I walked down the stairs to find an empty kitchen sink, quite unusual at our house full of five people on varied schedules. He must’ve rinsed his bowl and loaded it into the dishwasher before his early flight, I thought as I filled the Brita pitcher with water and replaced it in the fridge. The only negative thing I can say about this place is the water tastes gross. Thank heavens for Brita.
I mentally checked off my personal list for the day…get kids off to school, drop off stuff at Goodwill, pick up dry cleaning, milk, and fresh veggies…and somehow squeeze in a run before the heat of the day settled onto the sidewalk, sending up its waves of steam from the recently running sprinklers.
A little person’s footsteps interrupted my quiet thoughts. Dilly tumbled down the stairs, blanket in hand, and nestled her head into my left shoulder. “Mommy, you are beautiful,” she said as she reached up to pull a loose strand of one of my shorter layers out of my eyes.
“Thank you, Dilly. Are you ready for breakfast?”
“Mmmhmmm,” she lifted her head and nodded for emphasis.
“Mommy is making oatmeal. Would you like to help me?”
She slid down my body and out of my arms, reached for the stool, and propped herself up by the island, near but not too close to the cooktop. I filled a pan with water from the sink, rationalizing that we wouldn’t taste it through the fruit, cream, and sugar we would put in the oatmeal, and turned the flame on high.
Shelly and Jack headed down the stairs with the noises in the kitchen. Shelly turned on the television to find news, check the weather, and jot down a current event for social studies class. It was her morning routine. Jack headed to the study to practice his viola before school.
Over the noise and chatter of Dilly singing her new favorite song from kindergarten, I noticed small bubbles emerging, growing larger from the base of the pan up to the surface, searching for a way to release the heat energy that was bursting inside the molecules. I could hear faint strokes of the bow against the C string of Jack’s viola, and Dilly started humming the piece Jack had been working on for weeks…his solo in the upcoming fall orchestra concert. I couldn’t recall the name of the music. He was getting better, though.
Dilly helped me measure the oatmeal, and she asked to pour it into the boiling water. Together we stirred it as I lowered the heat and waited for the grains to absorb the hot water and soften in the pan. We sang together Dilly’s song from last year’s preschool Halloween musical, “Stirring and stirring and stirring my brew…ooooooooo…ooooooooo” in unison as we took turns scraping the bottom of the pan. None of us cared to eat charred oatmeal.
“Mom!” I heard Shelly call from the family room.
“What, Hon?” I called back from the kitchen, removing the pot from the flame and placing it on a trivet on the table. “Want to get the bowls, Dil?”
“Yes, Mom.” She crawled down from the stool and headed to the cabinet as I met Shelly in the family room. I looked at her, at the rubble on the television screen, and the words that were superimposed over the pictures, trying to make out what the newscaster was saying over the sinking feeling in my heart.
“Flight #1082 from Dallas to Tampa….”
No. It couldn’t be his flight. I ran back into the kitchen, pulled my phone off the charger, and went immediately to the notes section where I saved his itinerary. I took in my breath, looking for the flight number. 1082. 1082. Nope, no 1082 for him. His flight number was 2044. I breathed a sigh of relief, but my heart wouldn’t leave my throat.
I couldn’t shake the fear away through oatmeal and raisins, through walking Dilly to her bus stop. I kissed her goodbye and headed back to our front door, wondering in what order to accomplish my to-do list.
I climbed the stairs to dress for my run and decided to check email before I put my playlist on my iPod. I skimmed through ads for Children’s Place and Gap Kids sales, through notifications that lunch accounts were getting low (already?) and an invitation to attend a PTA breakfast.
Then I saw his name.
I selected the email, and began to read his words:
Hey, Lover. Didn’t want to wake you with a text. Took an earlier flight so I could be more prepared for my meeting in Tampa today. Hitting lunch with Dave, dinner with the team, and I’ll be back on the red-eye early in the a.m. to kiss you good morning.
Love you always,
Below his email, he pasted his new itinerary.
I couldn’t bring myself to read any farther. A flight change? Why? I knew he was nervous about his meetings and presentation, but what was another half hour on the ground, really? Or even not on the ground?
I shook my head as the number appeared below…black and white…I tried to make my eyes focus to see it, read it, make it real…but my vision was clouded and my eyes were filling and moving and beginning to overflow. Still, I had to see, to confirm, to know.
My eyes jumped around the page looking for the numbers, any numbers but what I feared.
Then, I saw them.
Not Shaun. Not the man I met on a weekend in the Keys a decade and a half ago. Not the man I corresponded with over email and text and international calling plans while I finished a semester abroad before graduation. Not the man I had given my heart and soul to, who had just this morning rinsed his bowl and placed it in the dishwasher to make my day easier.
He couldn’t be….
I couldn’t say the word out loud. I went back downstairs to the television, found breaking news on the same channel Shelly had watched only moments ago when I had assured her that Dad was on another flight. Of course, he was on another flight.
“…little chance of survivors…143 passengers…12 crew…mechanical failure…”
I felt my hands around my knees, my arms pulling in tightly, and my body rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth as I once rocked our three little ones in turn. The three little ones with his eyes or his nose or his smile.
I closed my eyes over the glare of the television screen.
And I wept.