It was late, very late…or very early. It is hard to tell after midnight which is which. The clock made him smile for it said it was three twenty AM, and how many people still had clocks in their houses? His smile got bigger as he thought about the clock in the Kitchen, the Grandfather clock in the Hall, and the Cuckoo Clock in the living room.
His smile turned softer. Out loud, even though there was no one to hear him - and hadn’t been for more than a decade- he mused:
“Surrounded by Time I am. It is all I have left. I must use it wisely.”
That made him laugh. The laugh was as gentle as his smile, smoothed out by years of trials, tribulations, and tragedy into a sound free of regret, remorse, or remembering. It was the sound wisdom made in the face of self importance.
He reached into the cupboard. A few cans of tomato soup, one box of Ritz crackers, and three kinds of cereal filled a space designed to hold much more than that. He chose Frosted Flakes.
He opened the other cupboard and got out a bowl. He only had two bowls. A large flat one for soup and pasta, and one deep one for cereal and milk. On a lark, he decided to use the large shallow flat one for his cereal and banana.
With the first dip of the spoon, he knew he would never use the flat bowl for cereal again. By the end of his late night snack he was holding the bowl at an awkward angle to cover the flakes with enough milk to make them edible.
“You always learn something new. No matter how old you are.”
He laughed at the thought that learning which bowl to use for cereal was real learning. It was. The chuckle carried the weight of new knowledge well, like a competent person who has just learned a new skill. Not with pride of vanity, but with a new confidence in their ability to get the job done.
He washed the dishes when he was done. Or…more precisely…the bowl and spoon. The milk he took one last swig (right from the bottle…the hell with convention) placed it back on the shelf. The milk wasn’t lonely by any means, there was a quart of cream, a half gallon of chocolate milk, and the remains of a 20 ounce Pepsi.
He drank Chocolate Milk every day, the Pepsi…well that was a treat. A treat he served himself in a shot glass once a day…sometimes twice. In a shot glass it made him feel like some long tall drifter in an Old Western. Sauntering into town and swilling it down in one swift swallow before heading out to rid the town of Black Bart (or the equivalent). That made the chuckle come back out loud.
“My.My.My. I am still the Hero in my own stories.”
He put water in the kettle, gently stretching his legs and arms as he waited for the whistle to shriek. He had learned long ago not to leave the kitchen when boiling water. Assorted pans, pots, kettles, and teflon sauce pans had alerted the smoke detector…and his neighbors, that (once again) he had forgotten to turn the stove off. So far, no one from the Fire Department had to rescue him or his small apartment. And the recycle bin got another burnt pan.
He had made several trips to Wall Mart, Target, and the local grocery store to buy a new vessel for making his tea. Only English Breakfast Tea…or, if he was in a mood for some spicy taste; Earl Gray. A dab of cream, one half teaspoon of sugar, stir…then sit, think, or read. Sipping every now and again with his pinky finger sticking straight out, as was right an proper.
The tea was ready, steeped to a rich dark color. So dark that when he added the dollop of cream, it looked more like coffee than tea. A bit of sugar, the calming clink of the spoon as it makes its several revolutions around the cup- and he was ready.
Off went all the lights. He took his tea to the chair near the window, sat down, and let his thoughts take him back, maybe forwards, or whatever. It didn’t matter to him. He had lived so long that all of it seemed like a dream.
A small sip and he was there again. On the pier, looking down at the sand below where his hat landed. A pretty girl picked it up, looking around to see who might claim it. He had to whistle and yell:
“Up here! That is my hat!”
When she looked up at him - she yelled back:
He kept her, she kept the hat. Sixty three years to be exact. He no longer had her. The hat? Well, it sat on the other side of his bed on her pillow. On particularly bad nights, he held it to his heart. Sleep came easily then.
The four of them were on a beach. His daughters, although not twins, were as close as sisters could ever be. At the time, on that beach, they were five and four. The older one asked him to go on and explore.
“Sure, lets get Mommy and Celeste and we will go.”
“No Daddy. I want to go with just you. I have something to tell you.”
She held his hand. Told him how lucky she was to have him as a Daddy. Thanked him for marrying Mommy. She told him she loved him and always would. Then she let go of his hand and scampered up a sand dune. One minute a wise old woman, another moment a five year old totally consumed in the now. He could barely see her through his tears.
Another sip of tea.
His daughter, home from the War. But not all of her. A leg and part of her innocence were left on some unknown stretch of desert road. He held her tight. So did her Mother. It was her younger sister that helped her forget her old life, and move on.
It was the shirt that the younger sister brought that got the first real laugh since she lost her leg. It was a bright pink and purple T-Shirt that proudly proclaimed:
“World single hop, hopscotch champion.”
Another sip of tea.
He was leaning against the door jamb leading from the Family room to the Dining room. On the floor sat all his girls: His wife of thirty seven years, his two daughters and their four daughters. Behind him in the Family Room his two son in laws were watching football. He didn’t care about the game.
He just watched (and yes, he was sipping tea as he watched) as all his girls stayed on the floor sewing patches of material into a quilt that would go to a Veteran’s Auction to buy things for wounded Warriors. His eldest daughter’s artificial limb leaning -forgotten for the time being- against the sofa.
His daughters stump had a pink legging around it, as un-self-conscious as the person wearing it.
Another sip of tea.
He remembered being young. He had hair and a V shaped body. The sound of the ball going through the net lingered in his ear. He ran to get the ball.
Another sip of tea.
He went to the sink. Washing the cup with just plain water, he put it in the drainer next to the flat bowl and the single spoon.
He had no need of lights. He had lived in this same house for almost seventy years now. He shuffled to the bathroom, washed his hands, and off to bed.
Reaching over to grab the hat and pull it close, he heard her murmur: