The bananas were beginning to spoil. Art felt their soft, blackened peels just to be sure. Outside of the kitchen window, the early morning breezes pushed the backyard trees into each other, tangling their branches so that they scraped against the wooden fence. He threw four long strips of bacon in the frying pan with his sizzling eggs. He could hear his wife beginning to stir in the bedroom down the hall, the low scuffle of slippers sliding across the floor. He had wanted to get an earlier start, have the bags packed and enjoy the fruits of the conversation he had been planning for weeks, all before the sun came up.
Now, the morning was in full effect, and rain clouds created the sense that this could be any time of day, any season, any conditional era of their lifespans. The conventions of old and young meant very little now, and the anticipation of his wife’s entrance into the kitchen filled Art with a joyful adolescence.
“What are you doing?” she grumbled, scraping the wiry gray hairs from in front of her eyes. Without speaking, he quickly filled a plate full of eggs, bacon, and some sliced apples that had browned slightly around the edges. Kate threw herself into a wobbly kitchen chair and stretched her hands out on the speckled veneer of the tabletop. “I know it’s not a birthday, or our anniversary. You did something wrong, didn’t you?”
“Better, Kate,” Art said softly, breaking through the cracks in his voice. “This is it, Kate, I finally did it.”
“I left the firm. Left two weeks ago, actually.”
“What are you saying to me?”
“We’re finally gonna do it, Kate. We’re gonna hit the road like we always talked about, just get out there and see what happens.”
“Wait, what are you saying to me?”
A nervous smile spread across Art’s face as he searched for the right thing to say. He had imagined a different thrust by this point in their discussion. He had imagined his wife of twenty-seven years throwing her arms around him. He had imagined feeling the involuntary thrust of her chest against his, enveloping her in the assuredness he knew that he was never quite able to provide.
“Are you trying to play some type of joke here, Art?”
“No, Kate, this is it.” He pointed to corner of the room and the small pile of old suitcases and backpacks that he had thrown together the night before. “The kids are out of the house, the mortgage is almost paid off. You always wanted to spend some time out there, you know, untethered.”
“Art, I work a shift at the hospital tonight. I’m supposed to go to mom’s house tomorrow. I hope you didn’t pack any of my shit.”
“I know this is kind of startling. I know this seems last minute. But remember what we always talked about. We knew we’d never have the guts, we’d never find the right time. We knew we would just have to, you know, one day, just do it, just throw ourselves out there.” As he made his case to Kate, he could hear and smell the bacon and eggs burning in the frying pan behind him. Somehow, he resisted the urge to turn the burner off while he waited for Kate to react. He had gone over their conversation several times in his head, and he was searching an inventory in his mind to correctly address her concerns.
“Kate, do you remember that camping trip, do you remember how we were laying out in the sun by that lake and talking about how we needed to just let go of everything, we just needed to get rid of our stuff and head out with a full tank of gas?”
“Art, we were so stoned. Do you remember that?” Kate’s eyebrows raised and she stood up to put firm hands on Art’s shoulders. Art could feel the pressure of her palms pressing down. He became increasingly trapped beneath their weight and he wondered if a type of displacement would eventually spill his contents out on all sides. “What happened at work, Art? Did something happen that you didn’t want to tell me about?”
“I quit, Kate, simple as that.” Art slid his wife around and sat at her kitchen chair, pushing the unspoiled plate of breakfast back from the table’s edge. “I hated that job, you know that, I quit and I felt like we needed this. We’re in a rut. We’re not retired, but we need to try to remember how to find our real selves again, you know? Who knows if we’ll be able to do this in five years, or ten years?”
Kate cocked her head slightly and shook it in matronly disbelief. She walked over to the stove and turned off the burner. She grabbed a metal spatula from the drawer and began to pry the burnt eggs and bacon from the skillet. “There’s something I need to tell you, Art. Do you remember that camping trip you’re talking about? We went there with the Nelsons, that couple from down the street. Dora or Deena, or whatever her name is, was sick the entire time. I think she got poison ivy or something.”
