A Series Of Stories – II

Jonathan Sunderland’s spoon was halfway to his mouth. His hand was trembling with the slightly sleepy suggestion of a tremor. More of a neural spasm than a full-blown syndrome. That being said, the Cheerios on his spoon, of which there were four, jostled each other somewhat violently and pearls of milk fell from the gleaming, just washed spoon, to plop in his bowl or splatter on the table since Jonathan was carrying his spoon at a point just above the lip of his bowl and the plops of milk were unsure exactly where to land. Plop. Plop. He was reading the paper. Bits of it covered the table. His wife was doing a cross word as she readied herself for work – only an apple for me, Jon.

Plop.

There he was. Clear as print.

Jonathan Sunderland, father of two and beloved husband, dead at forty five.

None of the expected questions were, however, burning through his head. He never once wondered if it was it some kind of prank; something that Hayase had cooked up. It didn’t occur to him that there might be another Jonathan Sunderland out there; it’s a common name and he was reading a big newspaper.

Plop.

What did occur to Jonathan Sunderland, because it was more important than the veracity of his own death, was the shock he felt when his life could be so concisely doctored to fit into a single sentence. Jonathan Sunderland, father of two and beloved husband, dead at forty five. Albeit, there were a few sutured clauses, three extra people, and forty five unmentioned, yet barely hinted-at years of life, but still. There was no fanfare. No consolidation of his life. The editing job he’d dedicated six years to, apparently, hadn’t been worthy of print. Neither had his childhood friends, or college classmates. The cereal he was slowly spreading across the editorials had more rings of shredded grain than he had words in his life. If life were a soup, Jonathan was, apparently, the spinach that boiled down to a small, shrivelled, husk that wasn’t even afforded the possibly lush green colour it had once had. It just couldn’t decide.

Plop.

The milk was warm now. Sun was coming through the kitchen window, strong. But still, he didn’t take a bite. If he did, it would be a lie. He could swallow the Cheerios. Prove to them that he was bigger than them. Better. That he had more. He had a family, and they, just a flotilla of soon-to-be victims. But, he couldn’t. He just couldn’t. Because the milk would curdle in his mouth and the Cheerios would be stale. It would be an empty gesture. One that only served to seal a few more steps of sanity before him. Eventually, he would run out and then he’d be further along the road from his home than he knew how to deal. He’d be lost. He’d be lost on a road of lies that he himself had built and laid and sealed and hummed along while doing it because he was sure, he was certain, he was better than those Cheerios, he was fine, and that’s what made it all the worse; that he himself had built it and hummed. Fucking hummed. But he had to stop the infrastructure of deceit. The clouded road that just wound around, that moved wherever he felt it ought to at the time, with no clear destination in mind. Just a road of faux-fulfilment. Fauxfillment.

Plop.

Bella and Mars were out the door; not a mention of even an apple, let alone a quality breakfast of better-than-my-life Cheerios. Just a scattering of footsteps by the door as they thrust bony feet down into boots. A clattering of the door handle. A laughing goodbye.

Johnathon remembered the night Mars was conceived, but, he couldn’t quite place Bella. Had it been the time he and Tiffa had taken the Friday off and imposed their own three-day weekend? They’d driven out to the north coast. To a beach where the waves rolled in salty curls, unbroken. Their sound almost carried the car the last half an hour to a hotel with a crown of white stars and an old desk clerk. Maybe it had been at a friend’s new year’s party in the city, when, after six and a half champagnes on Jonathan’s part, and a tremendous seven, by the lovely Tiffa, they had found themselves stumbling through a forest of jackets and overcoats with tickets and mints in the pockets, in an air so thick and close and cold that Jonathan could here Tiffa’s voice, quiet as it was, he could almost lick it as she sighed aloud. A porcelain sigh. They could hear the party beyond the closet, but, it was removed. It was not their world. They had created a world, a world that smelled of mints, that was enfolded by jackets, a world that smelt of Tiffa, and Jonathan. They’d hung onto each other long after the fireworks and unabashed kissing of The Moment outside, because, in their world, The Moment meant nothing, what mattered was Their Moment. And that was, to their great fortune, every moment. For ten minutes after Tiffa’s porcelain sigh, Jonathan tried to find his left shoe, but it was camouflaged completely in the darkness, buried amongst the roots of jackets and coats and scarves. Tiffa kept laughing and it sounded beautiful. Later, someone had, cocktail in hand, asked Jonathan what had happened to his shoe. Made a joke about Cinderella. They’d returned home in the early hours of the morning, as a faint purple was blemishing the eastern horizon and the gears that keep the world together slowly whirred to life.

