Marcus Aurelius’ Macchiato Meditations: Fiction by Eric Lawson

Marcus Aurelius stepped gingerly through the time-space portal and was instantaneously transported from ancient Rome to modern day Venice, California. A seagull immediately shat on his toga.

He shook his fist at the insolent bird and wiped off the slime as best he could with the hem of his garment. He felt a soothing breeze on his cheek and turned to face it. Seconds later, he was knocked over by a juggling clown on a bicycle.

“Watch it!” the clown yelled and honked his toy horn angrily behind him as he rode away.

Marcus used a lamp post to climb to his feet. He wiped sand from his face and hair.

Two teenage girls in spandex shorts on roller skates weaved circles around him and made overzealous kissing motions.

“Lookin’ sharp in that toga!” cooed one.

“Grandpa hits the gym!” giggled the other.

Their behavior annoyed Marcus and he swatted at them like they were flies. He yelled curses in Latin and bade them to leave him be.

The girls got the gist and soon skated downhill towards the beach.

Marcus caught his breath and looked back towards where he had come through the portal. It was nowhere to be found.

He was suddenly very thirsty. He looked towards the ocean. He knew full well that if he were to drink the sea water, he would only make himself thirstier. 

He turned away from the ocean and began walking uphill.

A young couple sporting dozens of tattoos apiece was walking down the other side of the street. 

Marcus spotted a water bottle in the woman’s hand. He normally had refined manners but in that blind moment he acted on instinct.

He sprinted across the street and attempted to grab the bottle from the woman’s hand.

The woman held fast, and the man shoved Marcus crudely to the ground.

Marcus made drinking motions and mumbled in Latin that he was parched.

The man scowled and said: “Hey, buddy. Get your own.” He took the woman’s hand and they hurried down the sidewalk.

“Get your own,” he heard himself repeat. The citizens here were not a generous lot. 

Police sirens wailed from a few streets away and he alone on the street covered his ears.

Marcus was mortified. He was in a foreign land. He didn’t know the language and no one seemed to recognize him—he, the Emperor of Rome!

He was sweating profusely now. The summer sun was burning his pale skin. 

He began stumbling further down the sidewalk and staring absently at signs that he couldnot read. He turned a corner, and was so startled by a metal chariot on four wheels that he soiled himself. In his shame, with tears streaming down his cheeks, he almost didn’t see the sign for Little Caesars.

He took two steps back and gawked at the sign. The character on the sign was clearly wearing a Roman laurel on his head. Could this establishment be friendly to Romans? He went around the corner and pushed on the glass door. It didn’t move. He shook the door but it was locked. He beat on the door out of fear as much as anger.

“Can’t you read the sign, boss?” A man in bright yellow cape and not much else said as he rode by on a skate board. “They went out of business. Try Pizza Hut down the street.”

Marcus didn’t understand everything the man said, but he gathered that he wasn’t going to get into the building anytime soon.

He leaned with his back against the glass doors and gazed across the street. Several people were going inside a white building. On the sign above the door was one word in dark green lettering. 

Seconds later, he spotted a different group of people exiting the establishment, drinking from cups in their hands.

A bar or tavern! his mind exclaimed. 

He stopped at the street corner and waited with the group there. A flashing light on a lamp post changed and the group began walking. Marcus followed them.

Once across the street, a bearded man in a trench coat approached him and blocked Marcus’ path.

“Hey, old man,” the stranger smiled coyly. “Care for a cock-meat sandwich?” The man opened his coat and shook his penis at him.

Marcus laughed at the audacity of the fool. When the man didn’t close his coat and began encroaching on his personal space, Marcus swiftly kicked him in the crotch and the flasher fell in a heap on the sidewalk.

Marcus sighed and stepped over the moaning fool and continued walking towards the sign which read: Starbucks.

Once inside, Marcus felt a cool jet of air on his face and smiled to himself. He stood in the line for the beverage counter. He tried his best to ignore the bizarre clothing and conversations that were competing for his attention. He focused on what was being said and done once a patron made it to the front of the line.

Before he knew it, he was next in line. He spoke the only word he had overheard that he understood to the barista: “Venti.”

