A PLATE CRASHED TO THE KITCHEN FLOOR, shattering morning tranquility. Mag scowled,
Her commotion awakened Drew from his slumber and he mumbled to himself… what the heck is she doing? He presumed her, fumbling dishes in the kitchen and dropping things just to make noise and he seethed…
why is she so clumsy?
Rolling over, he read the time on the bedside clock… 6:30 a.m. She’ll leave for work soon.
Last night they agreed, Mag would take Popper to the office today; which meant Drew had the apartment to himself. Free from the chores of dog walking, cleaning up waste, or anything else that cramped his independence.
He pondered… why can’t every day be like this?
Drifting back into the arms of sleep. He lay in its sanctuary, snugly for two hours before awakening groggily at 8:30 a.m.
By then, Mag had gone and the morning sun forced its way through drapes in their bedroom, where he stayed for another thirty minutes. All the while debating whether to rise or relax longer.
He planned on accomplishing work today, but wondered… what if it doesn’t get done? Can’t it wait till tomorrow?
A mid-size construction company in Eugene, Oregon debated acquisition of a larger construction business in Portland and contracted Drew’s employer to perform research.
All-part of the pre-acquisition phase.
He acquired remote access to the Portland company’s network and researched proprietary documentation. According to his-own estimate… needing eighty additional hours of work before presenting final results to his manager.
Sitting on the edge of the bed. He leaned forward and opened the curtains. Gazing towards the Golden Gate bridge.
Blankets of clouds shielded its view, and having no desire to begin the day…. he stared through the windowpane in a daze.
Glancing across the street towards a window parallel to his own.
He hoped… maybe she’s there?
Anticipating, the same topless stranger he spotted a few days ago, sauntering around her apartment.
During that encounter, she either didn’t notice his presence or enjoyed it. Providing fifteen minutes of arousing entertainment; free-of-charge. His mind flashed back to images of her proportions… pale swaying breasts above narrow g-stringed hips and petite body.
But today… peering momentarily; it seemed there would be no impromptu performance. She wasn’t there.
Instead, he picked up his phone to call his mom. Estimating… it’s noon in Pittsburgh. She’s probably making lunch for Dad.
In recent weeks, the fate of his father became pressingly apparent.
Especially since he refused to visit the hospital for any reason.
Vehemently declaring his dislike for nurses and doctors, pawing over him as if he were an invalid. Alex Williams Sr. held zero appreciation for sympathy. Instead, preferring to exit the world on his own terms. In his-own sweet time.
Grabbing his mobile. Drew dialed his mom and after a few rings, she answered cheerily,
‘Hi Drew. Good morning.’
“Hi Mom. Did you sleep well last night?”
He’d recently been concerned with his mother’s lack of rest, and spoke with his brother and sister regarding the same.
All siblings knew… their father denied anyone fussing over him; unless that anyone was their mother. She remained forever at his beck and call and stayed awake throughout most nights.
‘I slept fine. Your father woke up a few times though. He’s hiding too much pain. There’s a lot he’s not telling me.’
“I’m worried you’re not getting enough sleep ma. Why don’t you hire a live-in caretaker? She could stay in the guest room.”
It had been over a decade since he and his siblings moved out of their parent’s home. Since then, his folks converted Drew’s brother’s room into an office and transformed Drew’s old space into an exercise area.
His sister’s room became a spare.
‘You know your father doesn’t want that. He’d curse any caretaker out of the house before they settled in.’
Reluctantly, Drew agreed,
But he felt like he had to ask.
Afterall… his mom did everything for his dad.
But who cared for her?
THREE WEEKS IN A ROW, he awoke at 3 a.m. precisely. Obsessing over the relief his mother might feel after his father’s death.
The notion swarmed in his head like a colony of vultures kettling prey.
Each night, Drew cringed… it’s a horrible thought.
But for his mom, the pain of slowly losing her husband, over the course of several months took its toll.
Drew’s sister was the most recent sibling to visit her.
She commented on their Mom’s appearance sympathetically.
The way Molly described her sunken face, bagged eyes, and frail condition made all siblings fear… Mom may knock on heaven’s door immediately after Dad.
She’d lost twenty pounds in four months.
Being five-foot-four, 120 pounds (before Dad’s cancer), they wondered… how much more weight can she safely lose? Molly lived twenty minutes from their parent’s home, and Drew asked her for help, ‘Why can’t you visit Mom every day?’ But she was divorced and worked full-time with three adolescent children who absorbed most of her day.
By the time she arrived home, prepared dinner, and ensured everyone’s homework was complete before corralling the kids to bed; it was already 10 p.m. or later.
