By Lexi Belevre Perry
After fifty-five years of living in the quaint family home, Winfield mastered his particular morning routine. Upon waking up, he started off in his rustic kitchen, with many of the same brown and sage green furnishings, still intact. His mobility and forgetfulness naturally worsened his efficiency, but still managed to fulfill all the checks off his list as the man of the house. Some days were more difficult than others. Every day, Winfield brewed a pitcher of Green Mountain coffee, although some days he accidentally brewed Folgers decaf. The shades of green were too similar sometimes. Nevertheless, he never forgot to save some for his beloved wife, Lorinda, though she stopped drinking it about five years ago. He still reassured himself she’d get back into the routine by his side.
After coffee was a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, milk first, reminding him of one of the first quarrels of their relationship. He poured the milk first with pride each morning, and can always hear the subtle coughs of disgust as a response to the premature pour. The distasteful sound he always knew and eerily longed for, “Well you won’t knock it ‘til you try something new for once.” Winfield mumbled under his breath.
He stumbled out to the front porch and retrieved the daily mail. This step for a cane user required the most walking, but Winfield optimistically found rewarding joy in doing it daily. As he reached his destination, he said good morning to his lovely Lorinda, who always sat center to the living room with the TV always on. He turned to the right, “Good Morning, Sweetie.” Once his feet touched the border of linoleum and salmon carpet, she never said it back anymore, but the unchanged warmth of her thin-lipped smile was adoring enough to express her love each morning to him.
Retrieving the mail was the hardest part of Winfield’s routine. His shaky legs became more feeble over the years, and the cane had become much harder to grasp. He opened the black box next to the screen door and sifted through the papers as he soaked in the ever-changing, outside neighborhood. Some days he mumbled, “That good-for-nothing mailboy always forgets this damn street.” He detested this every Sunday, even though it was Thursday. Every other day he chuckled, as it was always “Lori’s lucky day” and all she ever got sent now were coupons and ads.
“Nothing for you, again, just junk,” he remarked as he slowly shut the door. Accordingly, she would not reply. Her continuous lack of conversation never bothered Winfield, as long as he stuck to the routine.
Lorinda lived in her small bubble for quite some time. For most of her recent years she remained stationary, comfortably, in the living room, which remained the same as she always left it, knick-knacks, figurines, books, knitted blankets, and more. The only difference was the accumulation of dust. During the holidays, she occasionally moved over to the upstairs hallway, where she could see her grandkids more when they stayed over on visit. At Christmastime, she maintained guard by the Christmas tree, which had always been her favorite tradition, and she still radiated that youthful glow on her face from the twinkling ivory lights. But her primary spot for dwelling hadn’t changed in years.
Recently, their son, James, had suggested fixing the hump on the floor that connected the living room to the kitchen, but Winfield had always preferred Lorinda to make those phone calls, and the phone ringing had become a forgotten symphony at this point. Even the smallest changes took a mental toll on him. The hump had only gotten bigger in recent months. The flooring had almost never been replaced. The protuberant bulge had been a treacherous obstacle to Winfield’s walks, and some days, like today, he tripped over it, causing vocal tension in a usually quiet household.
Each tumble to the hardwood floor was always as if it were the first. His experienced body had a better memory than his aging mind. It knew to always land on the left knee, the better endured knee. The knee that can recover more swiftly than the left, which had been harder to unlock the tired joints. Winfield distressed in unfamiliar but familiar pain. He laid flat for a moment of realization and defeat.
“God Damnit, God Damnit.”
He slowly repositioned himself. One bend at a time, he eventually recovered into his regular stance. He turned to the left. Lorinda witnessed the entire event.
“I’m okay, thanks for asking!”
Their eyes became at level with each other.
“When the hell did that groove get on the floor? You were just going to watch me fall and make me look like a fool?”
Lorinda’s smile remained soft, not long enough to produce a subtle smile, but rather a grin small enough to not cause a distressed frown; a stationary smirk that Winfield never forgot.
