“Creamer”: A Personal Essay for Bad Survivalist by Marlene Olin

Bad Survivalist: Marlene Olin


I’m not a demanding person. All I need is my morning cup of coffee. Plus a teaspoon of sugar and a little creamer.

Fuck! I’m out of creamer.

My fingers dance on the keyboard, and I can’t believe my luck. The creamer’s coming. Not in five days or six but today. But the driver no habla ingles. And instead of coming at 9:00, the creamer comes at 11:04. My phone pings and a car pulls in front of my house. Looking out the window, I see a man in a mask leave it on my porch.

The coffee machine’s been ready and waiting. I can just taste that coffee, the burn, the warmth, the buzz. I snake on my plastic gloves, take a deep breath, and open the door. Then I slip the creamer out of the plastic bag and hold it at arm’s length. I love my creamer. I can taste that creamer. That creamer’s my mother’s milk, my Walden Pond, my sea to shining sea. But I grasp that container like it’s toxic, like a chunk of Chernobyl’s in the palm of my hand. Still holding my breath, I race inside.

I turn on the faucet with my elbow. Next I scrub the container with soap and put it on the counter. Then I take off my gloves, throw them in the garbage, and wash my hands for twenty seconds. Somehow my sink and counter seem suspect. So I Lysol spray them as well.

But wait. I forgot to change my shoes. My eyes narrow in on my sneakers. Sneakers that were once innocent and beloved are now covered with microscopic droplets laden with evil intent. I open the front door, kick them off my feet, and run back inside. Then I wipe down my doorknob and wash my hands one more time.

I’m about to drink. I hold the cup to my lips. My mind’s uncluttered and my serotonin’s surging. Then my thoughts race in another direction.

Was the man coughing? I remember that square of window, the hunched shoulders, a blur of hair. I could swear he coughed. I check the video cam on my doorbell and sure enough I see the slightest of quivers, the slimmest of shudders. It’s subtle but it’s there. So I run to my laundry, throw my clothes in the washing machine, and race to the bathroom naked. Then I shower and shampoo my hair.

Finally, I head back to the kitchen. My hand shakes as the cup travels toward my mouth. Then suddenly I glance down. Closing an eye, I take a closer look. I can’t believe it. Instead of smooth, I’ve got lumpy. Instead of a perfect cup of coffee, I’m fermenting cottage cheese.

Now I’m shaking the cup with a vengeance. The creamer’s swirling as little tidal waves slap up and down the sides. It’s the universe in a microcosm. The Milky Way in the palm of my hand. I’m crying and laughing at the same time. Tears. Gulps. Snorts. Will it ever be over? Has the whole world curdled? Will anything ever be right?

Seconds seem like minutes. I upend the cup into the sink. Then I look at the clock to check the time. Christ, it’s not even noon. A whole freaking day lies ahead. At least there’s TV to watch and puzzles to ponder. A Zoom call and the wash! And what’s the alternative? So I throw a new pod into the coffee machine and punch the keys on my phone.

Ping! The creamer’s on its way.

Marlene Olin was born in Brooklyn, raised in Miami, and educated at the University of Michigan. Her short stories have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as Massachusetts Review, Catapult, American Literary Review, and Arts & Letters. She is the recipient of both the 2015 Rick Demarinis Fiction Award and the 2018 So To Speak Fiction Prize. Her twitter handle is @writestuffmiami.

Image: countryatheart.de

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