There was a place, some two thousand miles west, where puppies ran amok, and grandmothers let little boys lick the spoon when making brownies for Thursday night bingo. A place where he could put his feet up on the coffee table, without his wife nagging him to put his legs back down.
That place is gone. Technically the building is there, albeit with a white front door now, but Mawmaw passed about a year after he moved east. He thinks it's from heartbreak. His wife insists he's crazy, that she died of old age. That somehow, Miss Spring in Her Step just one day never got up again.
She had been flocked by the dogs when they found her. One at her head, one at her feet, and Emaline with her paw right where her heat was, not beating.
He looks to Emaline at his own feet. After the funeral he had brought her back with him. His wife, who had stayed home, too late in her pregnancy to fly, had been about to tell him to send her to the pound when her water broke.
He likes to think it was Mawmaw acting angel from above. That she had been the one to convince his brother not to take all three dogs, because he needed some piece of her to keep moving forward.
"Emmy," he says, trying to extract his foot from her paws. "I need to use the bathroom."
She let's go, choosing to follow him. He makes quick of his business, and long of looking in the mirror after. His eyes are as dead as the plant in the hall. Did he water it this morning? Did he even give himself water?
He rubs his hand across his face, prickling against his stubble. She hates it. He's pretty sure she has fantasized about shaving it in his sleep. Luckily for him, she's been working the night shift at the hospital, so he can sleep with both eyes closed. They don't see each other until he comes home from his shift at the diner.
Today is his day off, and looking to the shower, he wants nothing more than to strip his clothes off and let the water pour until he feels something again. But she has this rule about people making noise while she sleeps. The blackout curtains are drawn, her sound machine turned on. He can hear the waves in the background.
He misses the waves. He misses the sand beneath his feet. Sure, he could stick his feet in the playground sandbox, but it's not the same. He can't paddle his board out to sea. He can't put up a lounge chair and take a nap. The local moms don't seem to like that.
There are actual beaches, if he goes far enough, but by the time he leaves work it is rush hour, and she wants him home for the few hours they have.
She hates the beach. It's ironic, as they met there while she was vacationing in his hometown. She was with her parents, and he was working the surf shop. She stayed by his side for the afternoon. He thought it'd be just that, an afternoon, yet she bought a postcard from him, and told him to send it when he was finished filling it out. She had already written the address. He'd followed with the simple word 'hi,' a word he paid thirty six cents to regret for the rest of his life.
He picked a college in her hometown. Mawmaw had been skeptical of him moving across the country for a girl. In the end, she had been right.
If only he had realized that before he put a ring on it.
Unbuttoning his shirt, he lets it drop to the ground. It lands on Emaline. He takes care to make sure his pants don't.
The water is hot. It scalds his skin. He should turn it down.
No, he should turn it off.
It's the first time he feels something all week.
He turns off the water, letting his body drip. His skin is red.
That front door used to be that shade of red.
He slips back into his clothes, and Emaline follows him back out into the hallway, past the room where his wife is fast asleep. Right past the abandoned baby room, a time capsule of hope, for the baby that never got a chance to grow up.
Twenty three hours. That baby hadn't even made it a full day.
The doctor had told her that a million babies had died too young. She didn't care. All she cared about was that one of those babies was hers, and cradled that stuffed bear as if it could fill some void in her soul.
He wonders if she died that day too. Emotionally. He had already been wrecked by Mawmaw's passing. Emaline had clung to her side that first month, giving her someone to care for and nurture.
It's month twenty seven, and now it's his turn. She's his nurse this time. There's no needles, nor overpriced gift shops. Still, this house feels as soulless as a hospital. It's not home.
There's only ever been one home, inhabited by strange people with strange lives that he will never be able to shatter.
The only thing he is good at shattering is his own self esteem.
He should stop back at the couch. He should sink back into the crater shaped like his body, to blend into the mundane, and watch the news on mute until his wife wakes up.
The weather report is playing. He stops in front of the tv. Forecast is calling for sunshine this week. He looks out the window, and the brightness nearly blinds.
The keys are hanging on the hook. Reaching out, he can feel them against his palm.
He can feel them against his fingertips.
Emaline behaves as he clips her leash on, walking to the garage door. She thinks they're going to the park.
They're not. He's not sure where they're going, if he's being completely honest, but he's bringing his board with him. So what if he can't go home? That doesn't mean he has to stay here.
So he doesn't.