Coffee Beans

By Albert Chen

Written October 31, 2002

My grandmother used to tell me that you had sex a lot less when you were married. This was not something I wanted to believe; and I liked the idea of being in love for life. I couldn’t believe that being married meant not having sex.

Oh sure, I heard the stories and the complaints that the romance disappeared and couples really did only have sex on occasion, maybe once or twice a week, but I could not imagine not having sex more than that, especially when you loved the person you were with.

I suppose I should start over, I am not a nymphomaniac, nor did my grandmother actually say that I would not have sex after I got married. In fact, we never talked about it in my family – sex, I mean. My parents could not get past the birds and the bees and get to people. I learned about sex at school, on the playground and in the cafeteria. By the time I was to get married, I had had my fair share of partners, but it was still something I didn’t speak to my family about.

What my grandmother actually said to me was in the form of advice on my wedding day. She came into the room where we were getting ready and talked about separate blankets – same bed, separate blankets as a recipe for marital bliss. There was good advice and some old-wives tales, but we listened to what she had to say. We were listening with bemusement when she started talking about sex. My bridesmaids and maid of honor looked scandalized, but I knew that my grandmother was not typical and she had been known to speak her mind without considering the consequences or surroundings.

She was from the “old country” and was full of sayings and ideas that, many times, I chalked up to crackpot notions. But that day, perhaps it was the magic of that day, what she said really bothered me. She was rambling absently but what she said really struck home.

She said: “You will have the sex much when you are just married…” she called it “the sex” and never mind that we had been having sex incessantly for a few years now.

“You will have the sex much when you are just married. In the first year you will have the sex more than you will have the rest of your life!”

“Come on grandma, you have got to be kidding,” I was sure this was a crackpot notion.

“I tell you…” and she looked into my eyes. She had old-person eyes, a little rheumy most of the time, but that day her eyes were clear like amber and the near translucence scared me.

“I tell you, place a coffee bean in a jar every time you have the sex in the first year of your marriage. When the first year is finished, take a bean out of the jar when you have the sex.”

“You are kidding right?” My bridesmaids laughed with me.

“I no kidding. Do it, you will see.”

“The jar will be empty before the second year is over,” I said.

“Do it you will see,” and she worked her way out of the room.

The wedding was beautiful and everything was magical. When the night was over and we went up to the suite, we took the gifts from the table up to the room. Unwrapped on the table was a large jar with a bag of coffee beans. There was no card, but it was without a doubt a gift from my crackpot grandmother.

We made love that night as well we should. In the morning when I woke up, I found myself staring at the jar and the bag of beans. I wrapped myself in a robe, went to the jar and put three beans into the jar. Then embarrassed I put the jar away behind the other presents and went back to bed.

* * *

The first months of marriage were wonderful; we couldn’t seem to get enough of each other. First the honeymoon at the Cape, then the times after – we bought a house and led the quintessential newlywed life.

Each morning before going to work, I would stay behind for a while and take out grandmother’s jar. Each morning I would take the number of beans for the previous night, and day, and put them in the jar. Most mornings I would put one or two beans for the day, and on occasion I would put three or four.

The first business trip was traumatic for me. It was the first time we were going to be separated since we met, really. I don’t know what came over me, but I was hysterical and unreasonable. The trip lasted three days and I found myself staring for hours on end at the jar.

“What if she was right?” I thought. What if I would only have sex a limited number of times? I mean, I know you can only have sex a finite number of times, but what if you have more sex that first year than all the rest of the years combined? Slowly I began to believe it. It obsessed me and pressed me to resolution.

* * *

After that trip, we made love more often. I insisted. If we were only going to make love as many times the rest of our lives as in the first year, we had to rack up the opportunities. It didn’t matter if he was tired or if I was in the mood, we had to do it; there was no way we were going to not have a lot of sex later.

One night, things got out of control and we got into a huge fight. “What is going on?” You don’t even want to have sex and we are doing it!”

Eventually I broke down and explained that it was my grandmother’s fault. I confessed that we needed to have more sex the first year so that we would be able to have more sex later in life. I was too embarrassed to say anything about the beans. He was incredulous and broke down laughing at me. In the ridiculousness of the situation I laughed too and the tension eased.

We eased out of the rabbit-sex mode after that and enjoyed our love-making more through the rest of the year. The sex was more fulfilling though less frequent and when business trips arose, I did not panic. I did, however, keep putting beans in the jar. I couldn’t help it; it was something I just needed to do.

* * *

My grandmother passed away right at my first wedding anniversary. It was not unexpected and I got to spend a bit of time with her before she died. One day, while we spent time together, she asked if I was counting my beans. I laughed with her and said I was, though I didn’t believe it. She closed her eyes and smiled without answering. She died later that week.

The sex continued without any noticeable abatement, only this time, I was taking beans out of the jar. I started to become conflicted about the whole situation. There were days that I knew that my grandmother was wrong and at the rate we were going, we were going to beat the jar in one or two years, never mind the rest of our lives. Other days, I worried.

* * *

In the middle of the second year, I got a job as an accountant and things got a lot busier. There were nights that we really were too tired to make love and we would just go to sleep in each other’s arms. Even so, this was contentment and as the number of beans leaving slowed down, I began to see how my grandmother might be right.

By the beginning of the third year, we had only gotten through a third of the beans in the jar. I found that I was pregnant and though there was a spurt of bean consumption in the beginning, we made love less and less as the baby came.

Annie was born on April 4, and our lives were turned on end. It was wonderful and exhausting. Nights without sleep, nights without sex, but with very much love. No beans left the jar for some time.

When finally I remembered to look at the jar I found it more than half empty. I was startled. We hadn’t made love in months and yet the beans had disappeared at an enormous rate. I couldn’t understand it. I wasn’t taking any out. In panic, I asked what had happened to the beans.

“We ran out of coffee,” he said.

“I found the jar in the closet,” he said.

“In the closet? In the closet! You aren’t supposed to use the beans in the closet!”

“Why not? They were a wedding gift, weren’t they?”

“But they are my beans! Its my jar, my grandmother’s jar!”

“Okay, okay, I am sorry. Don’t be so upset. I’ll go buy more coffee tomorrow,” he soothed.

“But…” and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him about the beans. Even to me it was ridiculous, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him. I imagine that the beans were stale for coffee anyway and he really didn’t know any better.

As Annie started sleeping longer, our lives improved and we began making love again. Passionately. And the beans left the jar. By the end of the third year we only had a handful of beans left. I had an anxiety attack about it one day and at the recommendation of my hairdresser, went to see a doctor about it.

We had a few sessions, and I told her about my grandmother, and after a little more prodding, I told her about the jar. She was the first person I ever told about the jar. I needed to, because I was working myself up into a frenzy, worried that my grandmother would be correct, that my marriage would sour and we would sleep in separate rooms when the beans disappeared or separate, or get divorced. I even worried that we would die or one of us would die. She did not ask me to stop taking beans out, and I kept the ritual going as I worked out my issues.

She finally convinced me to tell my husband about the beans. There were six beans left, but one thing led to another and I couldn’t bring it up. A month and three beans later, we finally talked about it and he laughed in relief.

“I am so glad you told me,” he said. “I was worried about you, I was wondering what was happening. I am so glad that you told me.”

I was relieved too.

“You know this is ridiculous right?”

I finally did.

“We are going to beat this thing. You’ll see, and once we do, you can throw that jar away. We’ll do it this weekend. The three beans will go like that! And we’ll keep making love and you won’t have any beans to take out. Your grandmother was a crackpot, you’ve said so yourself.”

He was right; my grandmother was a crackpot.

We took Annie to a friend’s house, got into the car and drove out to the Cape and had a second honeymoon there. We brought the jar. We made love twice the first night and he took the beans out himself. In the morning, the one bean rattled in the jar and we both laughed at the bean.

We took each other in our arms and made love in front of the fireplace. It was the best –as passionate and fulfilling as any sex we had ever had. We lay in the afterglow for a while, then got up to start the day. After showering, I went and picked up the jar, opened it, reached in and removed the last bean. My husband toweled his hair and smiled at me. I smiled back.

As I took out the last bean, he opened his mouth to say something and then vanished, poof, in a cloud of smoke.