Eyes open slowly. Mauve pillow surrounds his head. It is morning. Light is amber, but too strong. Not its fault though.
Roy is laying on his side, covered with a thick comforter and slick sheets. Some cotton-poly blend. Never liked these as much as the flannel. But those were always pilling. His wife is shuffling about the bedroom. Dresser drawers open and close. Old wooden dresser wasn’t new when they’d bought it. The second from the top always sticks. But he wasn’t about to buy something from Bob’s. It is hard to say if she’s trying to be quiet; admittedly it requires quite a bit of force to close completely.
“Good morning, hon’.” Her voice is flat but cordial. She’s not facing the bed.
“Morning.” He turns over to face toward the center of the bed. He closes his eyes. The pair have yet to make eye contact. A short zipper opens and then closes. It’s probably the old carpet bag.
(Rising is inevitable.)
He flips back but lays silent, noticing his wife from the periphery of his vision. She scuttles left, into the bathroom, slipping a toothbrush into a plastic bag. She begins to use a second one. Roy pushes the comforter away from his body. It folds stiffly. The false down has served them well for over a decade.
“Can you take those tapes to Jake when you go? I’m tryin’ to get that room cleaned out.”
The rasping bubbles of the brushing halt and his wife spits into the sink. Even in that moment, was she delicate. She quickly turns the water off and on to rinse the sink.
“I don’t really want to fuss with that right now Roy. I’m trying to get on the road before the traffic gets bad.”
“It’s always bad goin’ out there.” One more thing loaded into the car wouldn’t be much. And it would get something off his mind. But it’s not worth fighting over. He tries to put it out of mind.
She runs the toothbrush under the stream. “I can’t be bothering with tapes right now. I have to get going.” She picks up the first toothbrush from the edge of the sink and returns to the bedroom. Its bristles are hidden behind a purple snap-on protector. Zip-Zip– and it disappears inside the bag. She fluffs her fading blonde hair in the mirror and catches her husband’s eyes in the reflection.
“Do you mind taking this out to the car? I’m going to eat something and head out.”
She hastily exits the bedroom, leaving the door open. Her tense mood hangs in the air. The air conditioner’s fan hums neutrally.
Roy remembers that it’s October. And it’s supposed to be cold this week. He rises from the bed and smooths out his undershirt. Jeans worn a few times, not yet dirtied, are folded twice on a chair. (Good enough.)
He checks the zippers on the carpet bag. Everything is ready to go. Shirley was usually good about that sort of thing. She was fastidious and habitual. Attentive to detail. He liked that about her. It made him feel safe. If things were organized, she might feel good enough to make a joke. And if she laughed, he would at least crack a grin. She was stressed out this morning, yes, but she was always like that before getting on the road. And though she’d never admit it, it was always worse when she was going somewhere she wanted to go.
His son, Jake, had married a few years back – well – he reflected – (It’s been more than a few years at this point. How long was it? Eight years? Or was it seven? They got married in a summer –)
Shirley’s voice rings from the kitchen. “You should probably get more coffee this afternoon!”
Jake and his wife had their first baby not five months ago. The little girl, “Charlotte Nicole”, was healthy and photogenic. He’d seen enough pictures to feel like she must be real; indeed, he and Shirley had visited the hospital shortly after the birth, so there was that – and Shirley had been out to their house in ‘Jersey to deliver food and gifts. Beside that, the young family had kept their small child mostly to themselves. Apparently at their pediatrician’s advice. A recent video had a sound clip of her laughing at the family dog – Roy felt his mood lighten as he recalled the experience. (I should ask Shirley to put it on the computer…)
He turned his attention back to the task at hand. (His wife opens and closes the refrigerator.) This suitcase has become one of his favorite items in the house. The pattern seemed gaudy when they first bought it, but the now darkened fabric has endured effortlessly. The handle is dark leather oiled from a near half century of use. Its contents shift as he pulls it from the top of the dresser. The crocheted runner beneath falls off and clumps on the floor. (Shit. I’ll get that later.)
