Back in a Minute

Matthew Zanoni Müller

We lived at the bottom of Spencer's Butte in Eugene, and sometimes, on weekends, we climbed to the top. My mother told us to listen for rattlesnakes that she said lived on the mountain, in case they were coming near the path. The whole darkness of the underbrush seemed about to rattle. The enormous trunks of the evergreens rose out of the inclines below us to a ceiling of branches and leaves above. In this green darkness, my father started talking about the cafe he would open if he ever had the money and wasn't a poor teacher.

"Well, to start with, we'd make the best coffee in the world," he said. Coffee was his ritual and his obsession. "Big giant cups overflowing with foam—and hot!" It had to be burning hot.

"And hot chocolate?" we asked. We didn't want to be left out.

"Of course. But maybe you boys would like it even more if you came and took a toy from the free toy bin that would be at the front door."

"Free toys?"

"Totally free. And once you had your toy you could walk out to the back terrace, a nice back terrace, like the ones in England."

"In England?"

"Yes, the ones your mother and I would go to, to have our tea, but none of those, of course, had slides."

"Slides?!"

"Yes, water slides, in fact, that you could slide down into the pool on. There is, of course, a little stream that goes along the terrace, and it makes a little pool, with the clearest water."

"And you can just go swimming in it, at the café?" I said, full of wonder.

"Yup. The slides would go into the swimming pool. And when you came out, you could come and sit with mom and me at one of the tables, and all the tables would have just enough shade, and just enough sun, and hanging, in the branches above them, would be the most beautiful little lanterns."

We were almost at the top, but he kept going. Our image of the restaurant was growing and shimmering as we came up through the trees.

"There would also be a whole counter full of only marzipan candies!" my father said.

We started laughing. There always had to be marzipan. Every year, for Christmas, my father would get a bar of Marzipan, covered in chocolate, from my grandmother. It was his most favorite thing in the world and found its way into each bed-time story. Even though we didn't dare ask, he would cut little slices of his marzipan for us, and we'd sit around him letting the sweetness run into our mouths.

"You could have the Marzipan in any shape you wanted."

"Like monkeys?" I asked.

"Especially monkeys. In fact, I would call some friends from South Africa, and they would transport trees from Zululand across the oceans with real monkeys in them."

I loved hearing about South Africa and monkeys because that was where my father was from. He had seen real monkeys in trees and even touched one, and I wished, more than anything, that monkeys would be in the trees on the mountain we were climbing, and that one would jump from the branches and sit on my shoulder, and then come home with me.

We came to the top and we saw, all around us, the fields going away to other mountains, and the tiny houses in the fields, and the city full of houses. I looked down to where my father once said our house was, and I thought of how we would drive off to the restaurant every day from it.

"What's it gonna be called," I asked my father, "the restaurant?"

"Back in a Minute," he said, "because no one will want to stay away longer than that."

I clapped my hands. We kept saying the name, laughing at how perfect it was, disappearing behind rocks and then popping back out and screaming "Back in a minute!" just like our customers would.

We paused to look out over our small city, and the dark landscape toward the coast, and the expanse of landscape toward the Sisters, and the desert behind them, and behind that, all of America, opening up into the planes.

We walked back down into the darkness of the trees, where the image of our house, like a dark light box, already began to come to me. It would have my mother inside of it, sighing at her bills, and my father telling me that monkeys loved the whole banana, even the brown parts, and I would eat them down, holding my breath. With us now, too, came the shining image of the coffee shop as we wove and jumped down the steep rocks from the top, into the paths worn into the hillside, held by round wooden posts, and moved through the large roots of the trees that shadowed the path, until we came out by the parking lot, surrounded by the towering pines, and got back into our little brown Toyota and headed home as evening fell.


About the Author

Matthew Zanoni Müller was born in Bochum, Germany, and grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and Upstate New York. He received his MFA from Warren Wilson's MFA Program for Writers and teaches at his local Community College. His work has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, DecomP MagazinE, Fwriction : Review, Toasted Cheese, Prick of the Spindle, Halfway Down the Stairs, MiCrow, Used Furniture Review, Literary Bohemian, Lowestoft Chronicle, and numerous other journals. To learn more about his writing, please visit: www.matthewzanonimuller.com