All The Big Stuff by Scott Mitchel May

1.

I look from the curtain-less window to the couch where she is lying and then back to the window again; I don’t know why she is still here. She did warn me this would happen. Not this, exactly, but something like this. She used to joke with me, she would say, “If I died, you’d be fine… you’d have some other woman here in no time. Telling them the sad and tragic story of how you’ll never love again, pouring some wine as you do. Then afterward you’ll tell them this all ‘just too much’ as you hold open the door.”

I would say, “No, it’s more like I’d drink myself to death, and I’d probably refuse the help of anyone who loves me. Your parents would be a nightmare, mine would be, too. But you, you’d be fine if I died, that much I do know.”

And, she would say, “Yes, I would.”

I look back from the window to the couch again and the white afghan my grandmother made me is draped over its back and she’s not there anymore. I can’t place the last time I saw her on that couch, not what we were doing, but how long it’s been. I can’t place the last time I saw her in The Great Linearity. The equation of my life afterward is all fucked. It feels like days sometimes but I know it’s been months. Like I said, I know exactly what we were doing — nothing. She was on her phone. Instagram. She scrolls endlessly and never posts anything. I was reading my book. That’s what I call the books that I read, “my book,” as if I have anything to do with them other than active consumption. I think it was Slaughterhouse-Five, but it could’ve been Still Life of Woodpecker or even The Stand. I don’t really know and I guess that’s not the point. The point is she liked to send me to Culvers for chicken tenders and French fries. She said, “I’m hungry,” her finger paused mid-scroll.

“Yeah? What’d you want?”

“Not if you don’t want to go.”

“No, I’ll go, what’d you want?”

“I know you will go, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“Oh, I want to go, it sounds fun to me to go. I’d make me feel good to go and get us something. What do you want?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure, what do you want?”

“Two-piece chicken tender, fries, and ketchup, and BBQ sauce.”

“Ok, I’ll be back.”

I remember finishing my whiskey before leaving. I remember I was wearing gray sweats and an orange tee-shirt from my high school P.E. class. I remember the way the lever-style door handle on our backdoor felt in my hand. I don’t recall returning.

2.

Most mornings, I come downstairs and I sit on the couch where she used to lay. I feel I am making good on my promise every time I drink in the morning. The good news is, I started smoking again. Camels. I quit when she told me she could date a smoker but not marry one. Something about there being no future in it. Which is true enough. I don’t bother dressing because all the shades have been drawn for months.

Weeks before it happened, I told her I was scared of the end of the world and that we had done nothing to prepare for it. She asked me, “Like what?” and I said, “I dunno, we don’t have any canned goods, or stored water, or dried goods, or, like, a gun, or anything for protection.” She told me I was being paranoid, that we are safe, that we didn’t need any of that stuff, that the people who “prepped” were, “sold the idea of Armageddon by capitalists looking to make a buck off the ignorant and insane.”

I don’t recall when I bought a mini-fridge for the living room, but now I don’t have to get up and go to the kitchen when I want a beverage. There is garbage everywhere. I open a beer. I am naked. It is 6:30 in the morning. She’s been gone a while. Gone is really not the right way to put what she is. She is dead. Gone, though, is what people say when they speak to me about her — like she left. My parents are the worst. No, that’s not really true, her parents are worse than my parents but that’s mostly because they are closer and can pop over to check-in and to see how I am doing. Most times, I don’t answer the door and pretend that I am out, though; I know that they know that I am not because A) my car is in the driveway and B) I know that they know that I haven’t left the house except for smokes and liquor in weeks. So, most of the time, they continue to knock, and knock, and knock, until I let them in — let them see the mess I’ve made of our home and myself.

“Still, though,” I had told her, “the whole world’s coming undone, and we are unprotected.” She acquiesced when I agreed that for safety’s sake, I would keep it locked up, keep the bullets somewhere else in the house, away from the thing itself, and that I wouldn’t go pulling it out just to look at it, which, is a thing I like to do with things I find fascinating. It was a very confusing time and no one knew what was coming next, so, it did make sense to have some protection.

3.

He sits in the folding chair next to mine and I offer him a beer from the fridge but he declines and sighs. When I light up a Camel he sighs again and looks worryingly at me. I don’t know how to respond to this, so I just shrug and smile. “She wouldn’t want you living this way,” he finally says, “it’s been nine months, she would’ve wanted you doing something productive with yourself.”

