Alan remembers it oh so well. That terrible morning. Every detail hammered into his brain. Forever. The clear memory nearly destroyed him. Until he found a way to deal with it. Found his safety net in a world of chaos.
Every day Alan gets up at eight o’clock. His wife’s out for work already. He gets ready to go out. To the newsstand. To get newspaper and a coffee. He goes back home and reads it while drinking his coffee, no breakfast.
Alan comes over to the newsstand to buy his newspaper and coffee every day. Sometimes, Gary’s wondering what’s bothering Alan. Gary can see something in his eyes. To most people Alan seems to be an ordinary guy buying ordinary stuff every ordinary morning at an ordinary newsstand. But Gary has seen something in the man’s eyes. Haunted. But Gary never mentions that. Maybe it’s because Gary’s afraid that whatever is haunting Alan might come to haunt him too.
When finished with the newspaper and the coffee, time gets weird. Alan doesn’t remember anything. Not until his wife is back for lunch. He hears the key turn in the lock, time starts up again. She’s back so he can tell her what happened. She listens. Every day. Even when she’s off work. They haven’t gone on a holiday in a long time. He can’t. He knows he’s asking a lot of her. Asking too much. But he needs to talk. Every day. To her. At lunchtime. After she has left for work again, he does the dishes. Slowly, to make another part of the day go by.
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon it’s time for the park. He sits on the bench. Watches the rose bushes. Not the people because people change too much. The rose bushes only a little. Sometimes they bloom, sometimes they die but it’s always the same rose bushes. Every day.
Lisa sees him sitting there. On the bench. Every day. He’s tall, has black hair with quite a bit of white in it. His eyes are a deep blue. He’s looking lonely but something about him gives her the shivers. She doesn’t know why. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly odd about him except… She just walks past thinking to herself why would someone sit on the same bench every day at the same time in the same park staring at the same rose bushes. No matter what the season, no matter what the weather, he’s there. It’s about the roses, that much she figured out.
When it’s time to go home, Alan goes home. His wife is home already. He says hello. She says hello. That’s it. He sits down and reads a book, the same book, the same pages, again and again. Until it’s time for bed. His wife is sleeping by then already. He soon sleeps as well, not remembering anything when he’s sleeping.
She doesn’t want to hear it anymore. At lunchtime. It’s always about what happened that day. Every day. She knows he has to tell her and she feels sorry for him. She tried to get him to go to a psychiatrist. But he says he would never be able to tell a stranger what happened. Just her. And he starts. His eyes cloud over. His voice gets monotonous. His body falls in on itself. His face as if set in stone. Nothing moving apart from his mouth. She can’t take it anymore. That’s why she packed her bags yesterday. He didn’t notice, too busy reading his book. Today, she came back once he had left. She takes her bags. She has to. Move away. From him.
Alan’s confused. It’s lunchtime but she isn’t there. There’s just a letter. He had read it when he came back from the newsstand. And then he waited. Until now. He has to talk to her. Like every day. It’s what kept his world from falling apart. What now? He gets up from the kitchen table. And sits back down again. What’s he supposed to do?
He gets up again. His hands still shaking badly he walks over to the fridge. He has to have lunch. It’s lunchtime. Maybe that helps. He takes out some butter and ham. Goes over to the breadbox, takes out some bread. Takes out a plate and glass from the cupboard, a knife from the drawer. Goes back to the fridge to pour some milk in the glass. Chaos. He should have taken out butter, ham and milk together. Not good. He takes two slices of bread, puts them on the plate. Takes the knife, spreads the butter on the bread, puts the knife in the sink. Places ham on each buttered slice. That’s so hard. Not what’s supposed to happen. But he would finish now. He places the butter, ham and milk back in the fridge. Takes his plate with the two buttered slices of bread with ham in the left hand, the glass of milk in his right hand. Goes back to the kitchen table. Puts the glass down first, then the plate. Sits down. Looks across at the empty seat. Chaos.
He stares at his lunch. He looks across at the empty seat. He gets up again. Goes over to the fridge. This time he takes out butter, ham and milk. Takes some bread out of the bread box. Takes out a plate and glass from the cupboard, a knife from the drawer. Pours some milk in the glass. He takes two slices of bread, puts them on the plate. Places ham on each slice. Chaos again. No butter. He stares at the plate. He blinks. He doesn’t know what to do.
Following a sudden urge, Alan just leaves—leaves the chaos, leaves the house. First he goes to the newsstand. He walks past it. Walks on to the park. Past the bench and the rose bushes. He can’t sit down. He just keeps walking.
Sandra Luerken lives in Aachen, Germany. She started writing stories in her childhood and took some creative writing classes at university. Just recently, she decided to try and see what would happen if she actually sent her stories out into the world. Now, she is very excited about her first publication.
* This is the author’s first literary award. *
* This is the author’s first work to appear in print. *
SEPTEMBER 28, 2019 / MUSEPAPER STORY PRIZE #31 / RITUAL & ROUTINE