Plop.

Eying the quavering spoon, Jonathan began to glare. He won’t eat it. He won’t. It became a kind of test of will. A last show of strength. It had always been him against the Cheerios. He’d never known it, but it was. Everyone can find a nemesis in a cereal bowl. Jonathan was just surprised that he’d found his match.

Plop.

Trying to dream up the night Bella was conceived was difficult. It was akin to peering down a deep hole full to the brim of inky black, leaning in and trying to scope out the sides which would only peel away and crumble, and Jonathan would dart his hands frantically into every crevice natural and newly torn, trying to find it, but there were so many holes and it was so dark and his hands were growing cold and numb and he had slipped and was falling, before he new anything, shooting his arms out to either side to slow himself as much as to sift through the memories, which oddly enough, felt like mud and had this horrible stench of old, warm milk, and there was a ringing in his ears as the wind stung by. Finally, his hands were dark up to the elbows and he’d dug as much as he could, but, his breath wasn’t coming smoothly, something hurt in his chest. And as he flailed around, his cooked-slug grey memories sloughed away, leaving only a greasy film between his fingers that was like some sick perversion of the memories he’d hoped to unearth, and would take years to clean off. Those memories had been so wonderful, he was sure of it. So, why where they so slimy, so evasive, so decidedly un-wonderful?

He could remember when Mars was conceived though.

The air had smelt of snow as much as it can without showing a single flake. The clouds were heavy. If he reached his fingers out too close to the windows, he could feel the cold leaking through. The fan was rattling and a pot of broth simmered with the heat and intensity of a thousand tiny explosions, propelling water molecules to the air where they were spirited away by the rattling fan and tossed outside in the cold that tried desperately to get back in. Jonathan had chopped a length of carrot into loose chunks. A vermillion, blood-tang leg of lamb was sitting on the chopping board, awaiting further instruction.

‘Daddy, daddy!’ Bella cried, running through the kitchen. Before she could pull herself up onto the bench and prod the meat full of curiosity, Jonathan scooped her up in his arms. His hands were covered in flour and crushed herbs, but neither of them cared.

‘Yes, sweetie?’

‘When’s Caroline getting here? I want to show her Prince Rainbow!’

‘Who’s prince rainbow?’

‘He’s the prince I drew this morning. You said I could use your pencils and things. You promised, daddy.’

Had he? Possibly. It sounded like something that would just leak out of his mouth, sometime between compiling the final draft of his recipe, enduring the iciness of Tiffa as she dressed for work, taking a second phone call from a brother who wanted to know what his plans were for Christmas, because mum’s really trying to get everyone together again and she’d like to know for certain if you’re coming and if you’re not, that’s fine, she understands, but, she may love you a little less, and these are obviously her words not mine, and if you’re coming then I’ve already preordered these wonderful earrings that Gordon said would be beautiful, and what do you think, could you pitch in a hundred or so, and we’d love to see Isabelle again, it’s been so long. If Bella had asked Jonathan at any time that morning – which, given her growing level of discernible shrewdness was highly possible – or even, given the fact that she could only have asked this morning, and hence, her skills at coercion, precocious though they were for her age, could potentially have nothing to do with the time-and-place she’d chosen to beset Jonathan, there was every chance that he would’ve agreed to anything she’d said, in the hopes that it would help him to extricate himself from his over-the-phone conversation with Kevin. Or that it would help him to finish his menu either way because, Bella had – for better or worse – derailed his train of thought and maybe that was a good thing, because, an extra hour of belly-aching over different cuts of livestock wouldn’t improve the tenderness of the meat either way. Or should it be vegetarian? Tiffa had shown a lot of interest in his aubergine roast the other week.

