The Minotaur: Espresso

by Salvatore Difalco

[ read suite in correct order ]



Thought I knew the city. Used to work as a bicycle courier and thought I knew every inch of it. Clearly not. It was upscale, this neighbourhood: high-end fashion, gourmet foods, designer kitchen supplies, extortionate furniture. Chi chi cafes and tony eateries glittered uninvitingly. I entered a zinc-encrusted espresso bar and took an aluminum stool at the gleaming counter. I was the only customer. The barista, back to me, ponytail shaking as he worked, must not have heard me enter. I could see him, bearded, serious, black plaid vest impressive, in the mirrors behind the bar, but his downcast eyes and furrowed brow indicated complete focus on the task at hand.

I cleared my throat, more loudly than I’d intended, startling the barista, who whirled around holding in his hands some kind of metallic sculpture or icon.

“It’s you,” he said. “I’ve been waiting.”

Before I could say anything, the barista raised his hand.

“Existence is bizarre,” he said.  “Consciousness contradicts reality, undermines it.”

“When you finish polishing your toy—a double espresso, and tell me where I am.”

“Apotheosis requires encounters,” he said, smiling. He rested the statuette—a horned animal or hybrid creature, in brass—on the counter, and turned to the espresso machine. “We’re in the Seventh Circle of Hell,” he said, glancing over his shoulder.

“Practicing your stand-up? Love good stand-up. This gig just pays the rent. Correct?”

“They said you’d be feisty.”

They? Tell me what’s going on before I—”

“Before you what?” interrupted the barista. He placed a demitasse filled with thick black coffee at my elbow. Steam rose from it. “Sugar?” he asked.

Of course, sugar. He placed a chrome sugar bowl beside my cup. I stirred in two teaspoons and tasted. Not bad.

Resting his elbows on the counter, the barista opened his hands and settled his chin on them. “I know,” he sighed. “We get the coffee from a family-run operation out of Naples who’ve been roasting their own organically grown and specially blended beans for more than a century.”

“Seriously,” I said, “where am I? Got off the bus a few stops early. They must’ve redeveloped this whole neighbourhood, it all looks new to me.”

“He’s my talisman,” the barista said, nodding to the statuette, “traditional symbol of the unconquerable force of ego, haha.”

“I need to be …” I stopped myself and glanced at my wristwatch. Almost eleven.

“You were saying?”

“None of your business,” I said, when in reality I’d forgotten where I was going, drawing a blank. I racked my brain, but nothing came. A sense of panic washed over me, buzzy, cold.

“What’s the matter?” asked the barista.

“Where did you say we were?”

“This is a Minotaur,” he said, holding it under my nose.

Buffed to a rich shine, it exuded a faintly coppery smell. All told an impressive property. It could have easily crushed my skull with a violent blow. The barista tossed the statuette from hand to hand, a manoeuvre that looked reckless to me.

“Do you know what a Minotaur is?” he asked.

“I don’t fucking care.”

The barista smiled. “Picasso did some splendid Minotaurs. Do you know Picasso?”

“What do you mean? I know of him. I know his art. Whatever.”

“I want you to do something for me. If you do, I’ll tell you exactly where we are.”

He abruptly disappeared into the back. I examined the statuette. A bull-headed bipedal creature. I recalled reading about the Minotaur in high school mythology, but if someone had held a gun to my head I wouldn’t have been able to shorthand whatever myth it appears in, or explain any socio-historical or symbolic associations. How did it become part of my day, a day when I was scheduled to sign my divorce papers? Ah-ha! I thought. I was headed to the lawyer’s office to sign my divorce papers! Carolina and I had been separated for five years. So I wasn’t demonstrating signs of early onset dementia. But damn, I’d missed the appointment. Carolina would see this as a deliberate attempt to forestall the inevitable—she believed I still loved her.

Shortly the barista returned holding some kind of mask by one of its two horns. It was quite large and as menacing a mask as I had ever seen.

“What the hell is that?”

“The construction’s well done,” he said. “Real craftsmanship went into this bad boy. No detail glanced over. That’s real bull hide and real bull horns, man. But get this—foam padded interior. I kid you not. We hit our tester in the head multiple times with boffer swords and he barely felt it, and the mask stood up to further beatings—bats, chains, whips—no rips or tears.”

“What the—what?”

“You’re skeptical. Okay. Some cons. Not easy to see out of it. Zero peripheral. Even seeing ahead challenging—keep eyes centred on the eyeholes or you’re blind. And the interior of the head is huge, made for an Andre the Giant, haha. Your head appears normal-sized. But the testers kept it on without too much wobble using a wound towel—like a turban. I strongly suggest you copy.” He placed a rolled white towel by my elbow.

I stared at the mask, the sharp horns, the flaring nostrils.

“Did my ex put you up to this?” I asked, however unlikely she’d go to such lengths.

“Your ex?”

“I’m not putting that on,” I said.

“But you came here for it, didn’t you?” The barista leaned over. “You need it for the party, no? The costume party.”

“But I—”

“Come on, man. Don’t get weird on me. Just put it on.” He patted the towel. “The towel will keep it stable. Come on. I don’t have all day.”



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