5:30 PM

by Emily Chang 8 months ago in literature

"It’s cold..."

5:30 PM

Sunday, December 31, 2017

It’s cold. I’m cold. The alarm is going off, but I’ve already been up for three hours and seventeen minutes. I turn to look at the clock. The screen reads 7:00 AM. in a neon green. It hurts my eyes. My eyes. They’re burning. I get off the queen bed, careful to avoid the right side. Evan’s side.

My feet touch the wooden floorboards. It’s cold. Everything’s cold. I walk over to the bathroom door. I leave it open. I pick up my blue toothbrush. It’s next to his gray one. My breath catches. I smear toothpaste in one perfect, straight line onto the brush. I turn on the faucet and leave the water running. I stare at myself in the mirror as I brush. Dark shadows fall beneath my eyes. My eyes. They’re bloodshot. Did I cry? No. I haven’t cried. Not for several years. I spit, rinse, and put the brush back in the white ceramic cup.

I walk to the closet door. I open it. What am I wearing today? I pick out the black sweater. Blue jeans? No. Gray. I put on my black parka. I grab my keys and wallet from the table and leave the bedroom. The picture of Evan still hangs in the living room wall. I don’t look at it. I slip on my sneakers and leave the apartment. I see someone waiting for the elevator. I take the stairs.

It’s snowing. It’s cold. Why is everything so cold? People are smiling. Laughing. Hugging. My chest aches. I keep walking. I see the coffee shop in the corner. I walk faster. Someone bumps into me. He says sorry but I ignore him. I open the coffee shop door. There are too many people. The barista sees me. She smiles. I nod. She’s waving at me. No. She’s waving me over. She slides my drink across the counter. Black coffee, as usual? she asks. I nod. I take out my wallet. I open it. On the left is an old picture. Me and Evan. The corners are worn. He’s wearing my favorite white sweater. He’s sitting down on a bench. He’s grinning, hand reaching up to touch my left arm. I’m standing behind him, leaning forward. My arms are wrapped around his shoulders. My head is cocked to the side, touching his. I’m grinning too. How odd.

Are you okay? I look up. It’s the barista. She looks sad. She’s looking at our picture. Her name tag reads Emma. I nod. I take out a five and hand it to her, snapping my wallet shut. What’re you doing for the new year? she asks. I stare blankly at her. I look around. Oh. It’s New Year’s Eve. People are wearing 2018 glasses. Evan used to get two pairs every year. My throat closes. Nothing, I tell her. I grab my coffee and leave.

I sip the coffee. It’s too hot. It burns my tongue. I run it along the roof of my mouth. It hurts. But not too badly. I look at the cup. Emma’s written something on it. She always writes something. May this new year bring you joy! Someone bumps into me again. He pauses to look at me. He sees my face and mumbles an apology. Then he joins his group of friends. I can feel their eyes on my back.

I’m back in the apartment. No one’s waiting for the elevator. I press the button. I sip the coffee. It arrives. I step through the door. I press floor twelve and wait. It stops on the seventh floor. Shit. I sip the coffee in frustration. The door opens. A couple walks in. Their faces look vaguely familiar. Abby! the woman cries. It’s Abigail. Only Evan called me Abby. How does she know my name? I feel my face getting hot. I nod. It’s quiet. I can feel the awkwardness, but I don’t care. What are you doing for the new year? the man asks. Yeah! What’re you doing for the new year? the woman cries again. Why is she so enthusiastic? The elevator reaches my floor. Nothing, I say. I step off. I can feel their eyes on my back.

I take out my keys and open the door. I step in. I take off my shoes and leave it on the side. I scurry past the kitchen, but before I can stop, I look at the oven. It’s broken. I walk to it. My fingers reach out. I stop myself. I sip my coffee. I see what Emma’s written again. May this new year bring you joy! I toss the cup in the trash.

Friday, December 31, 2013

It’s cold out, but I’m warm. The alarm is going off, but Evan’s still in bed. I snuggle closer to him. I can feel his smile in my hair. It’s seven, I tell him. He hums in agreement. I turn so I’m facing him. His eyes are open. I brush a stray eyelash from his face. He grins. He crushes me to him. I can’t breathe, but I laugh. I playfully push him off me. He kisses me on the forehead and gets up. I watch him walk into the bathroom. He closes the door behind him and I pout. A minute later it opens again. His toothbrush is in his mouth and he’s wearing 2014 glasses. It has flashing lights. He strikes a pose and I giggle. Those look cool, I tell him. He makes his way over to me, a hand behind his back. Close your eyes, he tells me. I do. I feel something on my face. Okay, now open. I do. I can see flashing lights in my peripheral. I strike a pose. He snorts.

We’re in the living room. He turns on the television. Times Square is filled with endless people. We should go one day, he suggests. I’m making tea in the kitchen. I raise a brow at him. He laughs, coming to join me. His arms are around my waist. Earl Grey? he asks. Your favorite, I respond. I peck him on the cheek and open the window to the fire escape. Join me? I ask. With pleasure, he replies.

We stand side by side watching the street. There’s traffic. I hear honking and a siren in the distance. It’s cold. I shiver. Evan puts his arm around me, bringing me closer to him. I sigh. My breath is visible in the wintry air. What do you want to do today? he asks. I look up at him and smile. Nothing, I say. But it’s a new year! he protests. I can bake you some cupcakes, I offer. He grins. How about after work, we go out to dinner in Chinatown and catch that new horror movie after? he suggests. I pretend to think on it. It’s no use. He already knows I’ve been won over. Deal, I say, but only if I can bake you some cupcakes after.