‘Don’t you mean, ‘Princess’ Rainbow?’

Bella looked at him as though he’d just suggested that they both perform handstands and drill their way through the apartment floor.

‘Daddy, he’s a prince!’

When Jonathan had been a boy, the idea of a Prince associating with rainbows would never have occurred to him or any of his childhood friends. But, he supposed that Bella had made the prince and she could do as she pleased.

‘Is he your boyfriend?’ Jonathan teased.

‘You’re yuck!’ Bella stuck her tongue out. She was still years away from boys. And God help him when she reached that point of her life. And the boys, for that matter.

‘Well, it’s a good thing.’

‘Why?’ Her eyes were blank, glassy with curiosity. Huge pools of mud.

‘Because you’ve got a garlic monster for a dad!’ Jonathan had leant forward and exhaled a vicious cloud of garlic breath over Bella. She’d squealed, but the garlic monster held her tight. As she wriggled, trying to get away from the stench, cloves and leaves smeared her Nelly Anteater shirt until Jonathan set her spindly legs back on the tiles. She was panting and giggling.

‘The garlic monster will be destroyed by Prince Rainbow,’ she assured him, wheezing. ‘But, seriously, daddy, when’s Caroline getting here?’

It was a good question. Jonathan had called Caroline last week to make sure that she was free tonight. She said she had to study for her Communications exam, but, if it was alright for Bella to just sit down and watch a movie while she, Caroline, crammed every last clause she could into her head, then she’d be happy to baby sit. Had he offered to take Bella over there? The thought caught his throat like a cold dumpling. Something left on a plate at a restaurant while everyone was talking, and that no one would ever touch again because it was too big to swallow and had too many bad thoughts inside and it was meant to be hot, and now it was cold, so they were politely talking about anything other than the dumpling, just as Jonathan was thinking about anything other than the possibility that he had offered to take Bella over to Caroline’s parents’ house for baby sitting because there was no way he had done that, but, maybe it had leaked out of his mouth in the same way he’d given Bella permission to use his art supplies, and it was now twenty minutes after the time he’d agreed to take Bella to Caroline’s parents’ house and, oh shit.

Plop.

Upstairs, Tiffa was making some touches to the makeup she’d always complained about wearing. The eyeshadow. The blush. The rouge. None of it matters, she’d said. But still, she applied it assiduously. She didn’t need it. That goes without saying. If none of it mattered, then she didn’t need any of it. She was still beautiful to Jonathan. Though, he shouldn’t really use the word ‘still’. That implied, no, stated a case of non-change. And that just wasn’t true. Tiffa had changed. But with each new grey hair; each stretch line she’d accrued; with every pain that spasmed through her back, as she bent to pick up a book of Bella’s or a toy of Mars’; with every increment both measurable and profoundly unpalpable, Jonathan found himself more and more in love with her.

He’d called Caroline one more time, the broth beginning to boil over. Jonathan had considered trying to stir it with his foot. But, he knew he shouldn’t. At least all of the handles were turned to the wall; there was no way an inquisitive Bella, and an inquisitive Bella is as probable as a fleet deer, might wander through the kitchen and pull down a pot of scalding water and salt and juices. After ten rings, the receiver picked up.

‘Mr Sunderland?’

‘Caroline, it’s me.’ Caroline had the kind of voice you wanted talking to your kids. She was a dimply nineteen year old with curls of red hair and a garish wardrobe. Bella adored her.