Art looked confused. He chewed slowly on a piece of bacon from Kate’s plate. He watched her pace the short length of the kitchen, running water over the small stack of dirty plates, adjusting the cabinet doors. “Dave went hiking with us that day,” she continued. “He was with us at the lake, remember? It was his weed,” she whispered.
“Look, Kate,” Art tried to interject. He could feel a welling of coffee turning sour in his stomach. “This isn’t about any camping trip; this is about us leaving all of this stuff behind. This is about a sense of discovery. If we lose that, we’re pretty much done, aren’t we?”
“You fell asleep early that night, remember?” Kate continued, “You always do when you smoke. Dave and I were still up watching the stars. We went back to the lake together. We went swimming. Art, how much do you want me to tell you?” Kate tightened the robe around her waist. “This is our life, Art. This is what I wanted to come back to: the kids, the house. That was years ago, Art. We were stupid and young.”
Art looked away. Above the stack of suitcases, rain was smearing the window pane. After a few moments of silence, he thrust himself from his chair. He walked over to the pile and grabbed two of his bags.
“I need to go shower. We can talk about this later, if you want to,” Kate said as she scuffled down the hallway toward the bathroom. “I can’t believe you lost your job. We need to figure out what we’re going to do.”
Art carried the suitcases back to the bedroom. He plopped them on top of the bedspread and began to remove their contents. He carefully placed each folded shirt, each rolled up pair of socks, back into the dresser drawer. He looked at the collection of framed photos on the wall of the dimly lit room. He saw children and their wide, sun-splashed smiles, children now grown and geographically estranged. He saw his own broad, youthful shoulders, one arm slung around his wife’s neck carelessly, both grinning with implicit optimism. Across the hall, he could hear the shower running. For a moment, he believed he heard his wife singing. As he listened to the notes, he realized that it was simply the pulse and suction of water running through the maze of pipes beneath the house. When the shower stopped with a thud, the song drew to a close. Art sat at the edge of the bed realizing he had never heard such silence in his life.
Cynthia writes to Kenneth on Sundays. Unwaveringly devout, his faith always buoyed her's. She always signs "Love and prayers."
On Mondays she signs Darren's letters simply “Love"; plain and direct like the man himself. But in a good way. A strong, rugged way. Like the ancient and rocky Highlands of his father's kin.
Tuesdays are for William, it being the day the Museum is free. She sits in the center of the Impressionists’ gallery, trying to capture the beauty around her. Every letter closes with a description of a different painting. A reminder there is still beauty in a world gone so ugly. “I see each brush stroke through your artist eyes.”
On Wednesdays the proprietor of the Hammer and Anvil pours Cynthia a little glass of something strong. They toast Michel before she moves onto tea. Her spoon tinkles through the cup while thinking of just the right words to describe the patrons of the pub: Privileged; Jolly; Sad; Melancholy. "No matter how full the stools are, it feels empty without you here.”
Thursdays Cynthia serves soup to the homeless. It's what Trevor would do. When the pots are empty, always before the lines of destitute are exhausted, she walks between the tables. Pen in hand, she captures snippets of the conversations around her: The boys' 'ill show Jerry. Just wait to the Yanks get geared up. 'Ol Adolph won't know what hit him. “So optimistic,” she always adds, “no matter how down their circumstances. Just like you.”
Fridays Cynthia watches the changing of the Palace guards. She takes a lunch and stays all afternoon. “They fidget,” she writes to Bernard. “Their eyes dart too much. Not like you, my little Statue Man.”
On Saturdays Cynthia writes no letters. She takes the train out to the country and follows the well worn path from the platform, and through the wrought iron gates. Her eyes stay on the ground, never meeting those of the women she passes. Like her, they wear black. “I will love each of you, always,” she whispers over the letters, kissing each gently before placing them on the headstones, “my brave, precious sons.”
Eric Erickson is a native of Denver, Colorado and his fiction has appeared in Curbside Splendor, Cigale, Penmen Review, and Down in the Dirt.