“I know, she told me that, like, a lot. She said she would keep moving if I died first and that she’d want me to be happy. She used to say that I could get women to sleep with me by telling them that I am a widow and that the beauty part would be that I could reasonably claim to be so entirely crippled emotionally from the loss of my wife that after they had slept with me I could dramatically claim that this is all ‘just too much,’ while possibly shedding a tear. She was funny that way.”

“Then why don’t you do that. Look, I’m not saying to just get over it already, but you have to start taking baby-steps, eventually, you know?”

“Because I never listen. She told me that all the time, too.”

We can both hear his wife, her mom, puttering in my kitchen. She is looking for something to make for me to eat. I told her she wouldn’t find much, but we hear the click, click, clicking and then the whoosh of a burner igniting, so, she must have found something suitable.

“She’ll be busy in there for at least twenty minutes.”

“Right. Are you sure you don’t want that beer?”

“I’ll take whatever you got.”

4.

She made sure I wouldn’t be the one to find her and she made sure I’d never have to know exactly why. I think she thought she was sparing me and I do feel spared in a weird way. Knowing is a burden. If you know, like know exactly why, even if objectively it wasn’t your fault and there was nothing you could’ve done to prevent it, you’ll still run through all of the signs that you missed and all of the times when you could’ve done A instead of B, gone left instead of right, and not ended up exactly where you are. Not knowing leaves you with wonder. Knowing leaves you with guilt.

She called 911 before she did it and she left the front door open for them. I was on my way back from the grocery store, the good one, two towns over; it was early in the morning and I had four weeks’ worth of provisions. We wouldn’t have to leave the house for a month. I remember buying one of those giant bags of mixed fun-sized candy bars, the kind you only buy at Halloween, and I was planning on putting them in our fancy serving bowl, the one that came with our wedding china, because I thought she would appreciate the juxtaposition.

5.

It still amazes me how people are now just out and about like nothing ever happened, like the last two years were meaningless. She walks in and I look her up and down and I don’t rise from my chair to pull hers out. She sits down, smiles, says “Hello,” picks up the cocktail menu, and then says, “So, what’s good here?”

I say, “No,” and get up and walk away.

I’ll hear about this from Norm on Monday. I don’t know what I was thinking.

6.

My father lays on the couch. His feet and head are on each armrest because he is just slightly too tall. He has a John Daily resting on the floor next to him. He is watching the NFL channel even though it is the off-season and nothing much is going on. My mother did not come down with him this time. That’s okay. She has responsibilities of her own. She’s still working. He is not. Sun spills through the west-facing window and my father’s feet and legs are illuminated in its bright. I sit in the recliner and I watch the television with my father and we don’t speak for a very long time. Every now and then, he gets up and refreshes his drink. He brings me more ginger ale. For some reason, he has gotten it in his head that all I drink now is ginger ale and he brings me the fancy kind that comes in glass bottles with pry-top caps. I’ve had five ginger ales since his arrival.

He rolls over so his back is to me and I hear his breathing deepen and he begins to snore. His John Daily sits perspiring on the floor. I switch the television off entirely and begin to scroll through Instagram on my phone. I do this for twenty minutes before my father’s gentle snores fade into background noise and I quit paying attention to all the subtle stimulus that surrounds me and I become 100% present in mindless phone-scrolling. It feels familiar and right. It feels like a moment out of time. Out of its present context. My father’s snoring stops and is replaced by rhythmic breathing. I begin to crave fast food. I look over. He is both there and not. I can see it is him sleeping on my couch but it doesn’t feel like he is sleeping on my couch. It feels like something else entirely. Something I forgot I missed. A feeling I forgot in all the big stuff that happens in the aftermath — being comfortable. Being of a not disquieted mind. Feeling at ease with the activity between my ears. Not wanting to alter everything about my present. I realize that what I have forgotten was her and that in that forgetting I remembered what peace feels like. It’s fleeting. A moment later it is guilt and loneliness and sadness and want. The John Daily is beading on the floor. I am obsessing in my chair. My dad is sleeping on my couch. It occurs to me that there is no one left to make me keep my promises.

About The Author

Scott Mitchel May is a writer living in rural Wisconsin with his wife and son. You can follow Scot on Twitter @smitchelmay

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