The night was long, his sleep restless. Two or three times he reached across the bed to feel her warmth. He reached and reached.
Once, her absence bothered him so much he got up, put on his robe and walked downstairs. He sat in his chair and listened to himself breathe. An occasional car drove by the house, sending a wave of light across the ceiling. The air was chill. He looked down at his wrinkled hands, blue in the midnight, and saw his wedding ring. Too tired to cry, he sighed, stood up and trudged to the kitchen.
He grabbed a small glass from a cupboard above the sink and filled it with water. Taking a small sip, he stared out the window on the clear, bright, windless night. Dew shimmered on the grassy lawn where the tree shadows did not reach. He alone saw it while the world slept. The night. The shadows. The glistening grass.
Not that he didn’t try to see more. But try as he might, he could not envision her face. Gone so soon? After fifty-five years of seeing each other every day! Every morning, he would arise and go to this very kitchen. He would fix the coffee, turn on the machine, and set out two coffee cups on the counter, one for him and one for her. After retrieving the newspaper, he would go to his chair and read it while the coffee brewed.
Soon, her soft footsteps would sound on the stairs, and he would look up to greet her, precede her into the kitchen, pour out two cups — black — and they would sit at the table together to start the day. As rituals go, it wasn’t complicated or profound. Still, he was glad they began most mornings face to face.
How was it then, that he could not picture her pretty face now? Less than a week after laying her in the ground? Pictures of her were everywhere throughout the house, but he couldn’t see them, couldn’t see into them. He picked them up often and held them in his hands. He leafed through the photo albums of their trips. He traced their life together through them: from the time she was a schoolgirl, to that sexy young mother standing in the yard with a baby on her hip; she who had been the life of so many parties, his dance partner, lover, Valentine, “mom” on all the Christmases and birthdays and vacations and outings through the years, until the day she became “grandma” and her hair turned white and she was the petite one with sparkling eyes, like dew in the moonlight, in the front row of the large family portrait. He gazed often and hard at this evidence, yet couldn’t make sense of it. His vision blurred, his mind fogged, his chest heaved.
Who knows how long he stood there in the night? Out the window, the shadows had shifted, and a wave of weariness crashed over him. He set the glass in the sink and made his way back upstairs. He crawled into bed, pulled the warm, heavy covers up to his chin, and slept for the few hours of darkness that remained.
He awoke as usual, swung his legs over the edge of the bed, put on his slippers, picked his robe off the chair, and tied the belt around his waist. He made his way to the bathroom and performed his morning toilet. He ran warm water over his glasses and rubbed them with soapy fingers, washing away the dust and smears. Drying them, he placed them on his nose and looked at the old man in the mirror. He had made it another day.
The morning shone brightly through the living room windows as he went downstairs. Going into the kitchen, he slid open a drawer and separated a new coffee filter from its box. He went to the freezer and retrieved the bag of coffee beans, dumped some into the grinder and then ground them up fine. Measuring out just the right amount, he scooped the fragrant coffee into the filter and placed it carefully in the basket of the pot. He poured the water into the reservoir and closed the top. Reaching up, he grabbed two coffee cups off the shelf and placed them on the counter.
Then he went to retrieve the morning paper.
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Photo by Brendan Rankin at Flickr. Creative Commons License