Something different.”

“Different from what?”

She stared at the table in front of her without answering.

“I don’t know, Suze.” He leaned back against the bench. “You’ve always been happy with coffee before. What about if I got some decaf?”

She looked directly at him. “Does it always have to be like this? Why do I have to stay happy with coffee because I liked it once? Why can’t I try something new? Why can’t we have tea, for God’s sake?”

He got up and turned his back to her, deeply disappointed.

“Don’t you think you are being a bit melodramatic?”

“I don’t mean to scare you.”

“We’ve had coffee every morning for the past twenty years. Now you suddenly want tea? It doesn’t make sense, Susan.”

She picked up the mug of coffee in front of her and inhaled the steam rising off of it.

“You are right. There is nothing wrong with the coffee. It’s just…” The words flew out in a rush. “I think I want a divorce.”

He remained motionless, staring out the window.

“John? Did you hear me?”

“Tea,” he said. “A cup of tea. I can do that.” He picked up his keys and walked out the door, leaving her sitting alone at the table.


Sylvia Spruck Wrigley is a German-American living in Spain who writes about things she sees in a room which isn’t there.


Rate this story:
 average 4.7 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • A very nicely observed slice of miscommunication. His determination to ignore the signals was played exactly right for the length of the piece. Sensitive writing, good work.

  • I have friends who have just announced their decision to divorce and I have watched them for months go through bouts of small misunderstandings just like this. I loved the story; it is sad and it is funny, in that tragic way that we all recognize when there is nothing left but the truth.

  • “His determination to ignore the signals…”

    Er, no. It’s a guy thing; we don’t speak hints. He – in real life, I can’t speak for the author’s mind – really wouldn’t have been determinedly ignoring anything, he just wouldn’t have picked up any of this mysterious code. I’ve heard it said that when a woman asks a man about a problem, she wants sympathy, but he hears it as a request for help in finding a solution – and is quite likely to get up and go away, in his search.

  • Yes, I think that is the way of it. Women tend to think they understand men but we don’t. Many’s the strom in a tea-cup scene has been a mere symptom of that and I think this shows it well.

  • Thanks for the comments. I’m glad that it seems to strike a chord.

    To my mind, John is not trying to be difficult nor intentionally ignoring her. On the other hand, it isn’t just the hints (she spoke directly at the end) but an inability to deal with the issue. So he fixes the part that he can see a clear solution to.

    But of course, we all bring our own experiences to a scene like this, where the majority of the “story” is left unsaid.

  • Well done.

  • I saw it the way Sylvia wrote it. I think this story is brilliant. Btw, I am a woman – a woman woman the kind who enjoys cooking and all – and when I ask a direct question to a problem, all I want is sound solution, but I often end up getting a lot of inane advice and unwanted sympathy, not just from other women but, more often from men! 🙂

  • Jen

    That ending stunned me! I really wasn’t expecting her to ask for a divorce. So sad, but true. The writing was wonderful!

  • Angela

    Realistic and good a subtle way of digging at heavy issues.

  • Robin Herrnfeld

    Very well done. LIked it very much for all it has to say about changing and misunderstandings.

  • Loved this, Sylvia! The dialogue told the story and rang 100% true. Love how you used the coffee as a metaphor. This is EXACTLY how people communicate when they don’t know how to say what they really want. And John’s avoidance told us everything we needed to know about him. Fantastic.

  • Sylvia! I loved this. The ending was brilliant. I just want to hug them both.

  • Thanks you guys – your comments have made my day. 🙂

  • gay

    “I don’t know, I just feel stuck in a rut, like I’m stagnating somehow.”

    “You can’t stagnate in a rut.”

    Funny and sad and true. I really like this Sylvia; you especially write great dialogue. Few people can build a story from dialogue and you can.

  • “I just want to hug them both”.

    That’s why we don’t like sympathy. It encourages that sort of thing.

  • Celeste

    I agree with, Gay (but then, don’t we all!!) Your dialogue really sparkled. You obviously have a natural talent for it. I loved this!

  • lindsay

    Just read this a few days late and thought it was very well done. Poignant and just the right length to give insight into the characters without spending too much time on background.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    A saddening story of two people who do not give enough weight to abiding, he avoiding her actual needs and focusing only on the trivial, she avoiding direct approach in her speech but hastening to a disrupting conclusion. Yet, he did bring his keys with him. Will he think about it or only bring home the tea?

  • Either way, when he returns, will she still be sitting at the table?

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Sylvia – good question. But she might wait to see if he did any thinking.