We walk hand in hand to the train station. It’s snowing. It’s beautiful. I catch a snowflake on my tongue and try to show him, but it’s already melted. The flurry is accumulating on his hair. It stands out against his black strands. You look like you’re wearing a wig, I tease, like a Founding Father. Fourscore and seven years ago, he announces in a deep voice. I laugh. I don’t think Abraham Lincoln was a Founding Father, I inform him. He looks down at me with a warm smile. I know, he says, I just wanted to hear you laugh.

We kiss before parting. He takes the 4 train to Lexington Avenue 59th Street. I take the N train to 34th Street Herald Square. There’s a performer singing renditions of Christmas songs. There’s always a performance in Union Square. I leave a five in the can that’s on the ground. She winks in appreciation. It’s not too busy at the station today. Everyone’s indoors with their loved ones or hanging in Times Square. I sigh. Evan and I need to work. We have to pay the bills.

The office is empty. I set my bag down on the table and open my emails. I see George, my boss, walk by my door. He pauses and looks in. Doing anything after work? he asks. Evan and I are going to dinner, I tell him. He nods. Have fun! he replies. He keeps walking. I answer an email. Five minutes later, he’s back. Oh, I forgot to tell you, he starts, I’m giving you a promotion. I look up in surprise. What? I say. I’m astounded. He nods. You’ve been doing great for someone just two years out of university. I’m making you assistant manager, he continues. I thank him profusely. I tell him he won’t regret it. He chuckles. I know, he says. He strolls back to his office. I’m grinning at my computer screen. Evan’s going to be so happy. We’ll be able to afford a real home sooner than we expected.

When I leave the office building, I see Evan. I run to hug him. I have exciting news! I boast. What is it? he questions. There’s a grin on his face but something’s off. What’s wrong? I ask. He breathes in and exhales for a long time. Then the grin returns. It’s nothing. Let’s just enjoy our night, he responds. He reaches for my hand and we walk towards the train. The sun has set. The lights wrapped around trees are brightly lit, illuminating his features. He looks deep in thought. He’s wearing a slight frown. I stop walking, tugging him to me. Okay, I can’t do nothing. Please tell me what’s wrong, I plead. He kisses me on the forehead. Just a rough day in the office. I lost a customer over a minor disagreement. My boss isn’t very happy with me, he confesses. Well, the customer’s wrong, I declare. But the customer’s always right, he remarks. A slow smile is beginning to replace his gloom. I huff. Not this one.

We approach the station before he remembers. What’s the exciting news, love? he questions. I shake my head. Don’t worry about it, I say, let’s make you feel better first. He squeezes my hand. You know I love you, right? he adds. I glance over. I know. Because I do too.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The clock reads 6:55 AM. I’ve been up since 4:36 AM. My eyes burn. I blink. Once. Twice. It doesn’t help. I look to my right. The sheets lay unrumpled. Too neat. I can’t bring myself to touch it. I stare at the ceiling. It’s white. I wanted to keep it white. The walls are periwinkle blue. Periwinkle. Evan and I chose it for the name. My eyes sting. The alarm goes off. I get out of bed.

I walk to the bathroom. I leave the faucet running. I look in the mirror. I cut my hair yesterday. The brown locks fall to my shoulders. I think I like it. No. I prefer it. I spit, rinse, and put the brush next to his gray one.

I walk to the closet door. I open it. What am I wearing today? The black turtleneck. Gray dress pants. I put on my black parka. I grab my keys and wallet from the table and leave the bedroom. I avoid the picture of Evan on the living room wall. I put on black heels and leave the apartment. No one’s waiting for the elevator. I take the stairs anyway.

It’s cold. It’s not snowing. Good. I see the coffee shop in the corner. People are less cheerful now that New Year’s passed. Finally. Someone opens the door. He holds it for me. I rush to it and nod. The coffee shop isn’t as crowded today. I see the barista. Emma. She smiles at me. She’s waving me over. Black coffee? she asks. I nod. She grabs a cup and presses a button on the machine. I’m sorry, she said. I glance at her, waiting. I didn’t make it sooner, I was talking with my coworker. His sister gave birth yesterday! Isn’t it wonderful? she sighs. I cringe. I open my wallet. She’s still going on about the baby. The picture. Me and Evan. She’s stopped talking. She’s looking at our picture again. I hand her a five and snap my wallet shut. She hands me my cup. I take it.

I sip the coffee. It’s too hot. It burns my tongue again. I run it along the roof of my mouth, but I can’t feel the pain. I think I’ve melted off the nerves. I look at the cup. She’s written something. How does she do it so quickly? All youths are happy and from them we must learn. What the fuck? What does that even mean?

The station is filled with people rushing to work. Back from the holidays. From their vacations. I see a performer singing. I think it’s Michael Bublé. I see the can on the floor. I keep walking. The screen announces my train’s nearing arrival. One minute. I have to hurry.

The office is buzzing. Clicking and clacking of hands on a keyboard and mouse. I open my door. I sit. I open my emails. Nothing special. I respond. The top right corner of the screen reads 8:30 AM. I’m thirty minutes early. George walks in. Hi Abigail, he announces. I don’t look at him. I nod. How was your New Year? he continues. I answer an email. Fine, I respond. What did you do? he questions. I look up now. Nothing, I say. I continue typing. He hesitates. Are you leaving at 4:30? I nod. I don’t know why he still asks. He finally walks away.

