“You did the right thing, Ben,” Dad says after he and Mom get back from their brief foray into town.
“She’ll be back,” Mom adds, the confidence in her voice absolute.
Did I do the right thing? Will she be back? Or did I just lose Ella forever? Hearing how much of her own struggles she’s kept hidden only made me feel worse. Especially since we’ve had so many talks about tough or controversial topics. That she felt free to tell me about the racial and class segregation in Boston but not about her own lows during the winter months reinforces the fact that our friendship was always off balance.
I want to fix that. I want her to come back so we can. But not yet. I need time. I wasn’t trying to push her away by saying that. I was being honest. Brian’s advice to lean on her to help me get through the worst of the grief was good, but I know doing that in the long term would be detrimental to my recovering from it.
“Oh, here you go, Benny,” Mom says, pulling a white paper bag from her purse and setting it on the kitchen island in front of me.
“Thanks for picking these up,” I say.
They’re my meds. Brian and I agreed its probably best to raise my dosages back up for the short term and then see how things stand after a month. At this point, I welcome the increase. Staying down here in the kitchen with my parents instead of climbing back into bed is taking all of my willpower. It’s clear that I need outside help to take some of the edge off of all of these emotions.
A soft whining echoes from the front of the house, providing a welcome distraction.
“I got it,” I tell my dad, who was just starting to head toward the hallway.
Ella was smart to bring the puppies back. It will give me something to focus on. When Mom and Dad eventually go home, I’ll be forced to get up, to let them out, to feed them, and to train them, if I’m going to live up to being the responsible dog owner I promised I would be.
“You have to go pee-poop?” I ask Doodle, grinning as I remember Ella’s look of horror when she let that phrase slip New Year’s Day.
His whines ramp up in volume, little body wriggling with the speed of his tail wagging.
I shove my feet into my boots and pull the door open to see that it’s started snowing again. Doodle doesn’t go very far, dropping his little butt down just to the side of the porch stairs so he can pee. The second he’s done, he bounds back up them, ready to retreat back into the warmth of the house.
“Gonna be a hell of a storm,” Dad says when I re-enter the kitchen. He’s frowning down at his phone, forehead creased.
I have to look away from him, once again reminded of how much my brother took after him. “What’s the predicted snowfall?” I ask, pulling open the freezer to see just how much Ella had been distracting herself with cooking. There’s enough tupperware stacked in here to feed a football team.
“Twenty inches,” Dad answers.
Good, this is good. There’s prep work to do for the storm. I can spend today focusing on that, let it distract me from thoughts of my diagnosis and the stricken look of heartbreak on Ella’s face before she walked out of the door.
“I’m gonna eat real quick,” I tell my parents. “And then, Dad, did you want to help me stack some more bags of pellets near the stove in the basement? After that, Mom, we could use your help. We need to salt the porch steps and the walkway so they don’t freeze, then haul in some more wood for the fireplaces, and check on the generator. We lose power up here a lot.”
Mom nods in response.
“Sure thing,” Dad answers, sounding excited. This will be his first snowstorm since my rookie year in the USFL, when my parents came out to watch a playoff game and after we lost it, ended up stuck with me for a week while the airports worked to get through their backlog of passengers.
“Try the lasagna,” Mom says helpfully from behind me, when it’s clear I’m struggling to choose which of the dishes Ella prepared.
“Thanks,” I say, and pull it free. I need these calories, I know I do. I’m already losing weight. My muscle tone is deteriorating, body starting to cannibalize itself. But I’m not hungry, and when Ella, and before her my dad, forced me to eat, the food tasted like ash in my mouth.
Maybe it’s the fact that Ella made this, maybe it’s because it’s all that’s left of her in this house, or maybe I’m just finally starting to come out of the depressive fugue I’ve been in, but for the first time since my diagnosis, food tastes…well, not good, but like food again. There’s the sharpness of the cheese, the tang of salt, the sweetness of the tomatoes, the subtle bite of spices. I clear my plate and then reheat a second serving. If I’m going to be on my feet all day, I need the fuel.
When I’m done, I rinse my plate off, put it in the dishwasher, then turn to my dad. “You ready?”
“Let’s do this,” he says with a grin.
Copyright © 2018 by Navessa Allen
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.