From Issue 22: At Breakfast

Joseph D. Milosch
After working six days a week for four months, Leo was half way through the highway project on the California and Nevada State line. It was 10 am when he arrived home. Turning off the ignition, he recalled that as a young man, he drove home nightly. Nearing retirement, he found that he could no longer stay awake on the daily drive home. Therefore, he alternated the days he stayed in a motel with the days he drove home.
He didn’t like staying in a motel for two or three nights during the week, nor did he like the effect that working far away had on his 30-year marriage. This was on his mind as he drove and fought sleep. When he had pulled over for a nap, his worries about his home-life prevented him from sleeping. 
He rubbed to eyes to remove the dryness caused by his fatigue before he lifted his night bag out of the rear bed of his sky-blue pickup. Walking towards his house, he heard a Mexican crooner singing Mi Prieta Linda and smiled because it was his wife’s cooking song. 
Pausing at the side door, he listened to his wife singing and smelled her cooking. Entering the house through the laundry room door, he set his bag on the washer and turned left to walk into the kitchen’s doorway. His wife, Alma, stood in front of the oven, grilling serrano chilies.
Besides the comal was a frying pan full of chorizo, papas, and cebolla. “Deme un besso,” he said, and she tilted her head and offered her cheek. Kissing her, he smelled her hair, which had cloaked itself in the odors of breakfast. He touched her long brown hair, which was so dark it looked black under the kitchen light.  
She had tied it back in a ponytail, and below the long silver feathers dangling from her ears, a few gray hairs curled on her neck. Her shoulders were exposed by the wide collar of her dress with its lime leaf pattern. 
Pouring coffee into his black cup with a chipped handle, he sat at the kitchen table.  Tacked on the wall, the church calendar marked the days he’d been gone. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” he said to his wife, who was loading their plates. Sitting down, Alma held his hand, and he said grace.
“Do you like seeing me only on Saturday?” she said.
“No,” Leo answered, shaking his head. He felt too tired to argue and hoped that his silence would disperse her anger.
“What am I to you?” Alma asked.
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Coming home to you makes me the luckiest man I know.”
“Don’t lie to me!”
“Why don’t you believe me?”
“Because I know you.”
“I’m not lying,” he said.
“Do you think we’ll be together in the next life?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, trying to avoid the things he had said in previous arguments.
“Am I ugly?” she asked.
Wondering how she balanced her uncertainty about his love with the vastness of her love for him, he said, “You’re the prettiest woman west of the Mississippi.”
“Be serious. You spend so little time with me now. Do you think you’ll spend more time with me when I’m dead?”
Stirring the salsa into his chorizo con papas, he thought because she’s been fighting cancer for 15 years, she had the upper hand.
“All I’m asking is for you to be with me while I’m still alive. I want to spend time with you now.”
She wouldn’t let him take her hand and rub her knuckles. He stared at his food, ashamed to look her in the eyes because he knew in 30 hours he would leave for work and not see her for another week.
He would come home, of course, but she would be asleep when he arrived. When he left at dawn, she would be asleep. Then, there were the nights he slept in a motel.
“You don’t know me anymore,” she said, “Do you know my favorite color?”
That was her trick question. The answer had multiple choices. When they first married, her favorite color was yellow. The color of the morning flower on a cactus.
Her first cancer diagnosis changed her favorite color to the blue found on the Madonna’s cloak in their church. When her cancer reappeared, her favorite color became the shade of the tree leaves above her father’s grave.
Sipping his coffee, he looked at the calendar’s picture of a California Mission. Below the Spanish word for Sunday, Domingo, was written 1030 mass and Leo leaves at 530. She angered him when she insinuated that he wanted to work out of town.
That anger supplemented his anger with the California traffic that he fought to come home. Also, he was angry at always working far away. He was tired and angry and wanted to say, “Just let me eat in peace.” 
He considered saying that they both wished to be together; unfortunately, work kept getting in the way, but that was a dead-end comment. Placing his cup on the table, he looked at her and said. “You’re right. I don’t know your favorite color, but my favorite color is brown, the shade that matches your skin.”
Alma looked at him and drew the edge of her hand across her eyes as she quoted his Irish cousin, “You’ve got the blarney clear up to here.” They ate in silence for a while. Rolling her tortilla in the palm of her hand, she said, “Hurry up and eat so you can shower and sleep. When you get up you can buy some beer. I’m going to make tacos.”
“Okay,” he said and reached for her hand. When she allowed him to hold it and to kiss the back of it, he knew he wasn’t quite out of the cold, but the ice between them was beginning to melt.
Joe Milosch graduated from San Diego State University. His poetry has appeared in various magazines. He has multiple nominations for the Pushcart and received the Hackney Award for Literature. His books are The Lost Pilgrimage Poems and Landscape of a Hummingbird.

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