I don’t know what broke first: The sunrise or I.
Light was poking through the dark bedroom that July morning. The thermostat already read 81 degrees and I was already exhausted. Strung across my bare chest was a woman’s warm. Her dark red curls were tucked underneath my right shoulder as I lie awake.
There was no more pain on her face. Not like night before had been anyways. The redness in her face had faded only to leave faint streaks where some tears had fallen. I couldn’t blame her yet neither could she with me.
I adjusted myself to the side of our cluttered bed. As I was placing my foot on the ground, I hesitated. Pictures were strung across the bedroom floor in cluttered packs. They were separated not by year but by sentimentality. It was sickening. It was sweet.
The house felt dead that morning, that’s for sure. If it weren’t for the breaths and hints of a snore or two, you’d think it was gone for the graveyard. I got up and put on my checkered pajama bottoms and jacket from my time in high school.
Truth be told, I hadn’t grown much since that time. Only my reasoning, some weight on the side and my budding taste for beer could tell me from the young. Grabbing my blinking phone, I slipped from the room.
The last things I saw was her beautiful body in my bed and the black pressed tux hanging by the closet doorknob. A thin, black tie draped over the front and a pair of polished shoes to match. It made me sicker than I had been in some time.
Sounds of my bare feet echoed through cluttered hallway. Toys were thrown from one side of the two-man hallway to the next. It was as though I was walking through a minefield. Not to mention the wood flooring, any clatter that I would’ve made might as well of sounded like a gunshot. Judging by my state over those past few days, they might have thought the same thing.
They’ll never understand it and I pray they never do for some time.
After I checked on the kids, I kept my head down towards my feet while I made my way out of the lone hallway. I couldn’t bare to look at the pictures and those damned still faces looking back at me. Their smiles said one thing yet it was what’s behind it all that kills me.
My wife was so wonderful to me. Even after all the chaos of the family getting together after the church, after my meltdown, she still took the time to clean the living room.
“We want it clean but we want it to look alive. It’s a living room for a reason, son.”
I shivered violently. You could hear him as clear as I hear him now.
The phone continued to blink a green light from the top right corner. Tossing it away on the couch, I walked into the kitchen. What I’m about to tell you might sound odd and downright insane but please, listen.
As I do every morning, I make a fresh pot of Colombian coffee every morning. I sleepily grabbed the handle expecting it to be empty. I damn near dropped the thing because of how full it was.
It was a pot that was almost full, minus a single cup.
Thinking back, I don’t remember making a pot nor do I remember making myself a cup of coffee. Not a smell, not a sound of it at all. Frankly, it hadn’t been the strangest thing that had happened all week so I numbly went along with it. I went to grab my green mug and noticed that it was gone as well. Reaching for the blue and grey one instead, I poured myself a dark brew.
Before I turned my back on the kitchen, I noticed a small wisp of smoke that came from the back porch. There was enough to make me take a second look but, like a dream, it was gone as soon as it came.
Uneasy, I stepped into the living room and picked up my phone. Seven voicemails and one missed call. It was a mere tossup as to who the other six might have been but I knew the one that was missing; the same one that’s missing even now. The phone slammed onto the table face down. My body tensed as I lost control. The last thing that I wanted to do was wake them before this god damn day decided to show itself.
On the coffee table were manuscripts and essays that had been heavily marked with red ink. All of them placed into a neat stack of paper next to her romance novel and a copy of the Holy Bible. Out of the three, I had only truly explored one. After that day, I’d explore the other.
My mind continued to roam across the vast room. Every piece of art, every single aspect of my life had been dictated by my words. It had built the very life that surrounded me. Yet I owed it all to the man that had been gone from my life. Not by his choice but through mine.
With each stroke of my pen, I felt the rock in my throat bob up and down. I shut my eyes and waited for the wave to pass.
That was when I heard him.
“What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?” Oh God, it was so clear, so perfect. My glossy eyes turned to the backdoor and saw the wisps of smoke rising. A shadow rested on the pavement and rocked back and forth.
I hadn’t been on the back porch with anyone since my early 20’s. It was a time that I wished that I could get back and that I had listened to him when he said not to grow so damn fast. God damn him for being right…
Staggering, I came to the door. My heart screamed an pain not felt since the week before. There, by the light of a rising morning sat a bald man with a clean old band t-shirt, a pair of pressed shorts and tanned slippers with white fur on the inside. His hand rested on the green mug as looked over the fence towards the horizon.
