Percy choked on his coffee, snorting some of the scalding liquid up his nose and filling his eyes with tears. He issued a horrible bubbling cough and spat black coffee onto the table cloth. With rasping breath he calmed down and mopped at his nose and brow with a handkerchief. Then he dabbed at the spattered table apologetically. His hand shook with a fain tremor as he replaced the handkerchief and took a cautious sip of the offending drink. And promptly repeated the scene.
His companion looked on from across the table, regarding Percy’s drinking incompetence with no more passion than a raised eyebrow as the man turned red and gargled.
“For Christ’s sake Percy, what the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Went. Down. Wrong. Way.”
“Mmm. Third time lucky,” he sipped at his own double espresso.
A fresh spasm of wheezing gasps wracked Percy, “Can I have. Some of your water?” he croaked. The other man nudged the bottle towards him. Those trembling hands barely got the screw cap off.
He was holding it to his lips when he choked for a third time.
“What? What the hell are you choking on now? What could possibly be the problem?” the other man demanded, snatching back his water.
Poor Percy spluttered and coughed, having in mere anticipation of liquid, sucked his own saliva into his windpipe. One long harrowing breath turned his ears pink and his eyes red. His feet tapped on the floor. His face positively glowed and the tears dripped onto the table. One fist beat slowly on the tabletop, slowing until it stopped. Percy’s head lolled backwards and his arms fell slack to his sides.
His companion rolled his eyes in frustration. “Really?” he tapped his fingers on the table, glancing around the empty coffee house. The barrista had left them alone, and it was after closing time. Their table was in one of just a few patches of light in the place; the rest dwelt in black coffee shades. Resentfully he got out of his seat, leaned over and punched Percy in the sternum as hard as he could, and then sat back.
Percy’s eyes whipped open and he ejected a wad of some vile lung gunk into the dark. He wiped his eyes and breathed deeply until the rattle went away. “Wow, thanks,” he managed. His companion said nothing until Percy once more reached for his coffee. The other man ripped it out of his grasp and tossed it into the shadows.
“I don’t ever want to see you drink again.”