‘I wandered where you’d gotten to,’ she said in that sparkly voice Bella so loved. ‘I hadn’t noticed the time – I’ve been studying so much for these exams. They’re really getting to me. But, my mum called me for tea and that’s when I realised that you hadn’t brought Bella over.’

‘That’s what I’m calling about,’ Jonathan explained. He wished she’d called him earlier. Somehow, trying to make it her fault that he’d agreed to take Bella over. Somehow trying to make this not his fault, when everyone, including Caroline’s doubtlessly judgemental mother, who was Bethany…Elizabeth…something, could tell that it was Jonathan’s fault. ‘Look, I was wondering, perhaps I misspoke before. I think I said I would drop Bella off at your house, well, it turns out that I can’t do that – I’ve got a pot of vegetables here and a steak that’ll need to roast and I’ll have to supervise both of them for a good hour or so, so, I was wondering if you’d be able to come here and pick Bell up.’

There was a silence as Caroline bubbled away, the anthesis of the pot on Jonathan’s stove, now dangerously close to deluging the stovetop in carrot chunks and parsley.

‘I’m sorry, Mr. Sunderland, but, I just can’t leave. It’ll take me thirty minutes both ways to get to your house now. Is there someone who can watch your dinner, or can you just wait to start cooking?’

Jonathan explained that he’d already begun and apologised to Caroline before hanging up. He wished he could’ve spoken to her a bit longer and tried to come to some agreement: petrol money, for example. But, the pot was practically quaking on the cooker, streams of thick, brown liquid running down its sides, nearly caramelising on the steel. He took the pot off the heat and cut the gas. The seething surface slowly receded to a sluggish pool, with islands of vegetable, the heat burning through the plastic handle of the pot only slightly aroused the myriad of receptors in his fingers. The steam fogged his glasses in an instant and Jonathan stood still for a few seconds, holding onto the pot with both hands and, hence, was unable to wipe his glasses. Slowly, he put the pot down and covered it with a lid to keep the heat in. He had to call someone to look after Bella.

His mother? She was too far away and would get along with Bella too well. There was a reason he’d kept the interactions between his daughter and his mother to a supervised minimum. Like two regularly inert chemical reagents, Theadre and Bella would ignite each other; Bella would join some anarchist movement within the hour, be lobbing Molotov cocktails at the ‘establishment’ by dinner, then be tear-gased by police in riot gear and post apocalyptic masks before midnight. Tiffa’s parents? Steph and Karl Overgrad were a quite couple who would be only too excited to alter their game of 500 with conversations with their granddaughter. However, Jonathan hated making them work more than they had to, especially after Karl had injured his hip the summer prior out in the garden, and he knew what a power-keg his daughter could be. Hayase was probably still at some bar, striking out with the bartenders as he flicked cigarette after cigarette into the ashtrays at each table. He wouldn’t be home until after midnight, if at all. He might, come to think of it, be a worse choice than Jonathan’s mother.

Kevin.

His brother was a man of compartments. Where most people have a family life; a social life; a work life; a pornography consuming life; cooking life; a hobby life; a complete miscommunication with electronics and all they betoken; and where most people allow these different aspects of their lives to blur together, often so that there is no sense of one or the other, until, suddenly, you’ve been wandering through life without paying attention – perhaps playing a Velvet Underground track in your head because you haven’t gone out to buy one of those Walkmans everyone’s talking about – and, quite suddenly, you realise that you haven’t seen any recipes or gourmet courses recently, and instead, they are replaced with naked breasts and balls, and it’s impossible to tell where you made a wrong turn and could somebody perhaps get me out of here because there is a lot of exposed skin. Where most people have this quagmire, Kevin had discrete, stylish compartments. No bleeding. No mess. Nothing was ever cast awry. No one got lost. Once Kevin returned home from work, he and Gordon were never tangled with work.

Or so Jonathan was reminded at least twice every phone call.

Jonathan had swallowed hard. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d dialled his brother’s number. Sure, they’d spoken often. There was their father’s birthday. And the phone call that morning. But, Jonathan had made a subconscious effort not to dial the number. The phone calls came anyway, so what did it matter?

