Movements in a Coffeehouse (Theme with Cows)

A breakup over coffee becomes a symphony of inharmonious blame and improvised what-ifs. New story by Tim Lieder.

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!



“What are you talking about?” he said, looking as if someone had kicked out his insides.

“I met someone else,” she said, trying not to say too much. If she said more, she’d be crying and he’d be swearing; then he’d be crying and she’d be swearing. She chose a public place because he couldn’t make a scene but his arms were threatening to wave. Three Tables Away was getting an earful. Three Tables Away always got an earful with him.

“Why? What the hell?” he said and he cried. Not just little tears, but big damn tears. Snot and everything.


“I met someone else,” she said as they sipped their coffee.

“Oh? Who?” he asked, silently meditating on the bottom of his hands.

“Just a guy.”

“How long?”

“A while.”

Long silent pauses. Comfortable people never had speech problems. They were always talking when they wanted to talk and listening when they wanted to listen. Silence.


“I met someone else,” she said and in this scenario he just spilled his coffee on his lap, overturned the table and walked.


They came and went — falling into each other with nothing to prepare them for their random life together. Five years ago they started dating. Three months later they began living together. The rest is simple. She moved in with him and then she moved away from him. She left the country. He became a Muslim but then he gave it up. She didn’t talk to him for at least a month and then she did and then she slept with him and his income level rose but not by much, just enough to eat and get fat. Then they started seeing each other again and then they didn’t and then they were sort of attached but not really and he grew a stupid mustache. They weren’t really dating except for the odd sexual incident. They were dire but they weren’t serious. She didn’t have to prepare herself.


“I met someone else,” she said in the coffeehouse. The city lights were invading from beyond the windows; the Celtic singer screeched for impossible notes. She repeated it in measured tones.

“I met someone else — he’s younger — he’s nice — he’s funny. He likes poetry; he even reads poetry at that poetry slam where you wouldn’t go because you thought it was stupid. I think I love him and I want you to be happy with it. I don’t want to hurt you.”

She spoke to her coffee cup because it’d look weird if she spoke to the empty chair where he’d be sitting had he been on time. She hated it. She sounded apologetic. She didn’t want to be sorry. It wasn’t her fault. She was breaking up with him. He should have let it go the first time.

The music kept playing; she liked the violin. She played violin in high school before finding better ambitions. She was going to be a great concert violinist but she loved the computer job. Already she had learned Java, Cold Fusion, and even C++. The résumé was getting better. It was a salary job so she could leave work early in order to get to the coffee house 10 minutes early and prepare for the important meeting with her stupid ex-boyfriend who couldn’t bother to show up.


Fifteen minutes later he arrived. His head was wet as if he’d been running. He greeted her, walked away, bought a small coffee. She wasn’t going to get a chance to speak first. He was in one of those moods. She’d have to start in before he started poetic bubbling over Star Wars. Sitting down he drummed his fingers on the table before he asked her what was wrong. She didn’t think she looked upset; her glasses were old and she was squinting.

“Hi, dear,” he said in a cornball English accent, “how are you?”

“We need to talk.”

“Are you breaking up with me again?”

“Yes, I am. And this isn’t like the other times. This isn’t a cycle. I don’t want us to be a couple. I don’t want …”

“This coffee is putrid.”

“I am breaking up with you.”

“But it’s not April.”

“I’m serious this time.”

“You’re always serious. Did you meet someone else?”


“You are just doing it for consistency. You’ve tried meeting someone else, and then you tried going solo, and then you tried meeting someone else. The last few times you went solo. You’re due.”

“I don’t love you. I haven’t loved you for some time.”

“Oh,” he said and he stopped fidgeting. She didn’t know if he believed her or if he was waiting for her to change her mind.

She didn’t care.

“I’m sorry,” she said angry for feeling guilt.

“That’s okay.”

“He’s really great.”

He mumbled something about brains and field mice or fields of rain. The espresso machine was drowning out the Celtic violins but not the drums.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Sorry. I was just thinking about that night.”

“What night?”

“The night when we drove out to that place, it was a dance or something”

“I don’t remember”

“Dick V. Tiller Orchestra Ska funk swing band from Hell. You remember them?”

“I never listened to them.”

“We didn’t make it to the concert.”

“Oh. Then how could I forget?”

“We got lost, we ended up 20 miles out of the way and it was getting later — I was telling you where to go when you refused to listen and we just kept getting more lost.”

“You want me to be happy dumping you? Usually you pull out the good memories.”

“You screamed back. I’d never heard you do that before.”

“Now I remember. You were a jackass.”

“I know but I didn’t expect you to stop and run out of the car. You were just marching away, like it wasn’t your car, and I was trying to follow you but the rain was pelting me. I think there was hail.”

“There was no hail.”

“There was hail.”

“It was raining, but it wasn’t hailing. I wouldn’t have done that if it was hailing.”

“You were running away and you kept screaming at me. That new dress that I bought for you was getting muddy and water was flying from your hair. You were beautiful — primal. Rain and wind just bashed us both, and you were crying and screaming. No, you weren’t crying.”

“I wasn’t? That wasn’t one of the times you made me cry?”

“You always make yourself cry. I just say a few words that you …”

“Is there a point?”

“Yes, because when you were yelling at me and calling me a jerk and telling me that I was the stupidest man in the world and you didn’t want to see any stupid band that has to be out in the country to get gigs; there was this cow. This cow was just staring at us. It looked like a therapist. But you were stomping your feet and screaming and then you started laughing at me. You just kept laughing, but I was trying to apologize. Come to think of it. You always laugh when I apologize.”

“I was laughing because you were looking at the cow. You couldn’t look me in the eye so you told the cow everything. The poor cow didn’t know why you loved it or made it drive in the wrong direction.”

“What about all the other times?”

“You were always trying to look me in the eye; when you couldn’t do it, I kept seeing that poor cow.”

“You’ve been laughing at the cow?” he asked.

“I forgot about that,” she said, and she was smiling. It wasn’t a smile that you could control.

“I fell in love with you that night,” he said and looked at the table. It was one of his cute looks. She hated those cute looks. They made her want to forgive him.

“Are you okay with this?” she asked.

“No. I don’t care. Yes. We had fun. I wanted to marry you.”

“You did not.”

“Yes I did.”

“Too late.”

“It’s been too late for a long time,” he said with a smile not so genuine; then she mentioned Boba Fett which got them talking. They spoke past the last Celtic song and past the canned Madonna music until the guy with the mop kicked them out. Outside they hugged and he groped her “for old time sakes,” but she wasn’t in the mood for old times. She punched him in the gut. He whined as if she killed him. She laughed and forgave him. They went home separately. The night was clear. There were no clouds in the sky and no cows on the trip home.

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *