“Who’s that old man in the mirror?” he muttered to no one in particular, since there was no one else there. Running his hand over his face, feeling the two days of stubble.
He used to shave every day. Now, it was every second day but, sometimes three days passed between shaves. He had trouble remembering if he had shaved the previous day or not.
Finishing shaving, brushing his teeth and combing what was left of his hair, he headed back into the bedroom. Tossing his pyjamas on to the bed he looked over to her side of the bed. She would just lie there watching him get dressed, often commenting on his choice of shirt or pants. He would pretend to throw his socks at her. She would scream “TGIF” and they both would burst out laughing.
He walked slowly down the hall to the kitchen to prepare breakfast - a bowl of porridge, a slice of toast with cheese and a coffee.
On Sunday evening she would cook a pot of porridge, enough to last them until Friday. Slowly stirring the pot until she was sure it was fully cooked. He had told her to use the Instant Pot -
“It doesn’t taste the same.” was her reply.
She was right of course but he could never get it to taste the same, so he used the Instant Pot.
He took the dishes from the dishwasher, leaving one small bowl on the counter, putting the rest of the dishes away. He took the large bowl of porridge he had prepared last Sunday from the refrigerator and loaded the toaster with a single slice of bread, remembering the taste of homemade bread with real butter.
‘Christ, snap out of it’
Turning back to the counter he filled the small bowl with the porridge he had taken from the fridge. ‘Cook too much again.’. Putting the remaining porridge in a small container, which he put into the fridge, taking out the margarine and the small block of cheese. Using the cheese slicer they had received as a wedding present, he cut two slices off the block of cheese.
Like everything else in the house - the slicer reminded him of her.
‘She never threw it out even after the last of the replacement wires that came with it broke. We carried that damn thing from house to house for nearly thirty years - then she found they could get replacement wires on Amazon.’
The toaster, with only one slice, launched its content to fall back onto the counter. Taking a plate from the cupboard, he smeared some margarine on the toast and added the two slices of cheese. Placing the toast on the plate, picking up the bowl and a spoon he shuffled to the living room. (He had laughed at his father because he never put anything on his porridge - now he did the same.)
Placing the plate and bowl on the side table he sank into his Lazy Boy rocker recliner. He picked up the remote and turned on the TV, changing the channel to BNN. He watched more out of habit than the need to keep on top of the changes to the stock market.
The day they were married they had two savings accounts - hers and theirs. He told her not to close her account.
‘Dad took everything in the joint account when he left - my Mum didn’t have anything. I would never do that - but still . . . ‘
At first they didn’t have much savings but, each pay cheque, something went into her account. As her savings grew, he encouraged her to invest some of her savings. Most went into government bonds and mutual funds, a small amount was in an investment account he controlled. He linked it to her savings account - he could invest the money, but couldn’t take any out.
He was more adventurous with his own investments. Keeping the stock options his company offered in the 1970’s, most of his friends sold theirs; surviving Black Monday in 1987; and stayed out of the tech bubble of 2000 - they were not rich but comfortable.
He always knew he would go first - it was the natural order of things. All his investing and saving was to make sure she had enough after he was gone.
The Opening Market Report was over. ‘Should have bought BitCoin - too late now’ He turned on the radio to catch the local news on the CBC. Going back to the kitchen he put his dishes into the dishwasher. And, for the first time in a long time, he went back to the bedroom and changed the sheets and made the bed.
By 10:30 he was ready to go for a walk. It had been a long time since he had walked anywhere. There was a new coffee shop about half a mile away - that would do for a start.
He sat by the door looking down at his shoes. Things were going to get better:
It was sudden. She had watched her diet, exercised, never smoked and drank very little - still. Their daughter flew in the next day.
‘That was the hardest phone call I ever made.’
The first week was a blur.
There was a funeral to plan. She was from a large family and they all wanted to attend.
The second week was full of papers and all the legal necessities. His daughter did most of the organizing. He was the sole beneficiary; he really didn’t need the money - most went into a trust fund for their grandchildren, the rest to charity.
His daughter left at the end of the third week.
“Why don’t you sell the house and come live with us Dad?”
‘She means it now, but she would regret it later.’ He had no delusions on how hard he was to live with.
“No, my memories are here.”
He was finally alone with his memories . . . . He finally had time to grieve.
At first he tried to carry on as normal. Slowly, things began to change and not in a good way.
After he retired he had taken over cooking dinner one day a week. She would allow him in the kitchen any more than that. He had a small repertoire of recipes. However, he was used to cooking for two, even then there were always leftovers for lunch the next day. Cooking for one proved to be more difficult. Most of the time he was eating leftovers for two or three days. Finally, he just ordered food in.
The afternoon walks got shorter and shorter, finally disappearing.
The weekly trip to the library disappeared.
He had his shopping delivered.
Porridge for breakfast.
Pizza for dinner.
After two months he had completely cut himself off from the world.
His daughter flew in every three months. ‘It must be costing her a lot - she can afford it.’ She cleaned the house, took care of the laundry, took him out for a hair cut and tried to get him to get professional help.
“I don’t need help. Everything is fine.” He knew it wasn’t but he was raised old school - ‘stiff upper lip and all that’.
After her first visit, she started Skyping him every Thursday evening. He had arranged the camera so it didn’t show the real condition of the house. He tried to wear a clean shirt for the call, but often forgot, wearing the same dirty shirt for two weeks in a row.
Their conversations were brief; she would ask how he was doing “I’m, fine” - she could see he wasn’t - he was losing weight, his fingernails looked like they hadn’t been cut since the last time she was there.
Most of the time she ended their conversation by telling him to get out of the house “At least go for a walk!” This evening it was different.
“Dad, Mum has been gone for over a year now. You’re still young, don’t think you should get out - maybe dip your toe in the dating pool?”
He didn’t say anything, just sat there looking at the screen. ‘Dating isn’t going to happen. I am too old for that.’ Slowly he started to smile. She looked puzzled. Finally, he laughingly said
She smiled “Yes Dad - TGIF . . . Toes Go In First”
“Thanks dear - I think I will go for a walk tomorrow morning.”