It’s been a few hours. What time is it? I look at the top right corner of the screen. 4:38 PM. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. I don’t bother closing the computer. I leap from my chair and run out the door. I know my colleagues are staring. I don’t care. I’m not late. I’m never late. Why am I late? Why did I not notice? No time for a train. I can’t risk it. I flag down a cab. One slows. I enter. I tell him the address. He nods. I see him staring. I must look crazy. I don’t care.

There’s traffic. I look at the time. 5:15 PM. I’m sweating. I can feel it. My hands are trembling. Just four more blocks. Come on. Come on, come on, come on. The driver glances at the rear view mirror. Miss, are you okay? he asks. Fine, I answer. I’m short with him. I know because he scowls. His car inches ahead and I breathe, relieved. Then it stops. I see pedestrians jaywalking. Are you fucking kidding me? I can’t wait. I open my wallet. Me and Evan. I take out a twenty. I toss it to him. I’ve pissed him off. I hear him curse. I don’t care. I toss open the cab door. I start sprinting.

I’m at the apartment building. I’m panting. Someone’s waiting for the elevator. They look appalled. I must look a sight for sore eyes. What time is it? I ask. What? she says. What time is it? I repeat. 5:26, she answers. I fly up the stairs.

I fumble for my keys. I shove it into the lock. It opens. I stumble in. I look at the time above the stove. 5:30 PM. I made it. I made it. I’m shaking. I stagger into the kitchen. I lay on the cold floor. It feels good. I stare at the oven. I reach out to touch it. I stop myself.

I open my eyes. It’s quiet out. I stand up. The time reads 9:48 P.M. I must’ve fallen asleep. Strange. I take off the heels. I leave them by the door. I walk into the bedroom. I change into my sleep attire. I walk over to the left side. I lay down. I stare at the white ceiling. I’m glad it’s white. Not periwinkle blue. Periwinkle. My throat hurts. All youths are happy and from them we must learn. Youths. She was talking about the baby. The baby. My nails dig into my abdomen. It hurts. But not too badly.

Saturday, February 14, 2014

I look at the roses on the nightstand. He got me roses! I turn to my right. The sheets are messy, his head imprint in the pillow. The clock reads 12:13 PM. Wow. I slept in. I get off the bed. I see fuzzy bunny slippers. I’ve never seen them before. Those are new. I slip them on and wiggle my toes. They’re comfortable.

I smell bacon. Evan’s wearing an apron. I giggle. He hears me and turns around. The apron reads I Love You! in bold, red letters surrounded by pink and scarlet hearts. How tacky, I say, I love it. I walk over and kiss him. Happy Valentine’s Day, Abby! Go back to bed, he says. But it’s the afternoon, I answer. I see pancake batter on the kitchen island marble countertop. I wanted to bring you breakfast in bed, he states. He’s pouting. He’s so cute. He’s got flour in his hair. I dust it off with my hand. Let me help you with the pancakes, I tell him. He agrees.

We lay on the sofa. Him beneath me, my head on his chest. We’re watching a sappy romcom. He’s playing with my hair. Why did he do that! I exclaim. He pauses to look at the screen. What did he do? he asks. I groan. He said this thing and it obviously hurt her. She loves him. And he loves her, why doesn’t he see that? I say. I stop. Aren’t you watching? I accuse. He shrugs. There are better things to watch, he whispers. He’s looking at me a certain way. Adoration. I can feel it in his stare. And I know he feels it in mine.

We’re in bed. He’s on top of me. He trails slow kisses down my back. His hands are holding mine. Evan? I say. He hums in question, still kissing me. I love the bunny slippers, I continue. I feel his smile. He turns me around. The curtains are drawn. The light is streaming in. They make his brown eyes look amber. His hair hangs above his forehead. I let go of his hand to push it back. It doesn’t hold. He laughs, making a silly face. I grin and pull him down to kiss me. It deepens.

He’s asleep. I watch him. The sun is setting. The light caresses his body. There’s stubble on his face. His eyelashes drape beneath his eyes. His chest is rising up and down. I trace the lines of his chest. A few minutes pass. When I look at him again his eyes are open. He’s watching me. I love you, I tell him. He just watches me. You’re breathtaking, he murmurs. Tell me how, I say. His mouth forms the slightest smile.

You’re kind, he starts, you’re patient, intelligent, witty. You’re cute when you’re frustrated. I love how focused you look when you read. It’s the way you walk. The sound of your laugh. It’s your hair, your cute lips, your button nose, your big eyes. Everything. I’m the luckiest person alive. I feel my eyes prickling. No, I whisper, I’m the luckiest person alive.

I’m making tea. Earl Grey. His favorite. He’s on the fire escape. I bring out the two mugs. I hand one to him. He takes it. Thank you, he says. I kiss his arm. I lean into him and breathe. He smells like sandalwood and cinnamon. We look up at the sky. That’s a big star, I mumble in amazement. It’s probably a satellite, he states. Oh, I whisper. He peers over to me. One day, we’ll move into a nice house an hour out of the city. You’ll be able to see as many stars as you want, my love, he vows. I swallow hard. Promise? Promise.

