Peppermint: A short story

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It’s 9:12. 

A.m. She’s already had a bowl of oatmeal. And a pear. It’s too much but — no, she told herself she would eat a good breakfast and drink some tea this morning.

She turns her attention to the tea bag. It’s the kind of tea bag that comes individually wrapped in thick plastic, in a cardboard box. The pads of her fingers and the edges of her nails collaborate on the packaging. The bag emerges from its chrysalis.

Chrysalis. He was a chrysalis. Almost a butterfly, but not quite.

The tea. She fills a cold ceramic mug with the tap, placing it in the microwave with a reach and clank. Cook. Five. Five. Start. The waves inside begin to hum.

She stares motionless at the sound, at the digital countdown. Fifty-three. Fifty-two. Fifty-one. She should be doing something. But she told herself she would relax this morning and that she would eat a good breakfast and drink some tea, but she should be doing something else too. An almost instinctual urge guides her hands toward the sponge sitting in the sink. She’s been neglecting the dishes and this is as good a time as any and she needs to be doing something.

She places the knives in the drying rack, blade side down, and finds the perfect nook among the other dishes for her oatmeal bowl. It’s clean now. A leftover clump of grain washed down the garbage disposal. She probably made a cup of oatmeal, which is twice as much as she would normally allow herself to eat, which is probably — if half a cup is 150 calories then one cup is — no. She told herself she wouldn’t count calories and that she would eat a good breakfast and drink some tea this morning and —

The bathroom door opens with a pop. Her roommate’s feet skate lightly across the kitchen floor to the bedroom across the hall.

She wonders if her roommate’s thoughts feel as heavy as hers. She wonders how much heavier her body has become since the funeral. Probably five or so pounds but she can’t be sure — she doesn’t have a scale — stop thinking like that.

She wonders how much heavier her body has become since the funeral.

She wishes the digital countdown would end already. She wants her tea now. She has always been impatient and he teased her for that but she also likes her tea lukewarm because she hates burning her tongue so it’s okay to be impatient, right, it’s OK. A burned tongue means a dryness means a nonexistence means death means f— why did things have to end like this why does he have to be a chrysalis why do I get to be a butterfly why can’t I be happy without him wait it’s going too fast stop why are you going so fast hey I just want to be happy again I just —

Zero. Her tea is done.

She rises from the tile floor she didn’t realize she had crouched down on. Rising, shaking, yanking on the microwave handle. The ceramic mug isn’t cold anymore.

She dips the tea bag thrice and sips. Peppermint. Breathe. She tries.

____________________________________________________________________________

His name pops up again. A collection of pixels, an image of him that is now a memory.

She knows better than to check his tagged photos while at work, but there it is, branded into her phone’s screen, impossible to ignore. A throwback Thursday, posted by his best buddies in high school. They miss him.

She can’t deny that she wants to see his name. Part of her, anyway. The other part wants to finish color-coding the files in front of her so she can move on to sweeping the foyer then clock out and go home.

What to say to a love unrealized. Not by the fault of the lovers, but by the fault of circumstance. F— circumstance.

____________________________________________________________________________

She tracks the tingle in her nostrils, the exhale through her lips. It’s easier now, hours later. The night sky floods in from the window as she sits on the living room couch. The sun has gone to sleep, taking her panic with it.

For the moment.

No, you can’t think like that. You can’t keep living in fear of yourself. But she also can’t be unprepared.

She tells her thoughts to shut up for a minute.

In, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four. Hold, two, three

He’s gone.

Her eyelids flutter shut. It’s OK. She sighs in anticipation of the pain. Don’t fight it.

In, two, three, four. Hold, two.

Her eyes begin to fill with tears. There is no song, no photograph, no mutual friend to trigger them. All she did was think about him. Why does she have to be so sensitive — it’s OK.

It’s OK.

Out, two, three, four.

He won’t come back. He can’t. Still, he is always always always in her mind. A boy with banana-colored hair swinging from monkey bars as he turns three by her side. A boy obsessed with slime and middle school science class and Twix bars on Halloween. A boy who couldn’t seem to stop playing with her hands in the midst of their puberty. Secretly, she loved it but even then she wondered if they had crossed a line, and if they did, how long ago did their toes dip into this place of more than friends?

She should have done more.

She could have picked him up. She was in town. Just for the weekend, as he was. He wouldn’t have walked home alone if she had just gotten out of bed and into the driver’s seat. Yes, he said he could walk home alone and yes, he said he’s a man now not a boy he’s a man who can walk home alone when he’s halfway across the country so why can’t he here.

He wouldn’t have walked home alone if she had just gotten out of bed and into the driver’s seat.

He didn’t know about the driver. The stupid driver with the stupid party and the stupid boyfriend who gave him a stupid amount of shots her tears are bursting I should have done something. I was home for the weekend, why did he have to die when I was home for the weekend. I wanted to tell him I loved him in 20 years how the f— did this happen why the —

She can’t breathe. The grief and the guilt and the anger are clogging up her throat like mucus. It’s morning all over again.

Her feet force her body to a stand. Her stained cheeks cool as they move from the living room to the kitchen. The air is different. The dishes need cleaning again. Her tea mug from the morning needs cleaning.

He hated peppermint. And he absolutely hated tea. His way of grieving would have been chocolate ice cream. Even in the morning. The kind with the brownie chunks in it.

This is hers, though.

Sorry, old friend.

He hated tea, but he always bought it for her anyway. She liked chai when they were younger, and he never came to class in the winter months without a paper mug, complete with her name scribbled on the side. Stop crying. Another sob starts to erupt and a cognitive battle ensues over whether to give this sob agency. She decides to resist it this time.

This is grief. Unapologetically confused, a roller coaster of acceptance and regulation. This is hers.

This is mine.

This is mine.

This is mine.

Contact Erin Haar at [email protected].

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