He had to look the number up in a little diagrammed address book Tiffa kept by the phone. There were only a handful of numbers in there, he noticed. When had their closest friends been family? He found Kevin and Gordon’s number and dialled. Each chirrup of the connexion sounded like a gulping that was rutting around in Jonathan’s throat as he waited. It sounded like a python squeezing through. They’d asked to see Bella, hadn’t they? They’d actually asked to see Bella again. Would they say no? How would Kevin manage with his discrete compartmentalisation? What if Bella got her hands all over the walls? She came running through the kitchen again, singing some song from the radio. Jonathan tried to assess the stickiness of her fingers when the line connected.

‘Kevin Sunderland.’

‘Kevin, it’s Jonathan,’ Jonathan answered. ‘Bella, can you play in the lounge room for a second, honey?’

‘Hey, big brother! Two phone calls in one day? What’s news?’

Jonathan chewed his tongue for a moment. He thought of beef. ‘Not much. I, listen, I have a favour to ask.’

Jonathan could hear what sounded like Gordon’s deep voice murmur something and the volume on a television set decrease by degrees.

‘What’s up?’ Kevin was back.

‘Listen, there was a miscommunication with the baby sitter tonight and Tiffa and I are meant to have a big date. It’s an anniversary and everything and I’ve been cooking all night, but, Bella can’t go with the baby sitter because she’s studying for her exam-‘

‘We’ll look after her, Jon.’ Kevin was calm. Nothing bleeding. No leak of emotion.

‘You will?’

There was another Gordon-esque murmur. A scuffling sounded over the piece and Jonathan was left with the bubbling of the water in the drain, and the humming of Bella in the next room. He felt underwater, where every sound was a distortion of what it ought to be and he was straining to hear even the slightest hint of normalcy, something that he could latch onto, but, it kept slipping through his hands like kelp. He leant against the counter. Surely, this is how people sit when they’re talking to their younger brothers. He washed his hands in the sink, wiping away the garlic. It was pointless because he would have to start cooking again, but, he had to do something with his hands; holding the receiver was cramping them. Suddenly, as if surfacing, he could hear Kevin and the muted television again.

‘We’ll take Bella tonight.’ Kevin repeated firmly. Jonathan got the feeling that neither words nor tone were for his own benefit. ‘I can swing by in half an hour and pick her up. We might take her to the movies or something. How does that sound?’

It sounded like relief.

Jonathan thanked his brother and hung up.

Bella would be disappointed that she wasn’t able to see Caroline, a girl whom she sometimes confused and scared by referring to as ‘mummy’. But, seeing uncle Kevin was a rare treat. And the movies? When was the last time Jonathan took her to the movies? He’d have to do that sometime soon. Maybe next weekend. Though something nittered away in the back of his mind – that maybe Bella would see through his emulation of his younger, cooler brother. Or, heaven forbid, what if he should pick the same movie as Kevin?

His daughter had been drawing in the lounge room coffee table. The television wasn’t switched on like in Kevin and Gordon’s house. The grating of her pencils on the table’s grain pushing through the paper was almost soothing for Jonathan. She hadn’t gotten around to turning all the lights on and shadows nestled in her hair as she bent low over the pages, scribbling colourful swirls. She’s going to go blind before twenty if she keeps that up. Without a word, Jonathan switched the main light on so that a stark Bella-shaped shadow manifested itself on the page. From the doorway, he could see arrant flecks of her hair, highlighted by the overhead light. She looked up.

‘Sweetie? I have a surprise for you.’ He hated that he sounded as though he’d been prepared for this the whole night. As if it had been the plan. But, that was how he had to deal with her.

‘Chocolate steak?’

‘No, not chocolate steak. Mummy would kill daddy if he made that.’

‘No she wouldn’t.’

‘Well, she might not. But, she certainly wouldn’t talk to him for a long time.’