I’m baking a cake. Red velvet, in celebration of Valentine’s Day. The timer dings. I put on my mitts and open the oven. The heat rushes out, brushing my hair back with it. I gingerly put my arms in. I feel him approach behind me. No, let me, he insists. I step back and take off the mitts. He sets the cake down on the kitchen island. Do you want to make the first cut? he questions. I look at him and grin. I reach over and grab a chunk, stuffing it in my mouth. It’s hot. It burns my tongue, but I keep chewing. He’s astounded but bursts out laughing. That’s my girl! he states proudly. I watch him do the same.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

White. I’m staring into white. It’s the last day of February. The last day in the month of love. My hand tightens into a fist. I look at the clock. 6:45 AM. I’ve been up for three hours and forty two minutes. I get off the bed. My phone screen lights up. I bought it last month. To keep better track of time. I read the text. It’s George. He needs me in the office earlier. I shut off the alarm clock.

I walk to the bathroom. I leave the door open. I turn on the faucet. I leave it running. I look in the mirror. I’m pasty. How long have I been this pasty? I brush my teeth. I spit, rinse, and put it back into the ceramic cup. Except the one I’m holding is gray. Not blue. Gray. It’s not mine. My hand freezes. My throat closes. My hand starts to tremble. No. No. What have I done? What have I done? I place it into the cup. I grip the sink counter. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

I shuffle to the closet door. I open it. No gray. No. White? Too bright. Black? Black is good. Black is safe. Black blouse. Black skirt. Too dark? Yes. I don’t care. I put on my black parka. I grab my keys and wallet and phone from the table and leave the bedroom. I waver when I pass his picture. I turn to look at it. He’s in The Thinker pose. He’s looking at the camera lens. Looking at me. I try to swallow the wedge in my throat. It doesn’t budge. I’m sorry, I mouth.

No one’s waiting for the elevator. I press the button. I wait. The door opens. It’s occupied. That couple with the vaguely familiar faces. They see me and start glancing at anything but. I reach over to the button for the ground floor. It’s already lit. I feel the tension. I know she wants to say something. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Good morning! she chirps. Damn it. I nod. She doesn’t say anything else. Thank God.

There’s a chill in the air. It’s going to be a long winter. I can feel it. I check the time on my phone. 7:15 AM. I speed to the coffee shop. I see the barista. Emma. She doesn’t see me. I awkwardly wait in line. She glances at the door every so often. I step a little to the left. Away from the crowd. When she glances up again, she sees me. She smiles. She does that. A lot. She waves me over.

Black coffee? she asks. Why does she always ask? I nod. Here you go, she says. She sets the cup down in front of me. I take out my wallet. I open it. Me and Evan. I take out a five. I hand it to her. I can feel her looking at our picture. I snap my wallet closed. Who is he? she asks. I glare at her. She blushes. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be nosy, she starts, you two just looked so happy together, and now… she trails off. She looks embarrassed. I grab the cup and walk away.

I sip the coffee. It’s too hot. It burns my tongue. I don’t run it along the roof of my mouth. It never hurts anymore. I look at the cup. She’s written something. Longer this time. Happily ever after is the bravest thing two people can strive for. I gulp as much coffee as I can. I throw the rest in the garbage.

The train is loud when it rushes into the station. It took longer to arrive today. I feel the rumbling beneath my feet. Like my stomach. It doesn’t feel good. I drank the coffee too quickly. I reach over to stroke my abdomen. My eyes burn. The train doors open. People rush out. I walk in.

The office is quiet. I check my phone. 8:00 AM. Right on time. George is in his office. When he sees me, he stands up. He motions me over with a finger. I stride to his door. Abigail, he starts. He sounds tired. That’s not a good sign. I stay quiet. He hands me a stack of papers. I look down. They’re my statements for work. Or I think they’re my statements for work. I see errors. Did I write these? He sighs.

Abigail, he says again. I swallow. These are sloppy. Is everything okay? he continues. It’s February, I say. He looks agitated. Confused. And? he questions. It’s a hard month for me, I finish. Understanding flashes across his face. He nods. Just please, do better next time okay? he sighs. I nod.

My phone goes off. I look at the screen. 4:30 PM. Time to go. I shut off the computer and leave my office. I make my way over to the train station. The train takes longer again. Maintenance work. I check the time. 5:00 PM.

When I’m off the train it’s 5:20 PM. I’m not going to make it. But I have to. I can feel the adrenaline. I’m not going to make it. I start to sprint, but the red light stops me. I stare at the red hand telling me I can’t go. Mocking me. My eyes are stinging. I check my phone. 5:22 PM. Oh God. I’m not going to make it.

I reach the apartment building. I run up the stairs. I shove the keys in the lock. It won’t open. Why won’t it open? I look up. Wrong door. What is wrong with me? I run to mine. I shove the keys in the lock. This time, it opens. I dart into the kitchen. I look at the time above the stove. 5:35 PM. I didn’t make it. I didn’t make it. I didn’t make it. I buckle onto the ground.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

It’s warm today. Winter’s finally gone. I keep my eyes closed. I keep my breathing even. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. I’m doing a good job. At least I think so. I feel Evan adjust his weight next to me. He drapes an arm over my waist. I know you’re awake, he says. I mentally kick myself. I sigh, turning around. How? I ask. He offers me a slight smile. I just know, he states. Can we just go back to bed? I beg. He sucks his teeth. Oh, Abby. Come on, let’s do something nice, he insists.

