András Toroczkay: mugs

I haven’t got my own special mug, and even those I did once have,  

like that mess tin dad bought after mum died, which has turned up again  

from who knows where, they aren’t mine, they’ve all become Ildi’s  

as well. The same way I don’t own Ildi, though sometimes  

I think I do. If we had a kid, I’d say the same about it 

I suppose: that one’s mine, while they wouldn’t  

be only mine, in fact they probably wouldn’t 

be anyone’s. That’s not how it works. You can’t 

compare a mug to a child. 

When I was a child I called mugs beakers 

and I wouldn’t drink coffee from them, but chocolate milk 

at the same time each day. The flowers and trees 

on the family porcelain, if I close my eyes they spring  

up before me, one after the other.  

But the gold trim on the cup’s lip may have 

been silver. Or not even silver, just bronze. In my hands right now  

is the rose-coloured one. It’s capacious, potty-shaped, cracked. 

In spite of this, or precisely because, I love it. And I’ve got one 

that’s sea-blue, which Dad and his partner Gizi brought back 

from somewhere in Germany. There’s a picture on it, an unreal, 

cold-looking city, I don’t remember which, I don’t remember 

what they said about it. Though I listened. I’ve forgotten. That too.  

And I love my long-disbanded rock group’s only mug. The pattern  

on it is fading and will soon be gone for ever. The more I use it, the sooner 

it’ll wear off. In the end, there’ll be just me who knows, just me who sees 

something, anything in that grubby white. The Snoopy mug with the 

missing handle, that’s my favourite currently because of my dog, 

who has no idea why I’m typing just now, why we’re not out 

on the street having a walk.  

There are also the Ikea mugs, they’re good too I guess, and were 

also my favourites for a long while; maybe ’cause they’re modern 

and for a long while there was nothing they reminded me of. There  

are one or two with muffins on them, that’s the kind Ildi threw at me  

from the other end of the room; fragments of them still turn up though  

perhaps neither of us knows now what started it. A story from 

my childhood springs to mind:  mum squirting her milk onto my face 

when I’d fallen asleep during breastfeeding. Okay,  so it’s not a story,  

but it is to do with childhood. For me at least. Some people don’t find it 

off-putting; I like falling asleep at their houses. I always fall asleep 

at Dad’s place for example. I enjoyed that, at one time at least. Sometimes 

I sit there in the mornings, mug in hand, yawning until I drop off again. I 

spill coffee down myself and over the duvet, on the bed like Mum did once  

with one of her school certificates, or maybe someone else, not her, 

dad, perhaps, or someone else in the middle of an argument or making love,  

or was it a passport, not a certificate? 

I don’t know anymore. Perhaps never did. Those huge brown stains on the brand-new  

mattress are my dog’s. My dog is a miniature cow. I get cross when other people say that. 

Only I’m allowed to say bad stuff about him. 

And then just when he makes me jump by barking unexpectedly, 

by chasing a terror-stricken cat up hill and down dale, 

or by finding something stinky and dangerous on the ground 

and eating it though I’ve explicitly asked him not to. 

I used to take my coffee with loads of milk and loads of sugar. 

I couldn’t imagine ever drinking it differently. 

It was the sugar I gave up first. I kept running out when  

I was still living alone. Then it struck me the coffee was fine without, that 

it was perfectly drinkable that way too. I got used to the coffee not being so sweet, 

or accepted it. Later, it would taste odd, if by accident… 

I stopped adding milk a couple of years ago: half of my life was behind me, 

and I’d never linked the diarrhoea to drinking milk. Just as I grew to like coffee 

bitter, I also started to like it black, and now there’s no other way I could drink it. 

Grief, on the other hand, I can’t get used to. The worst of it is 

there’s no end, it seems. It leaves a residue, like dregs. 

What can I do with them. The last few gulps. The end of it. When it’s gone cold.  

It’s drinkable. But not pleasant. Bearing it, getting used to it, accepting it. 

Sometimes for fun, I picture it all completely different from how it is now. 

I don’t know Ildi, I don’t have a dog, I take my coffee differently too. 

Sweet and milky, like I used to. I’d be bolder, entrancing,  

and irresistibly sweet myself. Then I think, by this stage both Mum  

and Dad’d also be taking their coffee black, if they were taking it. 

Or maybe neither of them would be drinking anything, 

the mugs would be empty, and they’d just be listening as I tell them  

all the stuff that’s happened in the world since they stopped living. 

Skip to content