the short story project


One More Day

One More Day
With no alarm since the funeral, how fitting that he was awakened by a finch, for she had undressed the joys of nature to him.
Would he eat blueberries and oatmeal? Would he start with yoga? Would he shave and apply sunscreen, which her pale skin required, too?
Soon he would slip on a pair of shorts, grab his notebook, and walk to the garden just behind the bedroom window. 
He had planted (though she designed and maintained) three bougainvillea, a Mexican sage, lots of gazanias (the omnipresent freeway flowers), and various edible experiments: tomatoes (for the birds), bell peppers, corn (single rows don’t pollinate), cantaloupe (despite the drought), zucchini (enough for the neighbors), eggplant, and the snail’s favorite, romaine lettuce. His interest in the garden was minimal before the accident.
For Christmas two years ago, she had ordered a pair of Adirondack chairs from L.L. Bean. He uncovered one, propped his feet on the other, closed his eyes, and remembered wakening her with a breathy, high-pitched whistle. 
He wanted to write about her. Something heartrending. If a memoir, it would be about her love for him. Paid writing assignments kept intruding, but couldn’t one lead to something that put her on center stage in his writing, as she had been in everything else?
While they were dating, she had been outraged by the treatment of HIV patients. She built an AIDS detention camp, modeled on Manzanar, at the Catholic Worker kitchen in downtown L.A. and played a dying patient. Near the end of the performance, she forgot her lines and ran off crying. The audience cheered the surprise ending, but she never appeared in an installation again.
A scrub jay landed on the gate that opened into the yard of the adjacent duplex. Elliot nearly smiled. When the jay screeched away, he noticed the rose bush in the half-barrel. He thought he caught the sweet, clean fragrance. Had he forgotten to water?
As an undergrad, he had written a mauve ode about riding to shore on swells of sadness in an ocean of grief, about a girl with a dark ponytail he had spoken to twice. Alan Watts wrote that the animals live and die but don’t make a big deal of it. And?
A hummingbird zoomed past his ear and hovered over the statice, just long enough to notice the hibiscus trumpets nearby. “The ruby-throated hummer is common in this part of California.” PBS documentaries accompanied by pizza constituted their date nights. But how could something that spent most of its waking hours hovering in midair so it could eat enough to keep hovering in midair be common?
He closed his eyes again. He saw her hands, delicately sturdy and the floppy oversized straw hat with the dirty white stripe. 
A finch, maybe the one that woke him, landed on the rose bush, yellow on green and red, her country’s colors. Now he noticed the revving motors and the swish of tires on their busy street. Maybe he would go back to work tomorrow. Maybe he could do something common, something routine, something without the habitual despair.
Maybe he could write. Fill a line or two. Something tangible. But why did it seem disrespectful, even sacrilegious? 
He looked down and formed a few words slowly. “Quivering, feathered energy. . . .” His implement for living dropped from his fingers. 
Standing up slowly, he gazed at the bougainvilleas: Texas Dawn, California Gold, Raspberry Ice. He bent over to grab the chair covers but stopped. He would return at sunset.
Right now he’d eat. Maybe a bacon-cheese omelet with fried potatoes, bell pepper, and onion. He wanted to laugh. They haven’t had meat or dairy in the house for years.
He pulled his shoulders back. Could he imagine himself into a good day? At least a normal day? He’d settle for boring. Closing his eyes once more, he noticed the faint whir of the hummer’s wings, and took in a long slow breath, recognizing that normal could only mean one more day without her.

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