“Routine” – A Short Story
He opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling. Sunlight peeked through the slit in the curtains making a bright line across the bedspread. Taking a deep breath, he let out a heavy sigh. Lying there he began to think about how to do it. “Razor blade to the wrists? No, not enough strength in my hands to cut deep enough,” he thought. “The throat? Go for the jugular? That would be quick and easy, but messy.” In his mind he could hear his eldest son cursing at the top of his lungs while he cleans up the blood. “Blood pressure pills?” He reached over to see how many he had. His shaking hands rattled the bottle as he picked them up. It took forever to get the lid off. He poured them onto the night table and counted – “1, 2, 3, 4…” until he reached 15. “Damn! Not enough. Would they even work anyway?” he mumbled in his rhaspy morning voice. “Who knows? If I could drive, I’d go out to the ocean road and go flying off a cliff. But what if I didn’t get enough lift to actually hit the ocean water? Knowing my luck I’d survive the jump. Of course then I’d die of hypothermia eventually. But I hate the cold. My bones hurt too much when it’s cold,” he said, as he rubbed his arms up and down.
Swinging his legs over the side of the bed and pushing up with his right hand, he sat up with a groan. Then he began thinking like he did every morning. The same thoughts, a different day. “I can’t step up on a chair to hang myself. Hell, I wouldn’t even be able to tie a decent knot in the rope. It’s hard to believe I was ever a Marine. Young, buffed, me against the world. Now the world is against me. Everything is against me. Everyone is against me. No one loves me. My son’s just waiting for me to die to get my money. Ungrateful good-for-nothing. Barely worked ten years in his whole miserable lazy life. I worked my finger to the bone for him and his mom my whole life. Why did she have to die first? I just want to be with her again. What is the harm in that?” he asked no one.
Gripping the night table and holding on, he slowly stood, pain shooting through his back, legs and feet. Reaching over to the table again, he grabbed the pee bottle. He unscrewed the lid, but shaking overtook his hands. “Oh hell!” he cursed. The wet and cold made him jump, and his pajamas reeked. His shoulders began shaking. His bottom lip trembled and tears filled his brown eyes. He refused to call out to his son or ask him to for help anymore. His son just complained and cussed in return. Picking up the bottle from the bed where it had fallen, he opened his pajama bottoms and soon felt the relief of an empty bladder. Instead of trying to put the lid back on, he just leaned over and put it on the table.
He craved a cigarette as he did every morning ever since he had stopped smoking right before his wife died. However, he didn’t have any cigarettes or a lighter anywhere in sight. His son made sure he didn’t have a lighter anywhere in his room, because he was afraid he’d do something stupid like set himself on fire with it. “The way I’m feeling right now, I just might,” he thought to himself. “Why?” he thought. “Why did I have to be the one to live without her? She would have managed so much better without me. I don’t know what to do anymore.”
Deciding to go forward with his daily regiment, he slowly raised up to his feet again. Shuffling to the dresser, he pulled out a t-shirt, clean underwear, and picked up his jeans off the gold upholstered chair in the corner. He slowly made his way across the hall to the bathroom. His shaky hands unbuttoned his pajama top and after a few minutes he laid it on the counter. He had to pee again already, so he walked slowly to the toilet, lifted the lid and peed. Like most days, the toilet bowl showed a red tint. He ignored it and flushed. Getting back to the sink, he undressed, picked up his washcloth, ran the water until it was warm and wiped himself off. Then he dried himself. He rarely used soap anymore. His son complained about his stench, but he just didn’t care. Rebelliously, he thought, “It’s my body, dammit. I’ll do with it what I damn well please!”
After getting dressed, he opened the door to make his long trek down the hall to the kitchen. He timed himself once, and it took a full ten minutes. Plus, he was usually huffing by then and feeling thirsty. Every night before he went to bed he prepared his coffee and set the timer. He could smell it wafting down the hall now. He sniffed in the aroma thinking, “nothing like the smell of coffee first thing in the morning.” About ten minutes later, he reached the dining room. He grabbed the wall and sat down on the tall brown stool by the phone desk before moving on. The nutty aroma was calling him, though, so he rested for just a minute longer.