I’m sulking, sitting on the sofa. He’s making us Earl Grey tea in the kitchen. I stare blankly at the television screen. He seats himself next to me. We don’t have to do anything special. Let’s just spend the day together, he requests. I squint at him. Under three conditions, I warn. He sits still, listening. One, I start, no singing the birthday song. He nods obediently. Two, I continue, no surprises. He smiles. And three, no tacky balloons, I finish. He grins. He leans forward and kisses my forehead. I’m afraid I’ve already broken one condition, he confesses. I squint at him again. He gets up and walks into our bedroom. He opens his drawer and takes something out. I try to see what it is. I can’t. He ambles back. His eyes are alight. He’s excited. I can’t help but giggle.

All right, you can’t scold me okay? he says. What is it? I question. He reveals the package behind his back. It’s a camera. A very expensive camera. I gasp. It’s beautiful! I exclaim, but it’s too much. He places it carefully beside me. It’s worth it. I want more pictures with you. Of us. We can place them around the apartment, he mentions, waving his hand around. I take a glance around the room. He’s right. I sigh, defeated. Okay. But only if you wear my favorite sweater, I demand. His grin lights up. It takes my breath away. Yes, ma’am! he replies, jumping from the sofa. I watch his back as he trots off. And don’t call me ma’am! I yell. I hear him laugh. Yes, sir! he retorts. I roll my eyes, but I chuckle.

Where should we take the first one? I ask. He points over to Union Square Park. How about over there? he suggests. I nod in agreement. I feel the cool metal of the camera grazing my fingertips. I’m excited. But I suspect he is more thrilled than I am. He’s practically bouncing.

We arrive in front of the park. His eyes are darting around for a good area. I drag him over to a nearby bench. Let’s sit and think about it, I say. He nods distractedly. He places his chin on his fist, his elbow on his thigh. I burst out laughing. He looks at me, confused. Oh, this is perfect, I say. I start up the camera. What? he questions. Hold still, I tell him. I snap the photo. I show it to him. He chuckles. The Thinker 2.0, he says.

It’s been an hour. We’ve spent most of it snapping photos of strangers. Passerbys. We try to catch them in their most embarrassing expressions. He shows me one he’s taken. It’s a boy. Maybe 13-years-old. He’s picking his nose. One of his eyes are half closed. His lips are curling into his mouth. I giggle. All right, you win, I sigh. He pecks me on the cheek. Someone approaches us. It’s an elderly woman.

You two have been taking photos of everyone! But what about you! she says. Evan and I glance at each other. She’s right you know, he points out. I nod slowly. How about you let me take one of you two? she suggests. I hand her the camera. I hold my breath when she takes it from me. She doesn’t drop it. I exhale. Evan brings me closer to him. No, no, I protest. He glances down, confused. I raise my right arm. I’ve got a case of awkward arm! I argue. Why don’t you stand behind him, sweetie? the woman proposes.

I do. I wrap my arms tightly around him. I rest my head against his. He smells of sandalwood and cinnamon. Say cheese! the woman cries. Provolone! I exclaim. Mozzarella! Evan shouts. We grin. It’s cheesy. We know.

I’m sipping some Earl Grey. I stare at my wallet. We printed the photos today. I put the one of us together in there. I hear him groan. I turn to see him staring at the big, blown up portrait of him in his Thinker pose. I laugh. Was this really necessary? he moans. I nod fervently. Yes. It’s the first photo I ever took with my present! I exclaim, waving the camera in the air. He smiles softly at me. Do you like it? he whispers. I love it, I mutter. Is it everything you ever wished for? he teases. I stick my tongue out at him. He sits beside me. What did you wish for? For your birthday, he questions. I shake my head. If I tell you, it won’t come true, I retort. He rolls his eyes, smiling.

We’re laying in bed. Evan’s asleep. His chest falls and rises at an even pace. I admire him once more. How did I ever get so lucky? I lay my head down carefully next to his. Sandalwood and cinnamon. I wished for us to grow old together, I whisper. Softly, so I don’t wake him. His breath catches for the tiniest millisecond. I think I see him smile.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The alarm goes off. 7:00 AM. I let it blare. I stare at the white of the ceiling. I avoid the periwinkle blue of the walls. I lay my hand on my stomach. If Evan was here he’d ask me what’s wrong. I’d tell him nothing. Except if he were here it’d be true. My nails dig into my skin. It hurts. But not too badly. I can barely feel it. I sit up. The alarm stops going off. I glance at the screen. The neon green tells me it’s 7:05 AM. I glance to his pillow. Neat. No wrinkles. No him. I get off the bed.

I walk to the bathroom. I leave the door open. I turn on the faucet. I leave it running. I look in the mirror. I didn’t make it. I put my hand on the glass. I point at the woman in the reflection. You. Failed. You were late. But she is me. And I was late. I failed. I grab the toothbrush in the ceramic cup. I make sure it’s blue. I smear toothpaste on it. I start brushing. I’m cold. I push the toothbrush too far in. I gag. The gagging doesn’t stop. I start gasping. I can’t breathe. Why can’t I breathe? The toothbrush falls into the sink. I stare at it. I rinse, spit, and leave it there. I slide to the floor. What is wrong with me?

