“Coffee in a French press, made by my stepbrother” by Josh White


A few days after my mother died
my stepbrother (my father’s son)
was making coffee in a French press.

I had not cried since
my mother died,
only doing so beforehand
when I realised
she wasn’t going to make it.

Afterwards
I suppose I was numb.

Or perhaps
my attention-seeking side was somewhat gratified by all the condolences that came my way in the days after her death,
so much so that I felt special
in some peculiar way.

She died the day the academic year started
so I was missing my first week of study
and was conscious of the workload I was missing.

Also,
oddly,
I liked the week she died
because all the strands of my family
came together then
and everyone chipped in in some way.
So-and-so did the flowers, and somebody did the memorial pamphlets, and I know my cousin collated all the tweets and articles pertaining to my mother’s death
(she was a well-known journalist).

Ironically,
there was a big family atmosphere.

I liked having my brothers in the house
(I mean my stepbrothers–my father’s sons–but they have always been my brothers).

Anyway,
my brother,
a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur,
and the oldest of us three,

was making coffee in a French press.

And while he was making it,
or perhaps while he was putting the French press away
(I can’t remember exactly when he said the thing he said)
he turned to me, and said
something along the lines of:

“You know, with these things,
you mustn’t push them down too hard,
because they run the risk of breaking if you do.”

I looked at him
quizzically at first
and then with understanding
of what I thought he was saying.

Of course it’s bad
to push it down which too much force
until the only thing it does is break.

But seconds later
I realised
he was talking about the French press.

About how
if you push the French press down with too much force
the whole thing just might break
and smash and shatter everywhere
and leave a horrid mess.

And that’s true.

I’ve known it to happen before.

But what my brother didn’t know
is that his coffee helped me through
a year
of clutching at my chest,
heaving with sobs that almost choked me,
pushing the pain out in heavy, tear-soaked retches
slowly and surely.

I knew not to keep it down,
the pain,
and when I felt it
I let it rise
and rise and lurch and tug its way out.

Because of that advice,
because to use a French press requires both care and an understanding of its workings,

I think that French press coffee just might be,
for me,
the most important coffee ever made.


Josh White grew up in Joburg, studied (and lived for a short while) in Grahamstown, and now stays in Cape Town. This year he received his Master’s with distinction in English, and he is currently interning at Highbury Safika Media as a writer for the website CapeTownEtc. He is a cinephile, bibliophile, music lover and coffee addict.

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