It wasn’t until he looked over his shoulder and smiled that I lost everything.
I burst through the door and fell to my knees. His eyes never left me.
“D-Dad? What-what are you-”
“Hey slick, good to see you again. Did you get your coffee?” He took a sip and pat my hand. I shook and cried harder than I ever had. It’s a shame. Even now, I remember hoping that no one else would show up. This was my Dad and it was our time together. I nodded like an idiot. Grabbing my cup, I sat down next to him.
Not a word was spoken for about five minutes or so. It was a moment in which all the words of all the worlds could’ve been said. Yet they weren’t. Dad was the first to speak.
“Do you know why I’m here and not there?” he said with all the peace in the world. I said nothing. “I figured. It’s okay, pal. That’s what I’m here for. I hope you don’t mind me snagging a cup from you. Green was always my favorite before you snagged that from me.” We both laughed. Mine was more fanatic than I care to admit.
“Do you think you’re going crazy right now?” I nodded shamefully. “Who knows, you may be. But that’s not for me to say, really. All I know for sure is that you have a long day ahead of you today. Hell, I should know. I have a long life ahead of me and so do you. That’s something that we hold in common, you and I. The only difference is that I can’t change anything that’s in front of me. What’s done is done for good.”
“Dad, I’m..I’m just so sorry. For everything. I knew that it was only a matter of time but I couldn’t tear myself away. Things around here got so god damn busy that I couldn’t think about what I needed to do or who I needed to see. I don’t want you think-”
“I want you to stop right there. I want you to think back to what you just said. How many times did you just say “I” with anything?” This took me back for a second. “See, it’s easy to get caught up in “I’s” as opposed to “We’s” or “Us’s”. Much less, “Them”. But that’s not what I’m here for. I’m not here to make you feel like the worst piece of shit. That’s on you. I want you to do me a favor, son. Can you do that?” My tears were making it hard for me to focus on anything.
“I want you to live. Making the “right” decisions isn’t always the “right” move. Make mistakes and dare to dream for once. Making money is one thing but making a legacy of love and family is something that people can dream of. You can make money doing damn near anything but it’s family and love that come by only once in a while. Love as though your life depends on it and it just might. I’m here because of your love for me, right? I know I’m to be in the ground today but that doesn’t mean I’m dead. I’m not one to get religious on anyone but I do believe in the power of love. I’m not gone, son. I never will be. So long as love is in your heart for someone, they’ll never be dead. I love you bud. Always.”
He sat back and let go of my hand. With a hearty sip of coffee, he sat up. I was blown away. I could feel the heat of the morning fading into a blistering afternoon. My wife was walking down the hall trying to put her earrings.
“Honey? Where are you?” she appeared in the doorway with a black dress on. “Baby, you got to get up. What are you doing out here?” The green cup was empty except for a dirty brown ring that was dried at the bottom. The chair that Dad had been sitting in was empty. Not even an indention in the seat.
An hour long trip trying to get the family moving, I couldn’t help but feel the tension in the car. They were waiting for me to burst but they didn’t hear my conversation with Dad.
By the time we had made it to the church, I noticed among the black crows sat a white dove on the electric wire. It looked at me the whole way into the church filled with people donned in black. Funny, I still remember thinking how odd it was to be smiling throughout the entire service. I remember laughing by the time was diverting away from the service and moving into a church sermon. There was something I couldn’t help but think about and it rang in my Dad’s tone.
“Hell, it was more a sermon than a service. If I wanted a church service, I’d say we dump the poor bastard in the ground and get on to praising God like you obviously want to do.”
The wooden carriage was lowered into the ground and we listened to the open road on the way back. I had a vice-grip on my wife’s hand as tears silently went down my cheek. I wasn’t too sad though. We had made it back to the house but I shouted for the kids to meet me in the kitchen. I asked them to put their phone away and to sit with me on the back porch and talk. Obviously they were hesitant at first. Hell, I was too when Dad had said the same thing.
We talked onto the night before we made our way back into the house that day.
I just remember leaving the green mug on the end table and the chair facing the east open.