I shuffle to the closet door. I open it. I grab my black cardigan. Black dress pants. I put on my black parka. I grab my keys and wallet and phone from the table and leave the bedroom. I see an old watch on the drawer. His drawer. It’s stopped working. I put it on anyway. I leave the bedroom. I see his picture. He’s thinking. Why? Why was I late? I sit on the sofa. I’m sorry, I tell him. I’m sorry.

Someone’s waiting for the elevator. I don’t care. I stand with her. She’s glancing at her phone. She smiles. I peer over at her. She sees me. Shit. I look away. My girlfriend’s birthday is coming up, she explains. I grit my teeth. She doesn’t have to do that. Explain. I don’t care. I’m trying to surprise her, she continues. I nod. What should I plan? It’s not warm enough for an outdoors event. Maybe a stroll in the park? she asks. I’m not sure if she’s talking to me or herself. She looks at me in question. I turn around and take the stairs.

Someone’s smoking outside the apartment. No. Two people. They look at me. A man about twenty years older stares. For too long. He has a cigarette hanging from his lips. I speed walk away. He’s going to say something. I feel it. You’ll look more beautiful if you smile! he shouts. I grit my teeth. I see the coffee shop. I ignore the red light and walk. A car blares its horn. I don’t care.

It’s empty. There’s no line. The barista spots me immediately. It’s not Emma. Her smile wavers. I know I look pissed. I plod over. Black coffee? she asks. She knows. She’s already making it. I don’t answer. I open my wallet. Me and Evan. I take out a five. I hand it to her. She shakes her head. On the house, she says. I hesitate. I put the five in the tip jar. She hands me the cup. I peer over to the corner. No Emma. The barista notices. Emma’s attending a funeral today. Her grandmother, she explains. I nod. I leave.

I sip the coffee. It’s warm. I look at the cup. Nothing. It’s blank. I keep sipping.

The train is there when I arrive. People rush out. Someone bumps into me. I drop my coffee. I hear it spill onto the floor. He doesn’t say sorry. I walk in. The woman next to me sucks her teeth. What an asshole, she says. I shrug. I check my phone screen. 7:40 AM. I might be late. I don’t care.

The office is quiet. People look tired. I walk to my office. I sit on the chair. Not many emails. I see George from the corner of my eye. He peers in. No coffee today? he asks. I look at the top right corner of the screen. 8:00 AM. I’m not late. I’m early. I shake my head. He leaves. I answer an email. He’s back. He sets a cup down onto my table. He walks away. I stare at it. I grab it. I take a sip. It’s cold.

My phone goes off. 4:29 PM. I close the computer. I watch the screen. The alarm’s still ringing. I turn it off. I wait. And wait. My legs twitch. I wait. My face feels hot. I wait. And wait. No. I can’t. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I sprint. My colleagues are staring. I don’t care.

I’m at the apartment. The entrance door is jammed. I pull. Nothing. I pull harder. I tug. I throw my body against it. Nothing. My eyes are stinging. I can’t breathe. I pull one last time. The door opens. It slams into my finger. I run up the stairs.

I shove the key into the lock. It opens. I trip and fall. I crawl into the kitchen. I stare at the time above the stove. 5:29 PM. I’m early. I’m early. I’m okay. I made it. My finger is pulsing. I look. It’s bleeding. I press on it. It hurts. But not too badly.

I walk into the bedroom. I look for a band aid. I can’t find it. I look at his drawer. I hesitate. My finger is throbbing. I stalk over to it. I open it gingerly. I see the first aid kit. I take it out. I wrap my finger. I look into the drawer. I see it. It was under the first aid kit. A small, velvet box. My breath catches. What? I carefully lift it from the drawer.

It’s soft. The box. I trace it with my uninjured fingers. I hold it tightly in my hands. I bring it to my face. It’s gray. Gray velvet. I bring it closer to my nose. It smells like sandalwood and cinnamon. My throat burns. My eyes burn. I breathe in again. Then I open it. Slowly. Carefully. And I see it. A ring. White gold. A modest diamond. It’s elegant. It’s exquisite. It’s perfect. Exactly what I would have wanted.

I’m gasping. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. My lungs burn. I hold the box to my chest. I hear a guttural noise. Is that me? I think it’s me. It’s me. I can’t breathe. My eyes sting. No tears come. They hurt. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. Really badly.

Monday, May 19, 2014

He’s worried. I can feel his stare. What’s going on? he asks. I don’t know, I tell him. In truth, I really didn’t. He sits up so that he’s eye level with me. He reaches over to brush a tear from my face. I’m crying. When did that happen? Why am I crying? He pulls me close and kisses my hair. I sob harder.

He insists we stay at home today. I say no. We need the money for that nice house an hour out of the city. So we can see the stars. He’s reluctant to let me go. But let me go, he did. Still, he insists on staying home. I’m staring at the computer screen. George strolls in. Want some? he asks. He’s holding a cookie. Chocolate chip it looks like. Sure, I tell him. He puts one down on the table for me.

I bite into it. It’s oatmeal raisin. I hate oatmeal raisin. But I’m hungry, and today it doesn’t taste so bad. I should bake some cookies when I get home. Home. I feel dread curling in the pit of my stomach. I had yelled at him this morning. I wanted to bake something. I don’t know why. It makes me feel better. The oven wasn’t working.

It’s okay, love, he said. He brushed my hair soothingly. I slammed the pan down onto the island. It’s not okay if I can’t bake my damn brownies! I screamed. I wasn’t frustrated with him. I never was. I was just frustrated. He stopped moving. He looked upset. I’m sorry, he said. I sighed in irritation. Whatever, I replied, I’m going to work.