He rose up and shuffled over to the counter. Then he stopped again, his chest wheezing and rattling. A few more steps later and he was getting down his coffee cup. He turned toward the coffee maker, set his cup down, and grabbed a spoon from the drawer. He scooped his teaspoon of sugar into his cup. Then he waited a couple of minutes for his hand to stop shaking so he poured. Lifting the coffee pot carefully, he poured the dark hot liquid carefully, making a small puddle on the counter. Then he clanked the pot back in its place and picked up the silver spoon. Metal against ceramic, one of his favorite sounds, began to mesmerize him. His son hated how long he stood there and stirred his coffee. If his son walked in the room while he was stirring, he would just frown and shake his head, letting the back door slam behind him as he left the kitchen to go out to the garage where he sat for hours.
Opening the blinds over the kitchen window, he looked outside at the dead flowerbed where his wife used to grow geraniums. She loved her flowerbed and was proud of their son for how hard he worked to maintain it. She would be so sad to see it now. She would hate this house that had become a tomb since she died. When she was alive, their son never seemed to mind doing anything for her. He still complained or criticized the way she wanted things done choosing to do things his way anyway, but at least he still did what she asked. “I suppose he learned all that from me. God, what have I done? I raised an angry man. It’s a wonder he hasn’t killed me yet.
After pouring his second cup of coffee, he walked as slowly as he could to the table, coffee sloshing over the rim of the cup. Rarely did he have more than half a cup left by the time he reached the table. He set his cup down, walked to the dining room window, and opened the blinds. Sunlight warmed his face. Then he turned around, pulled out his chair, and sat down. It took him a few minutes to catch his breath, chest heaving up and down.
Years ago, when he first retired, he and his wife read the paper together every morning. He started with the sports section and she the comics. “Family Circle,” and “Peanuts” were her favorite comics. If one struck her funny, she shared it with him. They sat there at least an hour, switched sections of the paper when done, drank coffee, and made small talk. Small talk was all that was left in their marriage by then. They bickered often, but mostly ignored each other. They didn’t even sleep together any more. She had her own television in her room where she retreated after dinner each night. They didn’t hug, kiss, or hold hands, but they had not been affectionate much anyway. He wished things had changed after he had stopped drinking, but nothing had. She told him the damage had been done; there was no going back. Instead, they tolerated each other; divorce was not an option.
After he finished his coffee, he took his cup to the sink and washed it out. He stood staring out the window. Then he went to the family room, sat on the couch, picked up the remote and turned on the television at its normal blaring decibel. A few hours later, he drank his Boost, then went back to watch more t.v., dozing most of the day. Sometimes his son came in to use the bathroom, but he recently heard his son say he didn’t even want to be in the same house with him any more. He heard his son leave every night to buy takeout food since neither of them cooked.
A few hours after dinner, he turned off the television, painfully raised to his feet, made his way to the kitchen to get his water, then shuffled back down the hall to the bathroom. He brushed his teeth, then took them out and put them in their container. Reaching the bedroom a moment later, he shut the door behind him. He put his water glass down on the night table, moving over the one from the night before, and sat down. The craving for cigarettes came again before he laid down. Tears sprang to his eyes as his thoughts raced frighteningly through his head.
The next day it was about noon when his son came in the house. Everything was dark. The coffee smelled burnt. He scowled, and stomped down the hallway. His dad’s closed door stopped him suddenly. “Get up, old man!” he yelled as he turned the door knob. As he burst in the door, the smell of urine nearly knocked him over. Holding his breath, he walked over and shook his dad to wake him.
“Daddy, wake up,” he said. His dad didn’t stir. “Daddy!” he said more emphatically. Nothing happened. “Jeez! What the hell?” He picked up the phone receiver in the room and dialed 911. When the operator came on the line he told her something was wrong with his dad; he wasn’t waking up. After she asked him some routine questions to which all his answers were “no,” she said paramedics were on the way.
He was frozen with fear and began shaking his dad yelling, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Wake up, wake up! I was a horrible son, I know. I’ll change! I promise!” But nothing happened.
When the paramedics arrived, they did CPR, but nothing happened. It had been too long. Time of death was estimated at 7:00 that morning. “Seven?” the son asked? The paramedic nodded. The son recalled waking up about then thinking he heard his dad’s voice saying, “good-bye, son.” He had just scowled and fallen back asleep.
Now he fell on his knees, held onto his dad, and cried. A few minutes later one of the paramedics asked, “Son, did your dad take blood pressure medication?” as he held up the empty bottle. Just then a voice in his head said, “It was just enough.”
© Patsy H. Parker