March 19, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Kylie Westerlind
Henry cooked eggs every morning, preparing this dish the same way every day. Three of them, scrambled. Salt, then pepper. A pinch of jack cheese. Then he’d read the newspaper he bought at his drugstore the same way he had all his life: big headlines first, then the entertainment section. Nothing was ever different, really. Certain stories caught his eye: a famous celeb passed away or, perhaps, a story on the prison system. Mass killings he allowed a sigh. Articles on finance were easily given a dismissive glance. Henry also, by the way, used the same plate every day. He washed the plate with the ease of a housewife, he liked to think, even whistling like he remembered seeing in technicolor sitcoms. He always gave a spray of hot water. Threw heated glances out the window over the sink at the neighbors—children hurling themselves into the air on a trampoline. He once saw the oldest daughter out there with a boy from down the street. He had turned away when they kissed.
But back to the dishes: he always grabbed two paper towels for drying. One woman, her name he long forgot, always cringed when he did this. She kept buying him kitchen towels. At least he put her plate in the dishwasher, which pleased her. He had some decency, she probably liked to remind herself. He knew that she had liked that he never read the stories from the paper out loud to her, that they were to never share stories. She often brought her own paper, one she snagged from local coffee shops. This he found annoying. He had to throw out the pages she never read: sports, world, finance. Like him, but still.
He wished now, as he dried the plate after his breakfast, that he had tolerated her better. He felt pangs of loneliness at the table after she had gone—“but you don’t remember her name?” his friends constantly implored and gave him harsh, judgmental, dismissive looks. But see here it’s not like he meant to forget. Perhaps he was just careless in that way. It was hard for Henry to remember the details like those. They dated long enough for her to stay over a few nights a week, but not long enough that he could quite picture her face the way he wanted. She definitely had irises that pierced and stung—but what color were they? Henry couldn’t tell them. They teared up easily and she usually looked sick, he remembered that. And he remembered what she ate. She had two eggs with pepperjack cheese and salsa on the side. She was the only reason he kept salsa in the house. They were together for a few months, at most. They were recluses, never meeting each other’s friends. They hardly spoke of the other. He didn’t know why. He wasn’t a secretive person. They slept together, woke up and ate breakfast together, read the news in silence. They went to work. They brought back their own dinners, hers vegetarian. His was always a sub sandwich, made the same way—and it was a fucking perfect day if it was his favorite sub-preparer.
He never knew why she left. She had seemed complacent with their conditions. He had been, at least.
It was summer when he lost her, hot gusts rustling the windows. She had left her papers. He had watched as they skittered across the table. Went off to take a shower. Later he threw out the papers, put her plate in the dishwasher. Maybe she had gone for a run, or out to grab her fermented tea drink she liked. But she never came back. His routine slightly jumbled, he had left his plate in the sink for the day.
The next day he liked to think he was back to normal. It took a few weeks but eventually he bought a newspaper from the drugstore. He scanned the news like he used to. He was back to eggs. (For a while there after she left, he had sustained on fruit and a bagel in the morning, which he didn’t really like to ruminate on. He was fine.) It wasn’t depression, exactly, not even quite a heartbreak, but something skewering at him, some organ he couldn’t even point to.
It’s not until years later, after years of dating other women, some for weeks, some for years, when he’s moving to a house with his new lady that he finds a remnant of the old girl. She had bought him a plate. It had sat there, pushed back in a corner of the cupboard, unused and unseen. Henry wipes the dust off, packs it away, carefully. His non-organ panting away somewhere inside him. How much more of a life he can forget.
Kylie Westerlind holds an MFA from the University of Montana in Missoula where she also developed an aversion to gray skies. She currently resides back in her hometown of Reno, Nevada, and she works part-time as a substitute teacher for Washoe County. Her fiction has previously appeared in the Madison Review and Carve Magazine and is forthcoming from Fearsome Critters. Say hello at kyliewesterlind.com or on Instagram @kaywestah.