‘Let him sleep.’ he thought to himself.
Like him, the dog had been up for hours. He could hear the clicking of his nails on the hardwood floor, throughout the night. He used to go downstairs to let him out, but since the funeral, he hadn’t felt like leaving the warmth of the bed. He’d often felt a soft squish under his slippers as he stepped into the dining room. He felt bad for neglecting the dog.
He flicked on the light switch, momentarily blinding himself. He closed his eyes as he stood in the doorway, counting to fifteen before slowly opening them again. The dog panted as he put on his flannel jacket against the brisk cold. It still smelled of orange blossom and vanilla. It annoyed him whenever she wore his shirts and jackets. She thought it was silly that he got bent out of shape for something so trivial. He said that it was a matter of respect; of personal boundaries. In retrospect, it didn’t mean a thing of course. Or rather, it meant everything. Though he couldn’t touch her, he could still smell her. He held the collar to his nose and brushed his open lips on the fabric. He was gripped by sudden dismay when he realized that he’d eventually have to wash the jacket.
‘I’ll buy a new one.’
After he carried the dog down the porch steps and led him out into the backyard, he filled the kettle with milk and placed it on the stove. He cracked a few eggs into a skillet and added some slices of ham. He heard her tsk’ing as the eggs sizzled and the ham popped. He winked with a wry smile as he held the refrigerator door open. Empty, save for the half eaten platter of ham from the wake and the tray of eggs she bought at the Farmer’s Market.
“See? Nothing in there, but that.” he said to the empty kitchen. “I’ll do some shopping tonight.” he promised her.
The dog let out a short, sharp bark to signal that he wanted to come back inside. Normally, he’d coax him back up the steps, but it was too damned cold to stand out there cheering him on. The kettle whistled as he lifted him up to the landing; his back cracking as he straightened up.
The shrill whistle of the kettle must have woken his son. He heard the floor creak above his head as his son got out of bed.
“Chocolate or strawberry?” he called up.
His son didn’t answer. He poured the steaming milk into a mug and stirred chocolate mix into it. The water ran upstairs as he plated their breakfast and set the table. His son trudged downstairs, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
“Put on a jacket son, it’s cold.”
His son ignored him as he pulled his chair up to the table. He sat with his elbows propped on the table, with his chin in his hands, staring down at the plate in front of him.
“I’ll do some shopping tonight. We won’t have to eat this again after this morning.”
His son sat silent, still staring down at his plate.
“Eat, kid. I don’t want you fainting at school.”
His son didn’t answer and didn’t look up.
His son stabbed at the eggs and raised half a forkful to his mouth. He chewed once and spat them out.
“They go bad?”
He chewed a forkful himself and spat them out, too.
“Just eat the ham.”
His son tore off a piece of ham with his hands and took a small bite. He gave the rest to the dog, who’d laid his grey muzzle on the table. The dog took it gently, then swallowed it whole.
His son didn’t answer. He’d folded his arms on the table in front of him and rested his head on them, face down.
“If you need more time, let me know, son… ”
He called his son’s teacher, the night before. She promised to call him if there were any problems, stammering her condolences. He hated having to ease others’ discomfort. He thought it ridiculous and unfair that he moderate the anxieties of those on the periphery, given that HE was the one mourning. He and his son.
He was filled with great sadness and greater impotence.
“I’m sorry, kid…”
His son raised his head and regarded him, devoid of expression.
“…that… mama’s gone.”
His son directed his gaze at the dog. He held out his palm and the dog walked over, sniffing his hand noisily to see if it held anything for him. Finding it empty, he nuzzled it. The boy scratched him behind the ear.
“I’d give anything… “
He didn’t finish the thought. His son looked down at his hands. He picked at the dead skin on the edges of a burst pink blister.
His son grasped the mug of hot chocolate milk with both hands, raised it to his lips and took a deep draught. His eyes opened wide and he spewed the hot milk all over the table, the dog and his father’s face. He goggled at his father with chocolate milk running down his chin onto his pajamas. His father laughed… hard… then harder… even harder still… So hard that he struggled to draw a breath between each guffaw. The veins in his temples strained to bursting. His head felt like it was going to explode. He gasped in a jerky staccato rhythm, surprised to find himself sobbing.