Insomnia was a funny thing. In all his years of battling it, Lawrence had only once actually found something that worked. It was prescription drug that he couldn’t remember the name of that had cost him nearly seventy-five dollars a bottle. At the time, when his art was actually making him money, it seemed a small price to pay for a good night’s sleep.
Alas, with the recent decline of the economy, demand for his trade had decreased as well. Now every penny that he made needed to be pinched as tightly as he possibly could. Bills were often paid late, the rent had been paid passed due nearly every month, and a good night’s sleep was not worth the money he had to spend on the little white tablets.
Tonight was no different than any other night. There was a half empty bottle of Jack on the table top, a cigarette grasped between his fingers, sleep was a far off fantasy, and he was restless.
He was always restless.
Smoke burned his throat on the journey to his lung, nicotine bringing him little relief. He needed to go somewhere, anywhere, and do something. Not that he really had any money to do anything with.
Cursing, he gave his apartment a cursory glance. Nothing in the dark little hell-hole he called his own was really worth noting. It was a tiny studio with hardy enough room for his things. There were canvases scattered about, the paintings on most of them only half finished, if he had even bothered to start on them at all.
Recently no one had really seemed all that interested in his work. This, in turn, had caused him to stop caring about his work. Now days, he was lucky to churn out one, maybe two paintings a week. In his prime, this had been below his daily average.
Another inhale and he found that he had burned yet another cigarette down to the filter. As the rancid taste of burning cotton filled his mouth, he began to cough violently, dropping the little cancer stick in the process.
“Damn it!” he cursed between heaves, attempting to stomp on the filter for good measure while simultaneously attempting not to wretch all over the couch.
That was breaking point. He needed to get out of the house and fast, lest he suffer another lonely night of cheap cigarettes and whiskey.
In a matter of minutes he was out the door, his dirty wool trench coat and scarf giving him the stereotypical appearance of a starving artist. Not that the image wasn’t accurate, he just sometimes detested broadcasting it.
Another cigarette was slipped into his mouth as he began the cold trek down the snowy sidewalk. It was a few days before the New Year and the weather had just finally decided to allow winter to slip into the city.
He passed dingy building after dingy building, occasionally having to sneak past bums passed out on their respective stoops. It always bothered him to refuse money to those less fortunate than himself, though he honestly didn’t have any money to give away.
Finally he reaches his destination. The sign above the door read “Morningstar Coffee open 24 hours a day” in blinding, multicolored neon. Flicking the remains of his cigarette at the wet pavement, he decided it was a good idea to get some caffeine in him.
Heavily he leaned against the door, stumbling inside as it opens with the pressure of his weight. The small shop is nearly empty, a few of the local punk kids at a far corner table being the only exception.
Upon hearing the doorbell jingle, the barista appears behind the counter. He is an impatient looking Indian man in a plaid button up. His expression clearly says “It’s 4 in the morning, what the hell are you doing here? You’re interrupting my nap. Let’s get on with this.”
Feeling as though he should obey such a stern expression, Lawrence hurried to the counter.
“What’ll it be, then?” the barista asked, attempting to sound friendlier than he looked, though he didn’t much succeed.
“Something strong,” he replied.
His voice sounded distant, just as it had for the last six months. Insomnia did that to him. The lack of sleep made his brain fuzzy, where it seemed like he could never quite concentrate on what he was doing, like everything was just ever so slightly out of his reach. And when he found something he could reach, he could never muster the effort to actually take it. Life just passed in one big, meaningless cloud that he would sooner ignore than participate in.
His eyes scanned the menu without really seeing it. He already knew what he wanted.
“I’ll take the Sucker Punch,” he decided. “Three pumps of raspberry, if you would be so kind.”
The Sucker Punch was one of the most bitter, caffeinated things that Lawrence had ever tasted. It was composed chiefly of espresso, six shots of it, to be exact. Steamed milk and a few pumps of raspberry flavoring were added to attempt to take some of the edge off, though it often did nothing to soften the impact of what felt like an actual sucker punch to the taste buds.
It was disgusting and he loved it.
Hurriedly the barista took his money, their eyes making contact for one inexplicably awkward moment. Though he wasn’t sure why, the barista made him a little uneasy. Shaking his head, he tried to ignore the feeling that the momentary eye contact had allowed the creepy barista a look into his soul.
There was a small ruckus in the corner as the punk kids got out of their seats. They left the small coffee shop in a wave of playful curses and laughter, leaving Lawrence alone with the creepy barista.
No further words were shared between the two of them as his drink was prepared. A Bright Eyes tune carried through the little shop over the sound of the milk steamer.
Soon enough, his drink was brought to him and he took it with a quiet thank you. The barista nodded what was meant to be a “You’re welcome, sir”. However, instead, when he actually spoke he said something that gave Lawrence chills.
“I think you’ll find exactly what you need in there,” the Indian man smirked, winking at him before returning to the backroom before Lawrence had a chance to ask him what the hell he meant or what was in the drink.
Unsettled, Lawrence scuttled over to a seat by the window, looking blearily out at the wet streets and neon lights. The creepy comment had made his coffee suddenly very unappealing. Uncertainly he sniffed a few times, detecting no hints of discrepancy from the usual recipe. For a long time, he just let the coffee sit there.
Eventually he turned to his coffee, taking pause when he noticed the foam had a design in it that had not been there before.
Fascinated, he watched the face of a woman take shape. She was absolutely beautiful, with hair that spread out around he winking face in hypnotic swirls that drew him to her like a fish to water. The face was so relaxed, so blissful, like a woman lying on a bed after a passionate night of love-making; just utterly carefree, and completely satisfied.
And he realized then, as much as it unsettled him, that the barista had been right. There, in that cup, was all that he needed. The woman was no woman at all; she was a muse, a beautiful, sensual muse.
Hurriedly he took his sketchbook from the messenger bag that he carried with him everywhere. After struggling for a moment to find a pen, he began to draw.
It was unclear how long he had sat there, scribbling down every last detail of the face, making sure her hair lay perfectly, capturing the satisfaction in her face. When he was finally finished, the sun was coming up and his drink was cold.
With a yawn, he took one last look at her face before deciding that it was necessary to consume her. With a few swigs, he made the contents of the cup disappear, the woman forever captured in his notebook.
He headed home, in somewhat of a trance, the delight of having a feeling of purpose distracting him from the walk.
When he got through the door he set the bag and notebook on his coffee table and lounged on the couch. The television was on, though on mute, and he watched the silent pictures move across the screen. They relaxed him, lulling him into a deep sleep filled with dreams of beautiful women and boundless inspiration.