It’s Over Island
A Short Story by Barbara Meyers
Chapter Two – Second Chance Chateau
Beth McCarthy woke without benefit of an alarm. Morning sun peeked through the window where a light breeze fluttered the lacy curtains. She’d painted the bedroom yellow and with the eastern-facing windows she often felt as though she’d just woken up in a big tub of butter.
She yawned and stretched and smiled to herself before she turned to look at Alex’s side of the bed. It was empty. She had no problem with that. No problem at all.
She padded out to the kitchen and pushed the button on the coffeemaker to get it going. The button didn’t light up like it was supposed to. She frowned before she remembered she’d have to make the coffee herself now.
No worries. She pulled the canister of beans toward her and scooped some into the grinder. While it whirred she thought back to the first week of Alex’s retirement. She’d still been working then and he’d begrudgingly allowed her to teach him how to make coffee. He’d gotten into the habit of setting everything up the night before so all she had to do in the morning before she left for her shift at the hospital was push a button. The coffee brewed while she got ready for work. She filled a travel mug and drank it on the drive in.
She filled the reservoir with water and pushed the button again. She wasn’t working any more so it wouldn’t matter if she had to make coffee herself every morning. For that matter, she could set it all up at night like he did. It was no big deal.
Mugsy, their ancient black lab, thumped her tail when Beth opened the door to the laundry room. Slowly the dog got to her feet. Beth petted her and rubbed her behind the ears thinking, Rats. She’d have to get dressed and take Mugsy out. The old dog’s bladder had aged right along with the rest of her and if she didn’t go out first thing, there’d be a mess to clean up. “I’ll be right back,” Beth told the dog.
Back in the bedroom she changed into workout clothes. In the kitchen the coffeemaker beeped. She’d really have liked a cup of coffee before she walked Mugsy, but she’d have to wait. The nice leisurely morning she’d envisioned for herself, the fragrant cup of coffee, a newspaper she didn’t have to share and blessed, blessed silence because the morning show political pundits Alex liked to yell at would be absent just as he was, evaporated.
She put the leash on Mugsy and waited while she made her arthritic way out the door and down the few steps to the driveway. Ever so slowly she meandered to the grass and relieved herself. Beth looked longingly at the plastic-bag-encased newspaper laying in the driveway. She coaxed Mugsy to the street and down to the patch of green near the lake where all the neighborhood dog owners took their dogs to do their business.
Mugsy wandered and sniffed, limping along, checking out every blade of grass. “Hurry up,” Beth hissed at her wondering how Alex found the patience to deal with the dog every single morning. In fact, since he’d retired, he’d completely taken over Mugsy’s care. He fed her, he walked her, he bathed her and took her to the vet.
Finally Mugsy found a spot to her satisfaction and squatted to do her business. Which seemed to take forever. A cloud moved over the sun and a stronger breeze blew. Beth thought again of that cup of coffee she’d be having right now if she hadn’t sent Alex away.
No, she warned herself. No regrets. She’d made a decision and she was sticking to it.
Mugsy completed her constitutional and Beth tugged on her leash to turn her around.
“You’re going to pick that up, aren’t you?”
Beth glanced around to see her least favorite neighbor, Donna Burnett, with her snotty toy poodle on a leash.
“Oh, hello, Donna. Yes. Of course, I was.”
Donna waited expectantly before she looked pointedly at what Mugsy had left behind.
“I uh, I’ll have to get a baggy,” Beth said. “I forgot. I’ll take Mugsy home and I’ll be right back.”
“We all pick up after our pets, Beth. You really should come prepared. Alex always is.”
“Well I forgot,” Beth snapped. “I said I’d be right back.”
Donna sniffed and walked off to the furthest patch of grass available so that Phoebe could pee.
“Come on, Mugsy,” Beth growled, forced to wait while Mugsy made her usual slow progress.