“Sometimes I think you want me to drop dead. Maybe you’ll be like your own self again.” He glanced down towards his feet, sullen. The silence remained haunting, the only distraction being the ticking of the grandfather clock across the room.
Winfield snapped, and came to the realization, “Jimmy!” He limped slightly, but found his modest bobbling gait and proceeded to Jimmy’s room.
“Talk some sense to Ma, will ya? There’s a dent on the floor that needs fixing or we’ll both croak!” he yelled.
He opened the wooden door, expecting James on his bed listening to his CD player, with posters of beautiful women, sports banners, and glam metal CDs blasting, only to find the foggy clouds part, and instead he viewed mountains of boxes and papers, unkempt and unruly.
Winfield stood motionless for a few seconds, and simply sighed, “Oh.” The vivid scene vanished like a broken film reel.
He slowly returned to the sight of where he fell, and turned to the left once again, directly at Lorinda’s Snow White face.
“I hurt my knee just now, but my shoulders hurt more,” he grunted, looking directly at her blue eyes.
“I am getting old at my youngish age but have more on my hands to do. Why won’t you help me, honey? What is it that I have done?”
There was no response to Lorinda’s endless stare. But her cerulean eyes and how they always met with Winfield’s dulling brown ones had much more to say than words ever could. The same eyes that met his almost sixty years ago at homecoming, the ones that said “I do,” the ones that had been his relief after all of the swift years of peace and hardships, were his solace, his one portal to youthful times.
“I can never stay mad at you when you look at me like that.” He smiled, and just like that, her rigid tenacity to his soul was all he needed to shake off the struggles of getting old and weak. Their stronghold safeguarded the memories at his keep. He resumed his routine, when a sudden knock sound came from the front door.
“Who goes there?” Winfield shouted.
“Can I come in, Dad? It’s me, your son.”
“Sorry we don’t take fliers.”
“Dad. It’s James.” He slowly opened the door with the spare key.
“Ahh. There you are, you weren’t in your room earlier.”
“I haven’t been there in thirty years.”
“Maybe you can get your mother going again, she’s bored with me, I think. Doesn’t wanna talk to me or do errands with me anymore. I don’t know what I did, but maybe you can get the grudge out of her.”
“Dad, you know it’s been five years, right? In fact, today’s the day. We’re helping you move into Greenwood Homes.”
“Well, who’s going to stay to watch your mothe-’”
“Dad. We can’t fit that in your room. They don’t want large-”
“She doesn’t take that much room, she always stays in this spot.”
“Dad, all the photo albums, books, and letters can all come. I got those all ready for you. That can’t fi-”
“She can. Mom’s coming.”
“That is not Mom! I’m talking like a broken record now. It’s the reason I can’t have you living on your own anymore.”
The sun reached the ideal noontime angle, peeking through the window as a whitened ray of spring light reflected off of Lorinda’s beaming blue eyes. Her rigid posture and round face complemented by the natural light, and perhaps a sign from God himself that the moment was right, and time for Winfield to let go of the same routine for fifty-five years.
James reassured his father, “I’ll keep it intact.”
Although he was several inches taller than his father, and much more in shape, James saw through his peripheral vision a perfect view of Lorinda’s sympathetic subtle smile. The smile that, since childhood, never failed to comfort the family in times of strife.
After a long day of moving, all that was left of the cluttered house was some outdated furniture, books, and of course Lorinda herself in all of her glory. James decided to grab her last, for he still had to figure out a spot for her in his house now, preferably near the kids’ rooms so she could be with them.
As the other movers squeezed enough room for her in the pickup truck, James started to dust her off, blanketed her in bubble wrap, and removed the golden rigid frame off the wall she had stayed in for so long. He slowly inserted the well-loved painting of Lorinda into a cardboard box. James made a phone call to the property management team at the retirement home, explaining the situation between his father and his mother’s portrait, and their permanent bond. They made an agreement, with terms that she could be placed in his room, on a large stand, but could not be hung on the walls.
They could finally sleep in the same room together again.