It is 7 o'clock and my mother's house is still, as always, this morning. I step softly down the white wall-to-wall carpeting, past her beloved antiques and books that shaped my life. Ernest Hemingway: a Life Story. Of Diamonds and Diplomats. The Best and the Brightest. Friendly Adventurers. Our Hearts were Young and Gay. The Oxford Book of English Verse. Their Finest Hour.
Before I tiptoe out the door, I leave a scribbled note for my mother on the breakfast table, so she won't worry.
"Good morning Mom! I'm at Starbucks checking my email. I'll be back by 9:30"
I steer the car automatically down the lane, at the required snail's pace, past the white mail boxes and carefully trimmed juniper and saw palms on each lawn.
Out to the main highway, I accelerate to a whopping 35 mph to speed to the local Starbucks. I settle at the corner table with my mug of latte, log on to the Wifi and tackle the electronic onslaught. 99 unread emails in one account. 52 emails in the other account. This must be a joke! 90 percent of them relate to life in Paris. Racing to process is all. To retain some of it.
Two and a half hours. Starbucks is buzzing, the regulars gathering in the velvet armchairs, catching up with each other's news of the past 24 hours. In between attempts at focused responses to emails and calendar updates, I manage a sliver of new thought. I wonder if Hemingway's life in Paris was like this at La Closerie des Lilas? I wonder how writers ever write or wrote at cafés. The Starbucks crowd here is a back-slapping fun-loving bunch. Buddy Holly is blaring from the sound system. The barista stops by with free samples of coffeecake. So much distraction.
Nevertheless, at Starbucks I have the ability to check out Google.fr Actualités, and to find out what has been happening in France. I realize how tethered one is to the internet for access to foreign news. Starbucks is my haven for connection to the world outside this suburban island. News from France, emails from business and friends in Paris. How ironic that I never grace the doors of Starbucks in Paris. Here in my mother's town, Starbucks is Life.
Time's up. Mom will get anxious if I'm not back at the appointed hour. I whisk back down the highway, wave to the guard at the gate with her shining face, slow to a crawl as I drive past the turtles sunning on the mulched banks of the pond.
I sidle into my mother's house, hoping she's not up yet. She arrives in the kitchen in her plaid LLBean nightgown. "Where were you?" she questions hazily.
"At Starbucks." I reply cheerfully, as I have every morning. "Checking my email. Did you see my note?"
She wanders off to get dressed before breakfast.
Then, "What would you like for breakfast?" she asks, as always, carefully setting the table.
"Oh, I'm fine, thanks. I had breakfast at Starbucks," I reply.
"Mmmh." She looks perplexed, almost peeved, quizzical.
"Polly," she insists in her husky dulcet voice as she gazes at me. "What ARE star-bucks?"