Story for Ruth Long

The blade scraped smoothly over my skin, clearing a swath through the cream in a ritual I’d done more times than I wanted to count. The blade was dotted with as many grey hairs as black these days, and I sighed. It seemed that every day, I saw more signs that I was no longer a young man, but it was probably more that I just didn’t want to see the signs that were there.

I finished my morning activities and stepped from the steam of the bathroom to the cool of the hall. No matter how many times I tried to find all of them, the drafts in this house found ways to reproduce, and this time of year, there almost always seemed to be a cold breeze coming from somewhere. My wife was still asleep, buried under a pile of covers, and I tried to stay quiet as I slipped on my jeans and sweater. This time of morning was mine, especially since the kids learned to sleep in past sunup, and I wasn’t really in danger of waking her up, but letting her get her rest always made the day go more smoothly.

We’d given in to the kids a couple of years ago and gotten a Keurig for Christmas – they’d discovered coffee, but they wanted to drink some hyper-caffeinated sludge that would be as likely to stop my heart as it was to wake me up, so we compromised. I bought the new toy, and they stopped messing with my stash. It wasn’t the same this way, of course – nothing was – but that didn’t make it worse.

Or so I told myself.

I held the cup just below my lips and looked out over the backyard. Frost lined the pond we’d put in last summer after finally accepting that the kids were never going to play on the swingset again. I’d heard that the fish would do just fine under a layer of ice, and I supposed we were going to find out. Well, fish had to survive winters somehow, or there wouldn’t be any more fish.

Eventually, the coffee cooled down enough to take a sip, and I opened the cover on the iPad to see who’d contacted me overnight. Some bemoaned the loss of the morning paper, but they weren’t the ones who had to feel the north wind in their boxers when the paperboy didn’t care enough to pay attention to where that morning’s delivery went. It was even worse after it snowed – I once found an issue from mid-December while I was cleaning away brush in April – but it didn’t have to be all that nippy for the early morning paper hunt to be unpleasant.

I saved my work email for last. It would keep, and if anything really crucial had happened, I’d have gotten a text. The morning was for comics and the stats from last night’s games. It had been a long time since staying up to watch the end of a west-coast game was a good idea, and I still got the same thrill as I had as a kid, reading over the stat lines from the night before. There was a lot more information nowadays, with hyperlinks that would get me any compilation I might want, but the simple recitation of who did what was much the same as it had been in my grandparents’ day, and I reveled in that connection to the past.

The weather forecast was a welcome sight. There weren’t many more weekends before the nasty stuff would start hitting, and I still had to get the yard ready – put away the hose, take down the umbrella – I could see the list forming in my head as I thought. This afternoon looked like it would be a pretty nice one for being outside – upper fifties, sunny, a little west wind. I might even rake some leaves.

Or not.

I heard a toilet flush upstairs and the soft tread of feet along carpet. That had to be Abbie – she was the only one who ever got up at this hour, other than me. Years of training herself to catch a 7:10 bus wore off pretty quickly with her brother, but even though she’d started college this fall, and I’m sure had her share of late nights (that I didn’t ask about, not even once), she was still as apt as not to come creeping down the stairs to see what was up.

Abbie smiled at me as she padded into the kitchen, but didn’t speak. She knew how much happier I was when I had my time in the morning, but the truth was that I was glad she was there. She’d been an angel at six, a wood sprite at ten, a demon at fourteen, and somehow she was now nearly all grown up, visiting her folks on a long fall break weekend and prepping for midterms. I’d winced when I saw how much stuff she’d crammed into her backpack, but when I said something about it, I got the “Oh, Daddy, you’re so naïve” look that I think they sell in those little pink bags as the mall along with other things I didn’t ask about.

Her own cup of morning get-up-and-go made, she sat down at the table diagonally from me, in the same spot she’d been in when her seat had a harness and its own tray, and pulled out her phone. We’d had plenty of conversations over the years about actually talking to the other people we were sitting with, but in this case, we were sharing something – the quiet of a frosty morning with a hot drink and the world at our fingertips.

There was a price we paid, getting older – grey hairs, creaky bones, the memories of times long gone which taunted us with their inaccessibility, but there were also rewards. We sipped our coffee together and stared at our screens, alone, but together. And that was enough.


6 Responses to “Story for Ruth Long”

  1. Beautifully weaved…

  2. Just. Oof. Right in the feels. With my eldest just 7, but racing to grow more each day, this really spoke to me. Stunning.

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