The coffeemaker is bubbling in the kitchen, audible from the hallway. If she’s eating anything, Roy can’t discern. The fridge opens and closes. She likes to sweeten her coffee with fragrant creamers. (They’re okay once in a while, but… so sweet.) She has the newspaper spread out on the rosey granite countertop dividing the kitchen from the living room. Some years ago, Jake might have been sitting there instead, eating some brightly-colored breakfast cereal while he scrawled on school worksheets. But those years are gone and Shirley’s newspaper has taken the space instead. The stools have since changed, too. The wood didn’t last as long as it could have; Roy would blame it on the poorly insulated door leading to the backyard. (Always a draft.) The two metal stools that sat there now usually held Shirley in one, and her purse in the other. Roy’s ever-stiffening back told him these stools were not for him.
He opens the door to the garage and clicks on the light. It flickers and begins to buzz and emit light. There’s something comforting about its boot-time. Bits of dust, and probably bug corpses, sit silently between the light and the plastic cover. A task that needed doing, like so many others, but one he did not look forward to doing. He did not like insects–dead or alive. And working overhead meant one never knew what might fall.
A second switch and the garage door clamors and begins to retreat. He walks through the garage, a constant reminder of work that needs doing. An eight-pack of paper towels is in his way. He kicks it, but its resultant location is still sub-optimal.
His wife’s car is faced toward the house. It’s small and uncomfortable, so he only rides in it as a necessity. Today was not a necessity. Shirley was offered the chance to babysit Charlotte while her mother went to a doctor’s appointment. She was estatic, but maintained a serious facade about the whole thing. This was her chance to prove herself a capable child-care-provider, and she was not about to disappoint.
(Key?) As soon as he registers what he’s doing, and what he’s missing, he puts the suitcase down and walks back toward the house.
When he peeks inside the house, Shirley is eating a piece of toast at the eat-in kitchen. She appears to have been flipping lazily through the paper. She looks at him and pre-empts his question. “They’re in my purse.”
The purse is sitting on the stool nearest him with its leather straps flopped toward its side. The keys are sitting on top of unidentifiable bric-a-brac. He clicks the remote and replaces the set of keys. Shirley flips the pages of the paper. “Thank you, hon’.”
Roy exits the house. It is a nice day, albeit with a light, chilly wind. The sky is bright blue with a few tiny wisps. A few cars whizz by. A neighbor walks across the opposite side of the street with a large, hairy dog. He’s seen this one a few times before but never up close. (Seems nice enough.)
Shirley’s trunk has a net off to the right that she likes to use for groceries. There are bits of paper in the corners, an ice scraper, a toolbox, a small keg of gas (I should replace that soon…) but for the most part it is tidy. The suitcase fits neatly in the center-left and Roy pulls it to lie adjacent to the rear-most wall. He pushes a button on the trunk’s door and it beeps as it steadily closes. He thinks of the satisfying -slam- of closing the cars of his youth. (Did ‘George Jetson’ have an automated trunk? No doors to slam on his spaceship; the whole glass roof rose up. The whole family sat close-together in the center of the spherical dome.)
Roy is still thinking about ‘the Jetsons’ when Shirley enters the garage. She has her purse in her hand, but slings it over her shoulder as she, -squish-, picks up the pack of paper towels and puts it on the nose of Roy’s car.
Roy walks toward her and to his right, he notices the familiar white gleam of department store hangers in the backseat of his wife’s car. Baby clothes are strewn from the white plastic bag. (Doesn’t the child already have enough clothes? They grow so fast at this age. Jake has got more money coming in than we do.) But it’s not worth fighting over, he concludes.
He gives his wife a chaste kiss and moves to the side to allow her entrance to the car. “I’ll call when I get there. Hopefully no traffic.” She sits and places her hands on the steering wheel. Her nails are laquered in muted pink. “I love you, hon’.” The smallest slam and she’s sealed away in the dark green vehicle.
The little car handles like a dream and she glides away. Roy watches her until she’s out of view and re-enters the house. It’s warm, so he turns down the heat and enters the bedroom. He puts on a red flannel shirt hanging against a chair, buttoning all but the top and bottom-most. The front pocket bears a half-empty pack of cigarettes, slightly crushed. He brings them into his hand, walks past the kitchen, inhales the coffee wafting in the air, and steps out to the back of the house.