Who Knows What Now, What Next, What Ever
It’s ironic, really, because I am slicing the tofu that I bought for Parker over a week ago, and plopping the cubes one at a time into homemade miso soup when I hear a slight knock at the door. It is, of course, Parker – in his trademark crocheted wool cap and tightly zipped Columbia parka.
Hi. You surprised me! Come in. How did you know I was just thinking about you?
I say this without saying it, step aside to wave him in, and return to the hotplate where the soup is sizzling. I add wakame and hand Parker the basket of tea bags from the counter.
“Pick one,” I say.
His fingers sift through the paper wrappers carefully. He coughs, then smiles, and hands me his selection: Throat Coat tea made by Traditional Medicinals. “Mmmm, good stuff,” he says, sniffing the wrapper. He coughs again and I hand him a cough drop.
“When did that happen, anyway?” I say, continuing to stir the soup. I didn’t remember him being sick a week ago and I certainly didn’t pick it up from him if he was.
We talk. Sip miso soup while sitting on the futon. I drink soy hot cocoa for dessert. He eats Hershey’s dark chocolate nuggets. I’m glad to see him but still, we’re warming up to each other in a careful way. It takes a while but then I see it again – that twinkle in his wide, green eyes that I like. The splashes of rose across each cheek, as if he has always just come in from the cold. He is calm, sleepy almost, and talking softly, which I prefer. He catches himself interrupting me, smiles and says, “Sorry, continue….” He asks me about my week, helps me when I lose track of what I am saying, then tells me about his upcoming exams.
“Look, I’m going to be gone for the next eight days or so taking finals up in UniversityTown, NC. These are the big ones.”
I ask him about the yurt, the temperature (he called last week, reported that his exhaled breath was freezing across the top of his sleeping bag at night). Then I say, “And what about the winter rental lead I gave you? Any luck?” The house I’m talking about ten minutes away from my cabin – as opposed to the forty-five minutes it now takes me to drive to his yurt in TinyTown, NC.
“Yeah, I saw it. I like it. It’s affordable, too. But there’s this offer in UniversityTown. You know, that one I told you about.”
I do know. I remember it distinctly because when he told me the cost, and the location, it made more sense for him to move up there. All along I’d been wondering why he hadn’t moved up there before our first frost and snow.
“I’d be nice to have, you know, heat and insulated walls this winter,” he says.
“I know. The deal up there sounds better. Even better than the one I found for you.”
“I know,” he says.
We do not look at each other. UniversityTown, NC is ninety minutes away from here.
Everything feels slow, steady, and oddly even-keel. Finally, it seems like we’ve both reached a level of relative emotional calm in each other’s presence. Even now, after a whole week, we’re careful not to touch. Somehow this feels normal. Low key. Low maintenance. Easy. Is this what natural dissipation feels like? Or is this self-preservation?
“I’ve got more food in my car,” Parker says, smacking his lips. “Can I use your hotplate to heat up some leftover stew?” I nod yes. He’s been cooking over a woodstove for two weeks, unwilling to refill the propane tank since he’s not sure he’s staying in yurt all season.
When he is done with seconds, his cough seems worse and I offer more tea. It’s nice to sit and talk and not be distracted bodily. But right before he leaves I feel myself reach out in gesture and instead, say, “I have some Vic’s Vapo-Rub. Do you want me to send you with some along your way?”
He smiles. Nods yes. Stands in wait with his hands at his sides. I get the jar out, put a little on my fingers, and gently massage it below his nose and onto his chest.
“Goodnight, Katey,” he says.
“Goodnight Parker, drive safe.”