Monotony, by Caitlin Santavenere

His alarm goes off every morning at 5:30. For the past couple of months he has woken up naturally around 5:10 and has just laid in bed, not daring to move to the other side (her side). He doesn’t even ruffle the covers over there. By 6:10 he is usually just tying his tie and reaching for his blazer from the closet. He uses the same soap and wears the same deodorant. He has had Rice Krispies for breakfast every day since he was twenty. He fills the bowl with milk first then the Rice Krispies. She asked him once, when they were first married, why he did that. He shrugged and said it made them less soggy. After breakfast he checks his tie in the hall mirror, puts on his overcoat and the hat she got him for their fifth wedding anniversary. He grabs his briefcase then walks out the door, closes it, locks it. He walks down the street just in time to catch the 705 bus. He has had the same routine for thirty-five years. The only change is that she used to say goodbye in between the checking of the hat and the putting on of the overcoat. She used to hand him his briefcase.

He takes the 705 over to the subway stop on Riverside. He rides the subway into the city. There’s a woman who is always on the train before him. She sits in the far corner seat and focuses all her attention on the crossword puzzle. She has been in that seat for fifteen years. For the last ten they have exchanged nods when he enters the car. One day, almost six years ago, she was crying. He offered her a tissue. That is the most contact they have ever had.

His wife always liked to hear about the train lady. She treated the train lady as if she were some mystery that needed to be solved. “Paulie,” she would say (she always called him Paulie and he didn’t have the heart to tell her he hated it). “Paulie, you should talk to her. Maybe she’s some European diplomat hiding out in America.” He would just shake his head at her and laugh. He knew she’d be disappointed when her European diplomat turned out to be another career woman from Hoboken.

The first month without her hadn’t been so bad. People kept saying at the funeral that things would get better with time. Maybe he was in some state of shock but he thought that first month without her was kind of nice. He hadn’t been by himself for forty-five years. No one was around to nag him about the broken step in the basement. No one was around to remind him about his heart medicine. No one was around to talk about Judith Peterson’s grandson who just got out of prison. For that first month he liked the silence. He liked watching Spaghetti Westerns on TV and eating only potato chips for dinner. But then one month had turned into two and the emptiness crept up on him. You see, the thing about missing someone is they actually have to be gone. One month is a long time to be away from someone but when you realize after that first month that they’re never coming back that’s when you really start to miss them.

When he gets off the subway he walks two blocks to his office. He always says hello to the door man before riding the elevator to the 26th floor. He always says hello to the receptionist. Hewalks down the hall to the back office that he’s been in for twelve years. He does the same thing every day. Then at a little after five o’clock, he goes backwards. Back down the hall, goodbye to the receptionist, down to the first floor, goodbye to the doorman, back two blocks, onto the subway, nod to the European diplomat, off at Riverside, 705 back to his street, walks home, unlocks the door, opens it, puts down his briefcase, takes hangs up his hat, takes off his overcoat. Sometimes he forgets himself and still says “Honey, I’m home.” When that happens he goes straight to bed. When he remembers not to say it he makes a small dinner. Eats in front of the television alone then goes to bed.

His kids say he should get a dog.

After that first month he lets things settle in. He fixes that broken step in the basement and writes a reminder on the fridge so he doesn’t forget his heart medicine. He reads about Judith Peterson’s grandson in the newspaper and scoffs out loud to no one. During that second month he realizes that he’d never watch a Spaghetti Western again if he meant that she would come back. He would never eat another chip just to hear her laugh. Once everything settles an desolation builds in his chest. Doris is gone and never coming back but she would have really liked the new wallpaper he put up in the bathroom.

Doris died a year ago in March. His life was just as boring when she was alive but maybe, he thinks, it wasn’t. They’d sit and eat dinner together and Doris would make some crack about the “stupid broad” on TV. He’d shake his head and laugh and tell her to be quiet. She wouldn’t. He didn’t care. He loved hearing her talk but he’d never tell her that. He keeps reminding himself that their life together was lackluster. In the beginning, they had big dreams of big adventures waiting for them. Then little Paul came and that trip to Bora Bora turned into a trip to the grocery store for diapers. When the kids were little, Doris used to buy travel magazines and paste the pictures in the secret hiding spots around the house. She lined the entire medicine cabinet with scenic pictures of the snowcapped Alps.

Then they decided that when the kids were grown it would be their turn. But Jenna went to medical school and they helped Karen with the down payment on a house for her and John. Doris bought Paulie a Hawaiian shirt and put a blow up palm tree in the living room. Then before Paulie knew it, the palm tree had started to deflate and so had Doris. She just wasn’t herself one day. Then one day she wasn’t around at all.

On Friday morning Paulie wakes up at 5:10 and gets out of bed. He showers, puts on his suit and tie. He packs one suit case. He throws out the box of Rice Krispies and eats ice cream with his coffee. He puts on his overcoat and his hat then checks his tie in the mirror. He shouts a goodbye that echoes through the empty house. He takes the 705 to the cemetery down the street. He visits Doris. Then he gets back on the 705 and keeps going. He has no use for routine anymore. Doris would have disapproved of his surrender to monotony. He wishes she were on the 705 with him.

– Caitlin Santavenere. lives in Baltimore.

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