I don’t feel so good. I look at the last bite of cookie accusingly. I throw it out. Maybe I won’t bake any cookies. Not like I could anyway. Not until the oven was fixed. I focus on my work.

When I look up, it’s 5:00 PM. Time to go home. I say my goodbye to George. He smiles and waves. He tells me to have a good night. I wish him the same. I make my way out of the office building. And then I throw up all over the sidewalk.

The whole train ride home I’m worried. Is Evan mad at me? I hope not. He never gets angry with me. But I yelled at him. I don’t yell at him. I never do that. I step off the train. I take my time. I look at my phone screen. It reads 5:24 PM. I reach the apartment building.

A couple is waiting for the elevator. I smile at them. It’s warm out, isn’t it? the woman says cheerily. It was beautiful today, I respond. The man nods. I can’t wait until it’s even warmer, he says. The elevator arrives. We all step in. I press floor twelve. Evan is probably mad at me. I should bake something for him. I look at the couple. Would you two happen to know how to fix ovens? I ask. They look at each other. We sure can try! the woman says. I smile in relief.

We get to my door. Evan? I say. I knock. I’ve brought guests over. He doesn’t answer. Maybe he went to work after all. Maybe he’s getting back a little later. I check the time. 5:35 P.M. Even better. He’ll be able to come home to a repaired oven and some fresh cookies.

I open the door. It feels too quiet. I tell the couple where to put their shoes. My name’s Abigail, but you can call me Abby. I live with my boyfriend Evan, I tell them. They smile. I walk into the kitchen to show them the problem. And then I see him.

The oven door is open. Evan’s sprawled on the floor. There’s blood. It’s on the kitchen island. The corner of the marble top. It’s on the floor. I drop my phone. I hear it shatter. I run to him. There’s no pulse. No pulse. He’s still warm. Oh my God. Evan.

I hold him to my chest. I’m rocking back and forth. Willing him back to me. Evan, please! Don’t do this! Don’t do this. I need you, please. Evan, please, please. I love you, come back. Oh God, please. Why? Why him? Please, please, please. Oh God, oh God. Not Evan. Not my Evan. Come back to me. I need you. Evan. Please. Please. I think I’m pregnant. I think I’m pregnant.

Someone steps over to me. I don’t look up. The person squats down. It’s an officer. He looks concerned. He’s talking, but I can’t focus. What is he saying? What is he saying? Evan slipped. He was fixing the oven. He slipped. Hit his head. He’s gone. I have to let him go. I grip him tighter. Who called for an officer? I turn around. The couple is behind me. The woman is crying. She’s saying something. I can’t focus. What is she saying? I read her lips. Sorry. She’s saying sorry.

It’s my fault. It’s my fault. I hold him closer to me. Oh God, this is my fault. All my fault. The stupid oven. The stupid cookies. The stupid, stupid desserts. I’m never baking again. Never. Never. But he loved my cakes. My cakes. Evan. We’ll never eat together again. Oh God. This is my fault. All my fault.

They’re prying me off him. I’m shrieking. I kick. I kick and punch into air. My hands are bloody. The couple is gone. They take his body away. I crumble.

I’m at the station. They’re talking but I can’t hear them. Miss Lee? I glance up. My eyes are burning, but I have no more tears to cry. I feel nothing. Miss Lee, the officer continues, we think he… hurt himself just a few minutes before you found him. I stare blankly at him. I found him at 5:35, I say. My voice is dry. Hoarse. The officer nods sympathetically. We think he… passed a few minutes earlier. Miss Lee, I’m really sorry for your loss. A few minutes, I whisper. He nods slowly. I should’ve been there. I should’ve been there.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I wake up with a start. I’m covered in sweat. I look at the clock. 6:48 AM. It’s cold. Why am I sweating? I throw off the blanket. I see the blood.

The ultrasound technician. She’s saying something. I stare at the papers she’s holding. What is she saying? I look at her face. She looks sad. A professional kind of sad. The look they teach you in medical school. When you have bad news. I’m really sorry, she says.

I can’t sleep. I look to my right. The clock reads 11:17 PM. The sheets are untouched. I feel my eyes sting. But nothing comes out. Evan’s gone. He’s gone. And the baby. The baby. I dig my nails into my abdomen. It hurts. But not too badly.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Periwinkle blue. I’m staring at periwinkle blue. It’s warmer today. I feel cold. I know the alarm is about to go off. One minute? Maybe two. I wait. Periwinkle blue. It’s blue. But also gray. And purple. And me and Evan. The alarm blares. There it is.

I walk to the bathroom. I leave the door open. I turn on the faucet. I leave it running. I look in the mirror. It hangs from a necklace. The ring. The perfect ring. The diamond. It reflects off the light. I look down. My toothbrush is still there. I pause. I toss it in the trash. I look at the lone, gray brush in the ceramic cup. I pick it up. I smear toothpaste in one perfect, straight line onto it.

I walk to the closet door. I open it. No gray. Yes. Yes gray. I grab the gray turtleneck. No. The gray dress. I put on my black parka. I grab my keys and wallet from the table and leave the bedroom. I see his picture. He’s thinking. Staring. I stare back. Yes, I say. Yes.

