The walk to the wardrobe seemed inordinately long; he had done this walk before countless times. He had done it with cramps from attempting a late night jog, done it as Michelle and David grabbed onto his back, he had even done it after a particularly hard night of drinking after their 10th anniversary. He paused halfway through the trek, looked back at his bed, squatted down and began to sob. The tears were neither unexpected nor pioneering; he had cried throughout the night. The alarm that had woken him serving as dull backdrop rather than jarring reminder. He was lost amidst his room, as if the vast stretch from armoire to wardrobe was a particularly rural part of Mozambique.
He abandoned the treacherous walk, making his way to the kitchen with a white singlet and pyjama bottoms. He continued to wipe the never ending tears from an emotional faucet that had lost an integral cog. He wished his face was covered in facial hair, at the very least a very obvious 5 O’clock shadow or that his hair was irredeemably tousled, instead of the clean shaven crew cut that he had at that moment. If he only had more time to prepare for his wife’s death, maybe he would have been able to look more appropriate, more unkempt, and more mournful.
She wouldn’t have allowed for that though, she was efficient to a fault. She had to be; a husband who was completely absentminded, kids who were complete douchebags. Her words… well actually it was their words but that was one of the perks having a dead spouse – significantly decreased fact checking.
The kettle started whistling, as if worried a smile might creep upon his face. For a moment, a blissful moment, he thought his wife was making coffee for him. She wasn’t; he had merely forgotten about the kettle he filled with water, placed on the stove and the packet of instant coffee he laid out beside the ‘world’s best husband’ mug. This wasn’t a dream; it was breakfast.
His tall silhouette which had taken over his body crouched over the dining table, he was about to take the kettle off the boil when the pitter patter of average sized tween footsteps distracted him. He looked up to see his two sons staring at him; they were identical twins. He often wondered about the trials of twins who were not identical. Did they have a tougher time convincing others that they were twins, born on the same day, from the same womb? Incredulity would follow them around always. Would their characters be questioned because of a term packed with connotations? “Oh they claim they are twins but they look nothing alike, those liars, they just want to get attention.”
In his head, the voices of these sceptics were invariably teenage girls’ from American high school movies.
They were standing there looking at him crouched over the kettle with a mixture of fear and confusion. Standing at around 1.6 meters, they were already taller than their mother could ever and would ever hope to reach. Tall for their age – 13 years old – they were far too young for him. He was going to start really interacting with them when they reached their twenties and were ready to talk about the fiscal crisis or at the very least why Godfather 2 could be considered better than the original Godfather. She was supposed to raise them till he was ready to grab the parental baton. He convinced himself of this shared responsibility. This promise of future connection justified the calls of Dad and assuaged the long nights at the office, the absent seat at parent-teacher conferences and the flowers for their mother, when all they had were apologies for another missed birthday.
They shared the same upturned nose that their mother was blessed with. They shared her maturity too, but only in the sense that they were twice as immature as the average person. Their eyes reminded him of his, but he rarely ever paid attention to his eyes. They were big, much bigger than hers, and his eyes were always being called large, so naturally he assumed that the physical characteristic belonged to him.
He loved them, but he always had a nagging suspicion that it was due more to their relation to her than them as human beings. A chance to test out this long held hypothesis was a potential silver lining that he admittedly had not considered. He feared he would be right, that he would only love their noses.
The whistle of the kettle was getting louder and higher as if intent on making his presence felt. He turned off the stove with venom, a sharp anger at this inanimate object. How dare it try to take away from the gravity of this situation?
“Hey, I’m sorry; did the kettle wake you up?”
He sounded cheerful, as if his vocal chords were still stuck in the day before, the day before this day. He did not particularly care for the legitimacy of his façade or whether his children were assuaged of the despair they might be feeling with this theatrical masterpiece. He knew they were hurting, that they had experienced a loss inconceivable, almost incongruous to a 13-year-old’s reality.
They shook their head slowly. He wondered if their vocal chords were stuck in some other time too. It was a stupid question. He knew they had not slept the entire night; the walls were thin and their sobbing was loud. He wondered if they had heard his very own sobbing and whether they were expecting him to come into their room and console them. Like a Father. He thought about it in between embracing various memorabilia of their life together. But he wasn’t their Father, not at that moment. He was a grieving widow… widower? The male one.
“Get your breakfast guys; it’s the most important meal of the day.”