The barista rolled her eyes and popped her gum. “Venti what, sir? Caramel macchiato or–?”

Marcus nervously shook his head in agreement before she could rattle off any other flavors.

“All right, sir. Venti caramel macchiato. That’ll be seven-thirty-five.” She looked blankly at him.

This must be the part where I pay for the drink, he surmised. He reached into his coin purse and placed a gold coin on the counter.

The girl sighed and answered her cell phone as she put the coin in the register. “Foreigners can’t even go to a currency exchange,” she mumbled into the phone. She saw him still standing in front of her and waved him towards the pick-up end of the counter.

Moments later, Marcus Aurelius tasted his first and only venti caramel macchiato. 

An explosion of caffeinated-caramel-syrup-and-sugary-delight danced upon his tongue and down his throat. He exclaimed in pure joy and held the cup aloft, laughing.

A skinny black man with a Mohawk strode past him. Without pausing, he said “Yeah, those holiday flavors are the fucking bomb, for sure.”

Marcus realized that he felt a rush of energy and he needed to get outside. He pushed three elderly people with walkers out of the way and dashed out into the inviting sunshine.

Philosophical musings raced through his mind. “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Yes, only he and he alone could devise a way to get back home. He was the master of his own destiny. He felt a warm breeze again and smiled. “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” He saw the crescent of moon hanging over the horizon. This world wasn’t so dark and evil after all. He would endure. His mood became more and more jovial.

He took another gulp of the delicious beverage and walked with purpose back towards the beach. He saw children making sand castles and he thought of the glorious Coliseum. He saw gorgeous, nearly naked maidens frolicking amongst the waves and thought of his many mistresses. He saw a giant wheel turning atop a nearby pier and thought of the aqueducts and how they needed repairing. He saw homeless men passing a bottle of wine back and forth and thought of his vast vineyards and wondered how the crop would fair next year.

He took another drink from his cup and closed his eyes and thought of the Senate. Would they be able to run the empire without him? Did the entitled schemers even know he was missing yet?

He opened his eyes and something caught his eye. Shimmering above the pavement not fifty yards away from him was the portal by which he had come to this bizarre and balmy seaside village.

He scanned the parking lot but no one else seemed to see the anomaly but him. He walked with renewed vigor towards the portal. Once he was near it, he gazed into it. He saw the familiar Roman alley from whence he had entered.

He was about to cross over when he spotted the annoying juggling clown riding the bicycle straight towards him again. Marcus waved his hand to get his attention, but the clown apparently couldn’t see him behind the open portal. He waited until the clown was mere feet away, then he reached out with his free hand and pulled him off the bike and let him fall to the ground. “Watch it!” he bellowed at the heartless clown.

The clown got to his knees and saw Marcus waving down at him and laughing.

“You son of a—“ The clown lunged for Marcus, but he had already stepped through the portal and the clown unintentionally tackled the two girls on roller skates. The girls proceeded to trample the clown until his bruises had bruises.

Marcus watched the portal close and turned around to find one of his aides waiting for him. He waved at him to let him know that it was safe to approach.

The aide launched into a pent-up rant about the Senate and the campaign against the Germanic tribes to the North.

Marcus was only half-listening. He took another gulp of his macchiato, which was surprisingly still warm. He smiled widely and held the cup aloft, laughing again.

The aide saw this and became jealous. He tried to grab the cup from his hand.

Marcus shoved him back forcefully. “Get your own,” he heard himself say in English.

The aide recoiled as if punched in the face. He had never heard such harsh words as these and didn’t recognize the language. He turned to ask the emperor what they meant. But Marcus was already far ahead, gesturing excitedly and demanding that a new series of games be held at the glorious Coliseum. Ten days of games. Maybe even venti.

^^^

Eric Lawson is the author of the forthcoming short story collection Circus Head (Sybaritic Press) and the forthcoming poetry collection Backseat Emperor (2nd Avenue Press). He wrote the “Holly Hatchet” segment of the Body Count horror anthology film. Now in its fourth season, he hosts the Make Your Own Fun podcast on YouTube.

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