“What do you mean?” Ellen asked.
“Well, I mean… I’m doing all this work, you know? I do the laundry, do the dishes, work hard at my dead end job… but in the end, the results are the same. Black coffee,” Tom answered.
“But… If you’re a coffee machine, Tom, you make coffee,” Ellen reasoned. Tom gave her a look and she cleared her throat guiltily. Tom sat back in his chair, holding the coffee cup in his hands.
“Yeah, but it’s always dark black. Sometimes I want mocha, sometimes it’s latte, sometimes it’s… I dunno, cappuccino. You know?” He swirled his coffee, thinking. “I’m getting sick of this black, bitter coffee that’s always too strong.”
“Be more straight up, Tom. You know I don’t get your metaphors.”
“Well. See, I live alone, and I’ve never really held down any sort of relationship. I’m worried all the time that I still won’t be able to, and I’m still all alone, just doing housework. I feel like I’m going to always be all alone.”
Ellen shifted in her seat. “So… what are you saying?” She didn’t enjoy where this seemed to be heading.
“Well, see… we’re barely talking to each other sometimes, and when we do, it’s to argue about something ridiculous and petty. My job is going nowhere, and I might lose it sometime soon, so I’m struggling with my bills. I’m on the verge of losing at least half my furniture if not all,” he explained. “On top of that, I still have paperwork my boss wants me to finish by tomorrow, that I haven’t quite completed. I’m feeling really over worked and overwhelmed, and I’m not sure I can continue… this… anymore.” At ‘this’, he gestured to both himself and Ellen.
She took a deep breath. “So… you’re breaking up with me, then?” she asked quietly. The waiter brought out the dessert: an ice cream sundae topped with a cherry for Ellen and a cheesecake for Tom.
“Well… Not exactly,” Tom mumbled, as he watched her pull the cherry off the top and put the whole thing in her mouth as a force of habit. She would always eat the cherry with the stem in her mouth, without looking, tie the stem, and eat the cherry. He stalled, picking at his cake while her expression turned from blank to confusion as she singled out the foreign object in her mouth. She pulled it out and found—
“Oh my God.”
“That’s actually another reason I’ve been short on money. I was just gonna say we shouldn’t be boyfriend and girlfriend anymore. And… Let’s get married, Ellen. I love you, and I think this should be permanent.”
“Yes. I totally, totally, totally accept this marriage proposal in Applebee’s, for Chrissake, Tom. I love you so much.”
I walk into the kitchen because Mommy just woke up and she says she wants water. I am a good boy, so I will listen to Mommy. I will get her water.
The cups are a little bit too far up for me to see them. I pull a chair to where they are and stand on it. I can see the cups now. Mommy’s favorite cup is there. It’s blue with white stars on it, and it’s my favorite cup, too. Mommy says Daddy made it for her a long time ago. I take the cup and get down from the chair. It’s cold. I pour water in the cup and go into Mommy’s room.
“Thank you, baby. You’re such a good boy,” she says. I am happy. She said I am a good boy. I am a good boy and I listen to Mommy. “I’m sorry, Andy, but could you eat breakfast alone?”
I’m scared to eat alone because I always eat with Mommy. She makes me eggs and toast and cereal. Sometimes, Daddy makes me bacon.
“Uh-huh,” I say even though I’m scared. I don’t like eating alone.
“Thank you so much darling… Such a good… boy…” Mommy says. She is sleeping again so I go to eat.
The refrigerator is big. It’s a big word, too, but Mommy teaches me a lot of things. The door is heavy. I pull hard to open the door. The milk jug is big, but I’m three years old so I can lift heavy things. I put the milk on the table and go back into the kitchen. I scoot the chair to where the bowls are and stand on in again. I drop the first one and it breaks.
“Uh-oh.” Mommy will be angry. I get down from the chair and pick up the pieces, and then put them in the bucket. That’s where Mommy puts the things we don’t use or eat anymore. All of my old toys went in there or the big house where Daddy’s car is.
After I clean up, I stand on the chair again and get my favorite bowl. It’s blue with white stars, just like Mommy’s favorite cup. I put the bowl on the table, and then push the chair to where the cereal is. It’s all high up like the cups and the bowls, so I need a chair to see it. I get the bag with Coco Puffs and put it on the table. I pour the milk in the bowl and a lot of it goes on the table. I pour the cereal but I poured too much and it’s on the table, too.
“Oopsies.” I forgot to get a spoon.
I go back to the kitchen to get a spoon when the door opens and Daddy comes home.
My daddy works at night, so Mommy and I sleep together. Daddy always comes home when Mommy’s making toast for me.
“How’s my little buddy today? Wow, what a mess! Did you do that?” he asks me. I nod.
“Mommy told me to eat breakfast alone, Daddy. So I was. Am I a good boy, Daddy?”
“You are a good boy, Andy. Where’s Mommy?”
“Mommy’s still sleeping,” I say. Daddy makes a funny face. I put my hands on my mouth because I’m giggling.
“Mommy’s still sleeping?” he says. I nod.
“Are you going to wake her up with a kissy?” I ask. I don’t want Mommy to hear so I talk really quietly.