He talked like one of those “cool teachers” from an 80s family comedy. And that was by design, which was how he imagined parents were. If possible his children looked even sadder after that statement.
They made their way to the IKEA table, and sat on the IKEA chair while taking out IKEA utensils. She really liked IKEA. He did not care too much about it. He was never particularly fond of the Schogenborgs and the faurstentusches. He liked his chairs and tables to come as chairs and tables instead of a vague promise of tables and chairs.
“We’re not really hungry; we just heard something so we came to check to see if everything was okay.”
“Yeah, we were just checking if everything’s fine Dad.”
Sometimes he felt that two was redundant. It was a luxury they did not need; they were echoes of each other. He had known there were to be two of them from ultrasounds or at the very least his wife’s explanations of the ultrasound. He remembered holding both of them in his arms at the hospital, those two fucking ugly little mammals. He remembered smiling at her, her face a mixture of relief and joy, of exhaustion and fear. He wanted to take her into his arms to comfort her, but his arms were preoccupied. Nothing would have pleased him to drop the two bundles of joy, to regress in time to when his wife was his. He couldn’t. The faces of their parents, the exhilaration they felt and the cameras flashing as if it was the start of a great new dawn. He was supposed to embrace it, and he did, but sometimes he wished he just had more choice in that matter.
“Yes? Oh… no it’s not, as in everything is fine, but you guys should really get some breakfast.”
“No it’s okay dad, we aren’t that hungry.”
“Nonsense, I’ve already prepared it.”
“But we are not hungry.”
“Meals rarely have anything to do with whether you’re hungry.”
With that, he pushed the both of them into the Flabbenschabben. He poured coffee into the ‘world’s best husband’ mug and sat down opposite them, relishing the short respite from looking into their eyes.
He started taking the two slices of bread on his plate and smearing jam onto them. Clumps of strawberry piled on, but he refused to spread it, refused to give the allusion of control. It was far too much jam.
They were looking at him, he could feel it. He didn’t know why. Perhaps at the obscene amount of jam on his bread, or the lack of jam on theirs. Did she put jam or butter or margarine on their bread? He had never noticed. Maybe they were thinking of her, as he was. How connected were they to her, more than him? A sickening pang of jealousy arose in him. Who occupied the last thought of her mind? Which face ended the montage of her life? Was his name mixed in with the last breath she took?
“Could you pass me the jam?” one of them asked. David? He passed it to one of them; Michael? Pleasantries were exchanged as if suitable reparation for the services accrued. He would like to have attributed the coldness and awkwardness to the sudden loss of their mother… to the sudden loss of his wife. He probably would in all honesty; he would tell anyone who listened how much the death had affected them. How it had led to their estrangement from him. He would be the victim, the tragic bystander in the universe’s cruel whim. Sympathy for the broken, as he forced a smile and uttered an “I’m okay” with voice crackling over the influx of emotions.
“We ran out of milk.”
Michael had opened the fridge and remarked. Should he write it down? Did they expect him to get some more of them? And at what time? Before next breakfast, or was it a pressing enough issue that he had to procure some right away lest the day be ruined.
“Yeah I’ll get some later.” He would have to walk to the Cold Storage, or take a bus later. He had not taken public transport in an extremely long time. The queues were unbearable according to some of the colleagues at his workplace. That was all they ever talked about – just how crowded the bus or train they had taken to work was. They talked about the smells and the noise, how unbearable they were. The stench of overcrowding, the sound of unknown tongues. They attributed it to foreigners and NS kids. The invaders and the protectors.
“Don’t you have work today?”
“No, I took the week off… Monday blues.”
His first attempt at a joke, he waited with bated breath for the reaction, the uncontrollable side splitting laughter that would resolve everything. They would look at him with a newfound respect and adoration, their grief of losing a parent salvaged, or at the very least lessened by the joy of finding another.
They nodded and went back to surveying their food, poking at it with forks as if sourcing for some information, whispering solemn words meant only for each other. Was that laughter? He had truly forgotten. Was joy so mundanely expressed? Had his marriage been an exception? Was laughter and mirth not expressed in guffaws erupting into hyperventilating snorts of glee? He had forgotten a life without her, and yet here he was, in a life without her.