No one’s waiting for the elevator. I press the button. I wait. The door opens. I step in. I press the button for the ground floor. I wait. It stops on floor seven. I wait. The couple steps in. The man sees me first. He grimaces. The woman is next. She smiles. I nod. We wait. I see her staring. It’s beautiful, she says. I look to see what she’s staring at. The necklace. The ring. My ring. I nod. My eyes prickle. It’s quiet. He’d be really happy right now, she continues. I glance at her. She’s wearing a sad smile. And then I remember where I’ve seen her.

It’s foggy. The mist clings to my skin. I can barely see the coffee shop. But I know it’s there. The streets are empty. I cross. I open the coffee shop door. I walk in. The barista looks up. It’s Emma. She’s back. Emma’s back.

I walk to her. Black coffee? she says. I take out my wallet. I open it. She’s not moving. You know what I like on foggy days? she asks. I shake my head slowly. She sighs. Tea, she finishes. She looks at me. You like tea? she questions. She starts making my coffee. She writes something on the cup. She sets it down. I don’t move. She’s staring at me. Her eyes light up. Would you like something else? She sounds excited. I clear my throat. An Earl Grey, please, I say. What? she says. She looks stunned. I clear my throat again. An Earl Grey, I repeat. She grins. She starts making it. Is that your favorite? Mine is English Breakfast, she says. I look at the picture. Me and Evan. She sets the cup down. I see her looking. I glance at her. Her eyes have moved to my necklace. The ring. Her face changes. I think she knows. She picks up the cup and writes something. She sets it back down. I look at the coffee cup. Love is strength. It lives on. Her grandmother. I think she’s talking about her grandmother. I look at the tea. I read the cup. It is better to have loved and lost than never at all.

I choke. I’m gasping. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I see her alarm. She walks around the counter. She puts her arms around me. She’s hugging me. I’m being hugged. What? I’m horrified. No. No. I raise my arms to push her off. I want her off. But they’re around her too. I’m hugging her. I’m hugging. And then I collapse. She falls with me.

I hear noises. Strange. Unfamiliar. I think it’s me. It’s me. I hear her voice. Emma. Emma’s voice. Shh, shh. She’s rubbing my back. My face feels wet. It’s wet. I’m crying. I’m crying. Oh God, I’m really crying. I bury my face in her hair. It smells like cinnamon. I sob harder. I know, she says, I know. Her arms wrap tighter around me. It hurts. But not badly. Not at all.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The sun streams in through the curtains. The room warms up quickly. My leg is draped over Evan’s, perspiration keeping them together. He’s still sleeping, which is strange. He’s usually the first to wake. The clock reads 9:54 AM. He’s snoring a little bit, which makes me giggle. The movement clenches my abdomen and I look down. I don’t know when to tell him. I don’t even know when I realized. I’ve been so focused on work, I hadn’t noticed when I missed my period. Next week. I need to work up the courage. I’ll tell him next week.

He hands me the mug. I can smell the Earl Grey. It’s comforting. He takes a small sip, eyeing me. What’s on your mind? he asks. I bite my lip. If we move to that nice house an hour out of the city, would we have children? My voice wavers. I hope he didn’t catch that. He laughs. When we move to the nice house an hour out of the city, we’ll have as many mini Abby’s and Evan’s running around as we want. There’s just one thing, he starts. What? I ask. I’d have to ask you to marry me first, he responds. He has a crafty smile about him. I’m instantly curious. What’s with that smile? I question, squinting. He shrugs nonchalantly. What smile? he asks.

We’re strolling through the park, hand in hand. I’d like to get married somewhere nice. Away from the city, just you and me, I say. He smiles warmly. We can get married in a McDonald’s for all I care. As long as you become my Mrs., he states. I chuckle. Mrs. Abigail Taylor, I say. I grin. I like the way it feels on my tongue. I look at him. He’s looking at me that way again. My heart beats a little faster. Where would you propose? I question. He shrugs. Somewhere not too public, I know you’d hate the attention. Someplace small. Cozy. Someplace like… that, he says, pointing to my left. I glance over. It’s a quaint little coffee shop on the corner of the block. I laugh. It’s perfect, I tell him.

We’re getting ready for bed, brushing our teeth. The door’s open, the faucet is running, and I’m looking at him through the mirror. He’s making silly faces, and I try not to choke on the toothpaste. We rinse, spit, and put our brushes back in the white ceramic cup. He picks me up and carries me to bed.

He’s lightly tracing my collarbone with his finger. We’re looking at each other. I don’t know what I’d ever do without you, I tell him. He frowns. Why would you say that? he questions. He looks sad. I sniff, shrugging. I just don’t know. I can’t imagine it, I respond. He shifts so he’s leaning his weight on his elbow. Abigail, I’ll always be right here, he starts, a finger on my heart. But if there ever comes a time where I’m not, which is highly unlikely, I want you to be strong. I want you to go on living your life. To move into that nice house an hour out of the city. To have many beautiful children, even if it’s not with me. He makes a face. I laugh. He wipes a tear that’s escaped from my eye. But what if it takes me a long time to recover? What if it takes me forever? I ask, my voice cracking. He smiles sadly. Love, it’s okay if it takes a while. But it won’t be forever. Okay? he assures softly. I nod. I lay my head on his chest. He strokes my hair slowly. We’re both silent for a while, taking in each other’s company. I feel myself nodding off when I hear him. Promise me, Abby, he whispers. I kiss him on the chest, feeling the rhythm of his heartbeat. I promise.

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