Beth fed Mugsy and filled her water dish. In the kitchen the scent of the coffee hung in the air, but it would have to wait. Beth found a plastic grocery bag and stalked back to the doggie do area. Donna was still there and made no secret of the fact that she was watching Beth’s poop retrieval technique.
“Happy now?” Beth said nastily as she strode back by, tying the handles of the bag together with Mugsy’s business inside.
“Perfectly.” Donna gave her a superior smile.
Beth fumed on the short walk back to the house. She tossed the bag into the garbage can and went into the kitchen where she poured a mug of coffee. She set it on the table before she remembered she’d left the newspaper in the driveway. She stomped back out to get it
That’s when she noticed the garbage cans sitting at the ends of her neighbors’ driveways. What was today? Thursday. Was Thursday a trash pickup day? Evidently. She didn’t bother to keep track because Alex did. He made sure the trash can was at the curb before six a.m. But Alex wasn’t here.
She lugged the garbage can out to the end of the driveway and left it there. See? That wasn’t so hard. She went back inside to her cup of coffee cooling on the table where she left it. Ah. Finally. She pulled out a chair and reached for the mug. She’d forgotten the newspaper. Of course she had because she was used to Alex retrieving it. Every morning he sorted out the lifestyle section and the department store ads and the crossword puzzle and left them on the table for her. Occasionally Alex would leave articles he thought would interest her. A book review or an acquaintance’s campaign for school board chairman. Sometimes it was a funny headline or an especially amusing Dilbert.
Dammit! She slammed her hand down on the table making it jump. Some of the coffee sloshed over the edge of the cup onto one of her favorite placemats. Mugsy gave her a look of reproach.
Beth growled again and stalked back outside to pick up the newspaper. Back at the table, determined to ignore the spill on the placemat, she flattened the newspaper and took a sip of coffee. It wasn’t hot enough and on top of that, it didn’t taste the way it usually did.
She set the mug in the microwave to warm it up and went back to the table. This time she almost burned her tongue, but the coffee still tasted flat and bitter.
Was it possible once she’d taught Alex how to make coffee she’d lost the ability to do so?
Tough, she’d just have to relearn it. She made herself drink it while she read the newspaper in her quiet, quiet house.
The quiet didn’t last long. The moment Beth flushed the toilet in the master bath she knew she’d made a monumental error. The toilet tank emitted a sickly bubbling noise that wouldn’t stop. It had been doing this for a couple of months and Beth had been on Alex to fix it for at least three weeks. He’d promised he would but until then each time she complained he grudgingly left his recliner and did something inside the tank that made the noise stop. Temporarily appeasing her. Until the next time when she’d nag him again about fixing it. The last time had been the day before yesterday when she’d threatened to call a plumber.
“It’s a ten dollar part,” Alex informed her. “It just needs to be replaced.”
“Then replace it!” Beth told him exasperated. “Before I replace you,” she muttered under her breath.
Now she lifted the lid off the toilet tank and stared at the wheezing, gasping malfunctioning part and the water bubbling around it. Although she knew the water in the tank was clean she didn’t want to touch anything. She’d probably make it worse if that were possible. She replaced the lid and closed the door to the bathroom. Problem solved.
By mid-morning Beth was starving. She called her best friend, Kate. “Want to grab some lunch?”
“I can’t. I’m getting my nails done then I’ve got to stop in at the office for a little while. I told Candy I’d pick T.J. up from pre-school because she has a dentist appointment. Sorry. Today’s not good at all.”
Beth sighed. “No problem. I’ll catch up with you later.” Glumly she opened the door to the refrigerator. There wasn’t much there and what was there wasn’t anything she wanted to eat. She closed the door. No big deal. She’d go grocery shopping.
Ever since Alex retired they’d started grocery shopping together. Mostly because she refused to buy the kind of food he liked to have around. Cookies and potato chips. Ice cream and sweet tea. He’d been warned that he was pre-diabetic, but all of her pleas to him to make better food choices and to exercise fell on deaf ears. Gradually, however, she liked to think her healthier choices were growing on him. He didn’t complain about grilled chicken and fresh vegetables or oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. She figured it all balanced out.