Was he getting better? That thought would have broken him into a snivelling wreck, unable to say anything other than her name only the night before. He still felt the immeasurable sadness when he thought of her face. He was glad for the pain; it proved he was hurting when the hair, lack of tears and clothes didn’t.
He felt some jam drip onto his arm, the dollops of strawberry mush fell like dew, slowly gathering on his hand making a significant high fructose puddle. Michael had returned from his trip to the refrigerator with 3 packets of lemon. He went around the table slowly, dropping two off beside his brother’s plate. His brother duly slid one to him. Maybe a case of twin telepathy, but more probably just a mixture of manners and common sense. He clasped his hands, said thank you, unclasped it, pointed to the mug of coffee and made an apologetic shrug.
He despised the politeness, detested the thank yous and sorrys. Politeness was meant for colleagues and neighbours. It was meant for old ladies giving out flyers near train stations. Family was never meant to be polite to one another. They had too much going on and had gone through far too much to engage in such frivolous nonsense. Family were meant to be brutally honest with each other, and to love each other. You couldn’t be brutally honest with your colleagues and tell them that no one cared about their stupid commute. Society rarely ever had any other plans for its participants other than to keep the society going. Family was supposed to surpass that; they were supposed to be able to hear one of their own crying from the other and immediately go over and comfort them and cry with them.
“We’re out of jam too Dad.”
Michael said waving the jar with one hand as he licked the jam off the fork he held in his other hand. Looking at Michael through the jam jar, he noticed that his son’s nose seemed to lose its upturned quality, becoming bulbous and misshapen, the nostrils flaring almost in anger at the transformation it had undergone. He felt sick, as if his son had been taken away from him, and sicker for having proven the darkest doubts he had right.
“Put the jar down.”
His voice shook amidst the vocal chords making its way back to the present. It wasn’t a shout, not in the traditional sense at least. It wasn’t loud nor was it particularly forceful. Rather, it carried menace; it carried threats, venomous syllables, poisoning air. They winced. Again, he wasn’t sure if it was telepathy or common sense. It must have been quite a shock for them. They were used to ambivalence, at the very most mild irritation. But hatred; hatred was something completely new.
He sensed it. He sensed it as soon as the words left his mouth, a sort of evilness about it. Resentment lingering on the outstretched tip of his flickering tongue. “Ha-ha, I meant don’t bother with it. I’ll just get a new one when I go get the milk.” He had literally said ‘ha’ twice, as if he was texting his children with obvious impatience. His children; sometimes he regretted not using that phrase more. His wife – the love of His life. His Katherine. Would that have helped him identify them as his children, undeterred by losses of human lives and distortion by jars?
He would have recognized his wife through a hundred jars. She really liked jam, so it would not have been outside the realm of possibility. He recognized her voice through the screams of labour, her soft-spoken lightness mutated into a demonic cry for the blood of a dozen lambs. He even recognized her as she lay there motionless, a pinkish version of herself, as if throwing a silent tantrum on the unflattering lighting. She had suffered a 95% TBSA from the flames that engulfed her as she lay motionless in the car.
TBSA; the exact words the doctor had used. As if his wife’s life counted for no more than an acronym. He did not ask what it meant; vengeance on an acronym seemed a pointless endeavour. Her hair was burnt off, her scalp salted; her nose had retained its upwardness, defiant till the end. He did not have a chance to say goodbye. Well he did; he had plenty of chances to say goodbye, but he just got complacent.
He had overestimated forever. He thought nothing of grocery shopping or the decreasing milk supply. He thought little about handing her the keys to the Hyundai or the call from an unknown number. He rushed down to the hospital without telling the children; they would have just slowed him down. He wanted to be the first to see her lifeless body as if it was an achievement – a sedation of guilt from not being there for the final moments of her life, to be there for the first moments of her death.
“Thanks for breakfast Dad.”
A unison of gratefulness. They never thanked her. He hoped for a day when they wouldn’t thank him.
He hoped for a day when he wouldn’t feel the need to say that too. He looked at the crumb encrusted plates, the slices of bread gnawed off so slightly as if to trick people into believing it had not been bitten, to hide the shame of succumbing to hunger in the face of untold tragedy. He felt their pain as he tousled his hair to no avail. He started to reach for the tablecloth, surveying the jam strewn landscape of the dining table. Taking a deep breath, he began to wipe.
Thet likes writing, and doing some stuff. However he doesn’t like doing some other stuff.