“Maybe I’ll do that,” he says. Daddy walks into the room like a cat. He’s quiet and sneaky. I stand at the door and wait for Mommy to wake up, hug Daddy, and smile like she always does. Daddy stands next to her but he’s not waking her up with a kissy.
“What are you doing, Daddy? You said you’re gonna wake Mommy up with a kissy.”
Daddy looks at me and I feel like I’ve been a bad boy. I’m scared, but then Daddy’s crying. “Daddy, why are you crying?”
“Andy, buddy, I don’t think Mommy’s sleeping.”
I never thought I would have to tell my three-year-old son about death. I never thought I would have to tell my three-year-old son about death using almost the exact words my own father used.
“Tyler, buddy,” I say to my child. He is staring at the limp body. “I don’t think Gavin’s sleeping.”
“What do you mean, Daddy?” he asks. The response hits me like a tidal wave, washing me with memories I haven’t thought of in years. I have used these same words before.
“I mean, Gavin is… he’s dead, bud.”
“What’s dead?” he asks me. My chest feels tight with the familiarity of the conversation.
“Well, it’s like he’s sleeping,” I say. “But this time, Gavin’s not gonna wake up.”
“Not wake up?”
“No. To us, it would be like he’s sleeping forever.”
Tyler leaves my side and sits down next to his dead dog. Just minutes ago, the dog had been sleeping. He pets his old friend on the head. “Good night, Gavin. Sweet dreams. Don’t have nightmares. They’re not nice.”
I nearly choke in the pure likeness of this experience to my memory. Many years have passed since my own father had explained to me what ‘dying’ meant. I had been so young - Tyler’s age - that I did not fully understand.
“Well, it’s like she’s sleeping,” he had said. “Only Mommy’s going to be sleeping forever.”
“Forever?” I had asked.
“Yes, forever,” my father had answered. I remember looking back at my mother. Thinking back, I’m not sure why I ever thought she was sleeping. She had looked pale and gaunt. Some people say death is peaceful, but that is a lie. My dead mother did not look peaceful.
Forever is a very, very long time.
I stare at the ceiling. The steady hum of machines in the background adds music to the plainness of the ceiling. My mind buzzes. I glance over at the figure at the side of the bed. He sits still and motionless. His blue eyes stare at me and i turn my gaze back to the ceiling.
“You used to be so fluid,” I whisper.
“You used to be so animated,” he responds.
”You never used to say much,” i whisper.
“You never used to whisper much,” he responds.
I glance at him again. His unblinking eyes are staring at me. I lower my gaze to his closed lips before i resume staring at the ceiling.
“What’s so interesting about the ceiling?” he asks.
“What’s so interesting about my voice?” I ask.
“Your voice is soothing.”
“The ceiling is comforting.”
He sits so still it’s almost like he’s a statue, with a mic installed to speak to me when i speak to it. The thought frightens me and i glance over briefly, see his unblinking, icy blue eyes, and turn my own back to the ceiling again. The little ridges on the ceiling seem to pop out as i stare into them, as if staring at them for long enough would make them more interesting.
“How come you don’t stare at my eyes anymore?” he asks.
“Why do you have so many questions?” I ask.
He releases a sigh. I can’t help myself and i glance over at him. His blue eyes are starting to water. I stare for a moment in disbelief, but the eye contact makes me uncomfortable, so i turn my eyes back to the ceiling, sudden frustration building up.
“Why are you still here?” I ask, a little pointedly.
“I”m sorry,” he replies.
The ceiling’s ridges are irritating now. Angry tears start to form in my eyes. I want to push him away, but i don’t move.
“Stop staring at me!” i yell. I look over at his face again. The tears are flowing from his eyes, sorrow written all over his face along with guilt.
Frustration adds up when he says nothing back to me. I want to rip the chords out and away from me, i want to thrash about, i want to kick the sheets off, i want to push him out of the door and lock it behind me. But i don’t move. I can’t move. In my head, i’m already thrashing and pulling out chords. But all i can do is shake my head and start screaming.
He remains still, staring at me and crying. I wish my heart didn’t break from his crying. I wish he didn’t look so guilty. The accident hadn’t been his fault.
The door slams open and a nurse enters. He stays in his seat, motionless as the nurse fiddles with something on the iv that’s attached to my arm. The steady beeping suddenly jumps up from the background noise.
He cries. I wish he wouldn’t cry. “I wish i could hear your voice again… I wish i could see your face again…” he says. “I wish i had listened to you in the car…”
A foggy drowsiness is coming over me. The frustration and anger of being unable to move start to die down and hide behind the fog of drugs. I’m left a sobbing mess, uncontrollably falling asleep.
“I wish i could hold you. I wish i could wipe your tears away and tell you everything’s going to be okay,” i say. The nurse wipes my tears away. The drowsiness is pulling me under, and i look at his eyes.
The piercing blue eyes of his slice through the drugs for a split second, rendering me completely uninfluenced and awake. For a second, i know he’s seen it. I know he’s seen my face, red from crying and eyes wide with the surprise. I could’ve almost sworn he not only saw my face, he heard my gasp as well… I try to reach out to him, but i know my body won’t listen to me anymore… soon afterwards, the fog returns and i can’t fight the medicine.