He thought he saw her, leaning over the chair in the room, lit only by moonlight. He winked, rubbed his eyes and then sat up and threw the blankets off.
He called out to the apparition. "Phoebe?"
As he got closer, the form resolved to its parts. Her dress was the black rocking chair, her blouse, a white shirt thrown over the back of it, and her head was a patch of moonlight on the wall, bordered by shadow.
"Phoe... Damn!!!" He sat back on the edge of the bed and rubbed his eyes some more. He felt like crying, but didn't.
Without actually crawling back into bed, he threw back the covers an additional foot, and kicked his feet into his slippers. He wrapped himself in his flannel bathrobe and left the bedroom, walking toward the stairs.
In the kitchen, the light was still on, as he'd left it. He always needed a light on, a beacon somewhere in the house. As a youngster, he placed a lamp in his closet and covered it with a blanket, to scare the monsters. As childhood grew to middle age, he left the kitchen light on so he'd have someplace to retreat to.
Phoebe had always left the' kitchen light on.
He plugged the percolator into the outlet behind the counter and set it upright. He looked down at his chest; the white undershirt peeping from between the folds of his bathrobe, the graying chest hairs sticking out over it. He slumped on the stool nearby and buried his forehead in his right hand.
In one of his ears, he could hear the harmonic groan of a passing train. It would clank past the boarded-up east station, across Hanover Street, past a few more old buildings and the cemetery. Then it would pass the light tower and the city limits sign, making the latter sway a little in its wake.
Then it would be gone.
He began to hear, out of the other ear, the coffee in the percolator beginning to come to a boil. This wasn't right, he thought. Boiling percolator coffee is supposed to be associated with mornings where the sun peeks in through the window, and showers, and eggs, and approaching work, and catching the bus. There would be a smiling wife, Phoebe...
And then there would be nothing.
A wave of irrational guilt swept over him as he tipped the percolator toward the cup. He immediately lifted the cup toward his lip and drank the overfill, but it was bitter. He'd put in too much.
He set the cup back on the saucer and watched as the dark liquid lolled back and forth inside the cup and formed a moat around the cup in the saucer indentation. Slosh, slosh, SLOP! Slosh, slosh, spill.
He unplugged the percolator and walked back up the stairs to his night-filled bedroom. He threw his robe on the floor and pulled his pants that were hanging over the black chair towards him. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he kicked one foot through each pant leg. Then he threw the white shirt on. He kicked his robe to one side then went hunting for his shoes. A hand reached up and grabbed keys off the cluttered dresser. His socked feet kicked into his decks and he was down the stairs already.
He forgot to lock the door behind him.
The convenience store was nearly fifteen blocks away but it was still open. It was always open. Cigarettes, coffee, magazines, No-Doz... he could remember it pretty well from when he had his office on this side of town.
The moon had long since set, but the inside of the shop was intensely lit. A large, bald man in an apron sat behind the counter, graced, guarded by canisters of Skoal, shelves of Sayeed rolling papers, a massive overhang with a camel dressed in a tux that was supposed to be full of cigarettes. A shopping cart full of empty pop cans sat off to the side, and a huge red, white, blue and yellow sign announced: NO ALCOHOL SOLD TO MINORS. The door squeaked open and he pulled back his sleeve. No watch.
"Hey, do you know what time it is?"
"It's almost quarter after six, Mac." The bald man smiled.
"That late? O.K., could you get me a Marlboro soft pack and grab that... that behind you."
The cigarettes and a bouquet of red carnations in a plastic
sheath slid across the counter. "Got a hot date this early, Mac?"
"Well, no, not exactly."
"That'll be four-twenty-six."
The bald man beeped some numbers into the register and the drawer popped open. He took the single green bill and made change.
"Twenty five, fifty, sixty, seventy, seventy-four, and five dollars."
"Have a good one." The bald man slammed the drawer.
He stepped out into the morning again and looked around. Light was just barely perceptible in the east and he could see the gates of the cemetery on the other side of the railroad tracks. He stuffed the cigarettes into his coat pocket, but realized he had no place to put the carnations on his short journey.
As the gates got nearer, he thought to himself. If he got
there soon enough, he could spend a few minutes with Phoebe and
still make it to work on time.
© 1992 John Hammink, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
"Tuesday Morning" spins off from a similar short story of loss by Theodore Dreiser