‘That’s true,’ she’d said thoughtfully. ‘So, what’s my surprise?’

‘You can see uncle Kevin and Uncle Gordon!’

‘Uncle Kevin and Uncle Gordon?!’ Bella jumped to her feet. ‘I have to show them my toys.’

‘Don’t forget prince rainbow.’

She went running off to pull a few things Tiffa and Jonathan had bought her together. Jonathan could hear her scratching around her bedroom and their bedroom, singing the same song to herself. Then Jonathan could finally sigh with relief. Something deep in his gut slackened. He returned to the kitchen and began to reheat the broth, cut the roast, reapply garlic to each finger. Tiffa would be home within the hour and by then, dinner should be ready to come out of the heat. He unearthed a tinted bottle of red he’d hidden behind a pile of potatoes and set the table with two spindly glasses – something that Kevin and Gordon may have bought them. Gordon would’ve picked it out. He has the best eye for gifts.

Half an hour later, Kevin arrived.

‘Which anniversary?’ He asked, striding through the front door and sort of baulking from the looming knick-knacks that Tiffa decorated the house with. It wasn’t a small apartment, but, there was a certain sense of impending something. Rather than walls, there were tiny photographs, either store-bought or taken by someone in the family, a clock, paper-mâché trinkets painted with shaky hands, diplomas, and a series of end tables, chairs, and couches that all but eliminated the slightest trace of beige wallpaper. Tiffa had hated the colour, but, since the apartment was a rental, there was nothing they could do about it. At least not permanently. So, they’d decided to cover it with enough junk that they wouldn’t ever have to be reminded of their landlord’s awful taste in wallpaper. The effect was, ultimately, a narrow house that constantly moved in whenever you turned your back. Jonathan liked it; everything was close and at hand.

‘A special one. Hey, so, thank you for looking after Bella. Gordon didn’t sound too pleased.’

‘You heard that?’

‘Well, I could infer.’

Kevin shook his head. ‘He just wants some time with me. I told him that I can’t remember the last time I saw Bella and that we should rearrange movie night. It’s no big deal.’

‘Thank you.’

‘So,’ Kevin was staring around the house. Another thing Jonathan liked was the lack of a singular focus point. Everything blended in the apartment’s multitude. ‘have you decided if you’ll come for Christmas? Mum’s excited.’

‘I’m sure she is. I’ll talk to Tiffa when she gets home.’

‘Don’t interrupt your anniversary for that!’ Kevin was disgusted. ‘You two should be thinking about one thing and one thing only: sex. Lots and lots of sex. Don’t you dare let mum get in there and mess it all up. Poor Tiffa. Just talk about it some time this week.’

‘You know I considered asking mum to look after Bella.’

Kevin cocked his head.

‘You must’ve been damn desperate. Bella’d end up in one of those photos for Time magazine. The one with war-torn city walls and riots, you know? Only, they’d be the ones destroying the city.’

Jonathan nodded.

Eventually, Bella came out from her room with all her accoutrements. She greeted Kevin with a squeal and immediately thrust a handful of crumpled drawings she’d been hoarding into his arms. Kevin had an old book for Bella, the spine of which was crumbling and faded. He tried to give it to her, but, she was determined to be doing the giving – this drawing, that plastic toy, these coloured pencils (that looked suspiciously like Jonathan’s).

‘Good luck.’ Jonathan mouthed.

‘I can bring her back in the morning,’ Kevin said. ‘Does she have anything she needs to get to?’

‘No. Thanks a lot. I owe you.’

‘You can come to Christmas and call it even. Someone has to help the riot police during the holidays, and I don’t think the city can stand to have another tree burned in the name of secularism. If we’re all there, maybe mum’ll be so focused on us, she’ll give the rest of the world a pass. She’d like to see Tiffa too.’

‘Tiffa’s the only one who can control her.’

