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Even Though the Trashmen Won’t Be Coming - Deb Nordlie

I walked into the kitchen this morning in my old pink robe, thinking about breakfast. And, of course, about tonight. “Did the newspaper say anything else? Anything new?”


Fred glanced up from the paper, “Nope, just a rehash of what they said yesterday.”


I opened the refrigerator and considered breakfast options. I better use up these eggs before they go bad. Wait . . . wait, they won’t go bad. How could these eggs possibly go bad?


I smiled at my stupidity. I grabbed the milk jug and a loaf of bread, scrambled the eggs for French toast, and then laid the pieces on the griddle, still grinning.


After a while, Fred asked, What in heaven’s name are you so darn cheery about over there?” He folded the paper and laid it on the kitchen table—I could hear him do it even over the sizzle of the breakfast on the griddle. “There’s not much to be smiling about today, Patty. You know that.”


I speared the French toast and laid the four slices on my great-grandmother’s gold-edged platter. Usually, I thought the platter was too delicate to use for every day, but now, well, it didn’t matter.


“Patty, come sit with me and we can talk. We have a few minutes before the kids get up for school so come sit with me and let’s have a little chat.”


As I brought the platter to the kitchen table, I thought about how many times Fred and I had these “little chats”: over a meal, in the car, in bed. So, I sat and looked at him, waiting.


“Did the kids say if their teachers said anything? You know, prepared them at all?”


“I guess the teachers figured it should be up to us parents,” I answered. “After all, it will happen when the kids are at home, not at school. And teachers don’t have time to add a situation like this to their curriculum, Fred, they have enough on their plates what with lesson plans, and test scores, and report cards, and behavior problems. And, in fact, just last week, and, Fred I neglected to tell you about this, Ned’s teacher, Mrs. Galloway? Well, she wants us in for a conference. She said Ned is disrespectful. She said that on the playground, he said . . .”


“It doesn’t matter now, does it, Patty?” He rested his arm on the newspaper and placed his hand on mine, his fingers fiddling with my wedding ring. “You know there’ll be no conference. There’ll be no recording of test scores, no report cards to fill out. No need for more lesson plans.”


We sat in silence, Fred now smoothing the back of my hand, and me, considering the time. I glanced at the clock.              

“Yesterday, the guys in the office were talking. Nothing hysterical, just quiet-like,” Fred said.


“Just like Carol and Gloria at the market. There’s nothing to do about it.”


Fred nodded but said nothing.


Soon our two sleep-rumpled kids launched into the kitchen toward us for their good morning hugs. I thought how many years we’d had this tradition, but no more after this, I remembered. This is our last time.


Their French toast was gobbled, and there was only a little squabbling about maple syrup versus the jam I’d offered, and they went off to gather their backpacks for their last day of school. Fred and I sat silent.


The kids grabbed their lunches and after we hugged them goodbye, they raced out the door toward the school bus, Fred announced he was not going to work. “I mean, what’s the point?” he asked. So, he just sat there at the kitchen table, not even opening the paper. But I loaded the dishwasher anyway. Then I vacuumed and Fred watched me, baffled. When I went to sweep under the kitchen table, he said, “C’mon, Patty. What’d ’ya doing that for? Come sit with me.”


So, I put the broom away and once I sat down, he took my hand again. We were quiet. Around noon, I felt compelled to at least make some sort of lunch for us, tuna on rye, salt and vinegar chips on the side. I do love those salt and vinegar chips. Fred, not so much. We picked at our sandwiches and sat. I ate all the chips. The clock ticked. Eventually, the kids came home, lunch dishes still on the table and Fred and I still sat, still holding hands, still quiet.


Sarah called out while hanging her backpack in the coat closet, “Hi, Mom. What’s for dinner? I’m starving!”


“Yeah, what’s the grubo, Mommo?” Ned shouted and threw his backpack on the kitchen floor. That Ned. Maybe Mrs. Galloway was right.


I pulled together some leftovers, unnecessarily helped the kids with their homework (fractions in third grade? I wondered), and sent them off to get ready for bed. I’m sure Ned just walked into the bathroom and simply turned on the tap instead of brushing his teeth, but I didn’t call him on it, and I didn’t get mad. Fred and I hugged and kissed them both soundly before we watched them wander away into their rooms for their last sleep.


“Patty,” Fred whispered once he was sure the kids were in their rooms, doors firmly closed, “Patty, you know we still have those pills. I put them in the cabinet behind the coffee filters. Do you think, do you think that before Sarah and Ned go to sleep, do you think we should just give them those pills?”


I glared at this stranger, this callous man, my husband. “What?! You mean you want to hasten this? No, at least have the decency to allow them to finish this day, Fred, finish this day the same as everyone. Do you want to rob them of that? What are you thinking, Fred? Where is your decency?”


Oh, I sounded harsh, and I knew it, so I did something I hadn’t done in years. I walked over to the love of my life and sat on his lap. “Let’s not squabble, Fred. Let’s not waste what’s left.” I stroked his hair, kissed his forehead, and leaned my head on his shoulder. We held on to each other til the clock said we only had an hour until the world ended. We changed into our pajamas. Fred made two trips to bring the kids to our bed and packed them in tight right between us.


“Do you think it’ll be fast?” I whispered. “You know, just happen? One minute . . .”


“I don’t have that answer. This I just don’t know, Patty.”


We four huddled under the covers. Sarah cuddled into the warmth of Fred’s flannel and my own sweet Ned nestled into my shoulder. Fred and I lay there wide awake, and then I remembered it was Tuesday.


“Fred!” and I said his name softly, I didn’t want to wake the kids, interrupt their innocent breathing, interrupt the dear rise and fall of their innocent breathing. “Fred, did you take out the trash? You know the trash men won’t collect it unless it’s at the curb.”


He got up without complaint and without his Christmas slippers on. He’ll catch his death of cold, I thought. I could hear him rolling the rusty bins to the curb.


When he returned, he whispered, “All the neighbors had theirs out too.

Fred and I looked at each other and quietly chuckled at the ridiculousness of all of us hauling those trash cans out, lining our street, those bins waiting expectantly for the trashmen who won’t be coming.


“Good night, my love,” I whispered.


“Good night, Dearest.”  And he leaned over and barely disturbing our blankets, gave the kids and me a kiss.  He reached for my hand. “You know I love you all.”


I smiled at him, and we closed our eyes and together waited.


Deb Nordlie has taught English since dinosaurs ruled the earth. After a lifetime of writing assignment sheets, she’s branched into writing life stories, believing “we are all anthologies filled with short stories and poems.” Occasionally though, she pens uncharacteristic oddball lit. A teacher of writing in adult school, she still continues to scribble away at the Great American Novel. You can view her work in the Chestnut Review, San Diego Poetry Annual, San Diego Writer’s Ink, Coffee + Crumbs, Reminisce, Crown City Magazine, the San Diego Reader, and the Scapegoat Review.

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