Every morning, Albert woke up before sunrise for his ritual. He climbed from bed right into his work pants, replaced the ribbed undershirt he’d slept in for a fresh, clean one, carefully put on his starched and ironed white button-down shirt, and pulled the suspenders over his shoulders.
Like all men of his day, Albert knew the importance of remaining clean-cut. After a quick visit to the kitchen, where he started the coffee, he headed back through his bedroom to the bathroom.
The bathroom ritual, after actions unmentionable in polite society, of course, included a shave, washing his face and brushing his teeth for three minutes, no more, no less. He would then pomade and brush his gray hair, wipe off his glasses on the special cloth he’d bought from the kindly door-to-door salesman, and then return to the kitchen.
Before Helen passed he’d always walked in to find some form of eggs, toast, orange juice and something from the meat group, but since her death he just couldn’t get the hang of making breakfast. He’d tried for about a year, the eggs were always either burnt or too runny, plus he always forgot to get orange juice at the market. So these days, if he even ate, it was toast and a pear from the tree that Helen planted back when they bought the small, suburban home.
The emptiness of the kitchen always got to Albert when he first walked in. The smells of the past haunted him, and he often forgot about her passing because he swore he could smell the ghosts of bacon frying in a pan. But whenever he walked in with a smile, adjusting his suspenders, his expectations were always disappointed. It was always empty, the sound of the coffee machine the only noise in the house and the counter meticulously organized and clean, just as he’d left it the night before.
And so he would stand with his back to the counter, as if talking to Helen like in the old days, and pour a coffee. But now, instead of sitting at the table, he ate at the sink, letting the crumbs of his solitary piece of toast fall directly into the empty sink. It kept him from having to wipe down the table, and since he kept the place immaculately clean, just as Helen did in her day, it saved him some time.
The final part of Albert’s ritual was to put on his tie, his shoes and his jacket. He walked up to the rack by the door, took his hat off the post, placed it on his head and opened the front door. The sun would just be rising as he turned and looked at his empty, dark home.
“I love you, honey. See you at supper,” he always whispered before he shut the door.