Kevin nodded too. He took Bella by the hand, she reached up so that her skinny arm was held almost above her head at this bent angle, and they both walked out the door. Jonathan didn’t even have time to worry about whether or not she’d packed a toothbrush, or a change of underwear, or whether or not Kevin and Gordon had something to read to her before she went to sleep because Jonathan had read somewhere that reading to children before they go to sleep has a profound impact upon their reading ability as they grow up and it was something that both he and Tiffa agreed on; that their children should read. But the door was already closed on the image of his younger brother and his eldest daughter hand-in-hand, bold against the beige (down to the runners and lintel) of the 5th floor corridor.

By the time Tiffa came home, the lamb was ready and the house was thick with garlic and herbs. It was a good thing that he and Tiffa both loved the smell of garlic or else they wouldn’t kiss nearly as often as they did (and they didn’t kiss that often, of late). Jonathan wondered if it had something to do with the fact that it masked his natural bad-breath, or if it reminded Tiffa of a particularly good meal she’d had as a child and now, could only associate positive feelings with, even if those positive feelings were also to be associated with Jonathan by default.

She walked through the door, tall and tired. She left her coat on a coatrack covered in cats that she’d bought not long after they moved in to the new apartment. Even before they’d made a conscious effort to conceal their landlord’s offensive beige walls. She greeted Jonathan with a kiss and immediately removed her bra from under her shirt, drifting through the apartment, from room to room. Jonathan could hear her sighing in their bedroom, the flicker of the lights on, and the whispering of her clothes as she arranged her boots by the wall and her gloves in their drawers.

‘What smells so good?’ She asked, returning from the bedroom. She was still wearing a collared shirt, and a long skirt. Something she’d bought a few years ago and managed to assimilate into her working life with little resistance. She sat at the table.

Plop.

Jonathan was back in the now, back in the Cheerios-falling-to-the-table world. Tiffa was about to leave for work too. She was wearing something similar to the skirt and shirt she’d worn that night they’d conceived Mars. As she passed by their dining table – far bigger than their old one, which had been barely big enough for the three of them and cluttered with all manner of Tiffa’s knick-knacks, Jonathan’s books, and Bella’s scribblings that had no where else to go, so they had to wrestle with the mess at each meal, redistributing it all throughout the house in fits and bursts, and then eat, and then slowly watch as the mess found its way back piece by piece -as she passed by their long dining table Jonathan neither could nor wanted to stop smiling. She was busy at work, she told him. She had a whole new set of data to enter into the system and she would be working late the entire week. But, she still managed to find the occasional cute photo of some wild animal doing something a person would normally do and sent it to him, just so that the two of them would laugh at something that wasn’t one of their mistakes but something that the two of them were removed from and united in their dislocation from. TV was good for that too. They still stayed up late, after they’d told Mars and Bella that they would need to wake up early in the morning, so that they could watch their own shows together, curled up under blankets, with hot chocolate. Even if there was a pain in Tiffa’s back, or a weariness in Jonathan’s feet, bending themselves into the same shape as each other and uniting in the opposition (not opposition in the sense of war, but, rather, in the sense of comparison) with another object, was comforting to Jonathan. It made him feel like a unit. Something that was indivisible when comparing, and, hence had to be considered as a whole.

Jonathan found that no matter how long he stared at the print on the page, he couldn’t will the text to reorganise itself into a more encouraging message. And no matter how long he stared at his spoon (now completely devoid of Cheerios, seeing as how they had all been shaken off in some cathartic earthquake), he couldn’t bring himself to dip it back down into the bowl of sun-warmed milk and stir up the detritus of his own resolve. Instead, he made a different decision. Something that deviated slightly from what would have been expected of him in any normal circumstances. He rose and drained the milk from his bowl, using the spoon to keep the Cheerios out of the sink where they would be a hazard and a pain to clean. He then threw the soggy, warm, shapeless Cheerios into the bin beside the sink and washed his hands. The sun was still low and the tops of the trees in the park across the road were glimmering as if confused as to whether or not they should be green or gold.

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