And Then There Was One
Ida brought a single cup of coffee to the table and sat down, trying to ignore the chair across from her, now unoccupied. She had started to make his toast again this morning but this time caught she herself in time and put the slices back into the wrapper. She wished they sold bread in half loaves so she didn’t have to freeze half of it. The store had half-dozen of eggs and small cans of vegetables, why not half loaves of bread … for one.
It amazed her how many adjustments were required of a widow. People seemed to think once the funeral was over and a decent amount of time had passed, the surviving spouse should get about their life and complete the healing process. But how could you when you are affronted daily with reminders of being a couple?
Even her vocabulary had to change from we, to, I. That was one of the hardest thoughts she had to process, the singularity of it all. “My home.” She forced herself to say it out loud. But saying it, didn’t make it so. It was, indeed, her house now, but certainly not a home. It was a home when children ran in and out, slamming the screen door no matter how many times they were told not to. It was a home when the children left and it was just she and her husband at the breakfast table, sharing morning coffee and plans for the day.
“Guess I’ll go over to the post office and check the mail.” He’d announce, every Monday through Friday, save holidays, as if it was some impetus idea. Every Wednesday, unless there was a blizzard or a tornado warning he’d declare, “Guess I’ll go out and take a look at what they’re selling at the auction barn tonight.”
She felt a stab of guilt for all of the times she silently mimicked him, wishing for once he’d be spontaneous. He was a rock, a steady, sober life mate, the Ying to her Yang. Well he’d finally done one thing unexpectedly. He up and died on her! Healthy as a horse is what the doctor had said not a month before he dropped dead of a heart attack.
It had been hard on him, retiring. It had been an adjustment for her too, having him under foot all day and it had taken them a full year to learn the new dance. Thank God he came home one evening with every woodworking tool in the universe, that he’d bought at the auction, and that he’d set up a shop out in the old garage. When she’d come home from a trip to town she knew exactly where he’d be unless he had to make a trip into the house for something. She’d always prepare a couple of sandwiches and some fruit for his lunch if she was going to be gone through the noon hour. She’d prepare half a pot of coffee too, up to the point he’d only have to flip the on switch. It was the same routine performed for thirty-two years when he worked at Case, except the food didn’t go into his sliver lunch box or the finished coffee into his thermos. He insisted on drinking his noon coffee from the metal cup, however, said it was “seasoned” and the flavor was better that way.
They had been fortunate. Several of the factories in their area had closed down and they had witnessed many a neighbor sell their homes and move to far away cities to be able to find employment. After the children were grown she had worked part time at the local café, more for something to do with her time than from need of any extra income. He had made sure the house was almost paid for by the time he retired and while their income wasn’t going to provide luxury cruises, it was comfortable.
In the garage sat his old pick-up and the “family” car, the one she drove. It was only five years old and both were paid for. He put siding on the house eight years before so she wouldn’t have to worry about the upkeep of painting and the kids had bought him a riding lawnmower two years before as a Father’s Day gift. She could use that to do the lawn, though he’d only used it enough to keep her quite, preferring the old push mower he’d used for years.
She poured herself another cup of coffee, stalling a while longer before beginning the task she knew needed to be done. Today, she would empty the closet and drawers of his clothing. Her daughter told her she needed to do this, to have closure and feel better about this new phase of her life. They weren’t hurting anything or taking up much space. She’d had to buy his clothes or he’d have run naked. He never paid much mind to things like that. A couple of pair of blue jeans and some t-shirts for three of the seasons and a few flannels for Winter were all he cared about. One suit for marrying’s and burying’s, as he used to say, and that’s all a fellow needed. The suit still hung in plastic despite the kids urging that he be buried in it. She could not bring herself to condemning him to eternity in a suit and tie and had taken a semi-dress shirt and dress pants to the funeral home. Even then, he looked odd in the casket and not at all comfortable. Everyone kept commenting on how natural he looked and she wondered if they’d all gone blind. The mortician had put her husband’s dentures in, something he did only on sporadic and special occasions, and his face seemed too full and his mouth distorted into a half grin, as if he’s just pulled off a great joke. They’d combed his sparse hair wrong too so it had proven prudent that she had brought along his hair brush. She had fixed his hair that day as she had often when he did it wrong, as well.
“Guess, I’ll go get this done,” she said to no one as she rose from her chair and headed for their bedroom.