While they food-shopped she educated him on what to look for on the labels. Since she didn’t have to consider him any more, she sped through the store, shopping the perimeter. Lots of produce. Chicken and fish. A couple of healthy frozen meals for one.
She looked at her cart as she got in line for the cashier. Everything about it screamed “I am single.” A momentary pang of sadness hit her, but as soon as the conveyer belt started to move and she could unload the cart she pushed it away. Alex had his chance. She was so sick of him never wanting to do anything, never wanting to go anywhere, never being with her, she wasn’t going to miss him. For so long she’d felt single. This isn’t a relationship, she’d told herself. This isn’t a marriage. This is me. By myself. And Alex over there doing his own thing. We aren’t together in any sense of the word.
The cashier rang up her purchases faster than Beth could get to the keypad to scan her credit card. Flustered, Beth dug out her wallet and selected a card, while the cashier spun the bags around on the carousel, indicating that Beth needed to get them and put them in her cart. Beth started to do that but the cashier called her back to sign her name. She took her receipt and started to leave.
“Ma’am,” the cashier called her back. “You forgot your bags.”
The cashier spun the carousel around some more and Beth saw that there were three more bags she hadn’t picked up. “Thank you,” she mumbled after she retrieved them. Dammit, Alex, she thought. Alex always took charge of unloading the cart and then positioned himself near the carousel to load the bags. Normally, Beth’s only responsibility in the grocery store was to present the coupons and scan her credit card, sign the keypad and take the receipt. They worked as a team and usually the bags were in the cart and Alex was ready to push it out to the car as soon as she was finished paying.
She’d been grocery shopping by herself for years but she’d gotten spoiled having Alex do half the work and all of the heavy lifting. Oh, well. It wasn’t that big a deal. When she got home she parked in the garage and began to unload the bags, making several trips from the car to the kitchen and back. Alex always insisted on carrying everything in and together they’d put it all away, discussing what to have for dinner.
On her final trip into the house with the last of the bags, Beth stopped and stared at Alex’s workbench. A lump formed in her throat and tears gathered in her eyes as what she saw blurred before her. Several of Alex’s tools were neatly laid out next to a package emblazoned with the words, “Toilet Tank Repair Kit.”
Alex woke as if a switch had been turned on. He was back in his own bed, the one he shared with Beth, in his own familiar room. Dawn was just creeping around the corners of the window. He listened to the familiar almost-silence of the house they’d lived in for thirty years. He’d get up pretty soon and start the coffee brewing so it would be ready when Beth woke up. He’d take Mugsy for a walk and retrieve the newspaper on the way back.
Alex was almost afraid to turn his head to see if Beth was there with him on her side of the bed where he always expected her to be. He did, though, and she was. He breathed a sigh of relief and turned on his side, snuggling up against her, spooning her. He hadn’t done that in a long time. He’d almost forgotten how good it felt to be close to her like this, feeling her warmth, her softness, everything about her familiar and reassuring.
He pressed his nose against her neck, letting her hair tickle him. She made a sound in her sleep, like she was dreaming of tasting something delicious. She wiggled back against him and pulled his arm more tightly around her lacing her fingers over his.
“I had a bad dream,” he whispered against her ear.
He sensed her go on alert. She turned her head slightly toward him. “Did you? So did I.”
They relaxed against each other, savoring the moment, knowing explanations weren’t always necessary. Words so often got in the way.
After a few minutes, Alex said, “Hey.”
“Think it’s too late to sign up for that cooking class?”
Author’s Note: As promised this was Chapter Two of my short story “It’s Over Island.” See Chapter One posted on 6/20/14. If you enjoyed this story please share it.
Check out my web site at http://www.barbarameyers.com
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A FOREVER KIND OF GUY IS THE SECOND OF THE BRADDOCK BROTHERHOOD BOOKS PUBLISHED BY SAMHAIN PUBLISHING.