Drew stood and walked into the kitchen.
Grabbing a coffee cup, he filled it with fresh brew from a carafé,
“You need someone to help you Ma. When did Alex visit last?”
Unlike Molly the oldest, their middle sibling Alex lived with his wife and child in Philadelphia… four hours from their parent’s home.
But Alex hadn’t visited since receiving confirmation of their father’s inoperable lung cancer.
‘I spoke with Alex last week,’ said Drew’s mom.
“He should visit you more often. Molly’s busy with three kids, but Alex only has one.”
His mother breathed in deep.
‘Alex Junior is a lot like Alex Senior. Your brother struggles seeing your father in such a fragile state. And your dad doesn’t want Alex to see him in his present condition either. You know your father; he wants each of you to remember him the way he was. Strong and resolute. He’s a proud man. That’s just the way he is.’
Drew was well aware of his father’s overbearing demeanor.
How many times had he despised the man for not listening to his opinions? Not caring about his problems?
Now, with his father nearing death… Drew found it difficult to be concerned with the old-man’s desires. Instead, he worried more about his mother’s challenging situation.
“Mom? I’m thinking of staying with you and Dad for a while. You’re dealing with a lot of stress and doing everything alone. I know you’re strong. But even for you, it must be hard. I’m in the middle of a work project right now. But it’ll be done in three weeks. After that, I’ll stay with you and Dad for a while.”
‘That sounds nice. But I don’t want to put you out of your way. It’s a long trip.’
“It’s the least I can do. You’ve always been there for me. Now I want to help you. No one expects you to do deal with everything yourself. I don’t know how you’ve done it so far.”
‘Well, your father needs me.’
“We all need you ma. But you need help too. After I arrange my flight, I’ll email you the itinerary. I’m getting a one-way ticket. I’ll stay as long as you need.”
‘Okay. If it’s not too much trouble.’
“It’s no trouble Mom. I love you.”
‘I love you too.’
During a brief pause, he wondered… what else can I do to help? And realized… I should ask about Dad.
“How is Dad doing?”
‘The past few weeks have been rough. But your father has good days and bad ones. He’s doing pretty well lately though.’
“Has he yelled at you recently? The way he did before?”
‘No. That happened because of the medication. The doctor prescribed, uhm. What was it called? It’s something like Crizo-ti-nib. I don’t know how to pronounce it. I just call it Crizo. But after Alex took it, he wasn’t himself. I knew the medication was the problem. But the doctor didn’t listen to me. He just asked if there was a change in Alex’s diet or if he started taking other medicines. I told him, no. But he still prescribed Crizo for two more weeks. At least he lowered the dosage. But it didn’t matter. Your father still had side effects. When he accused me of cheating on him, he acted like a different person. It was because of the drug. I know your father better than anyone; he’s far from perfect. But that wasn’t him. That was someone else. Anyway, about a week ago I had him stop taking that drug and I noticed a difference right away.’
“Did he go back to normal?”
‘As much as can be expected, yes.’
“Why did the doctor want to keep him on Crizo?”
‘He said he wanted to gauge any potential side effects over a longer period of time. But I don’t care. Your father’s reaction to that drug was unacceptable.’
“At least you got him off it. Forget what the doctor said. Sometimes they don’t know what they’re doing. They guess just like the rest of us.”
‘I think so too. We’re going back to the doctor again this Friday. And I’ll tell him we stopped taking Crizo. Then he’ll probably suggest some other medication.’
“Yeah. There’s never a shortage of drugs for doctors to prescribe. But let me know what he says.”
Pausing momentarily, he was unsure how to continue comforting his mother over the phone.
“Mom… I can only imagine how difficult this must be.” His speech slowed. Enunciating clearly, “When I get there I’ll help as much as I can. I want to give you time alone. You’re taking such great care of Dad, but you need space too, even if it’s just an hour-a-day. You need to take care of yourself. Maybe go to a bookstore, or see a movie, or take a walk in the park, something like that. I know it’s impossible to forget everything that’s happening right now. But you need something to relieve the pressure. I’ve been reading articles about how easy it is for spousal caregivers to fall into depression. They say it’s important not to get overwhelmed, because Dad isn’t the only one who needs care. You need comfort too.”
His mom sniffled. Responding softly,
‘I appreciate that Drew. Your father appreciates it too. We both love you.”
Feeling his-own eyes swell with tears, Drew opened them wide, preventing fluids from spilling out,
“I love you too. I love you both.”
A moment of silence.
‘Drew… I have to go. I need to get lunch ready for your father.’
“Okay, I’ll let you know when I get my ticket. Have a good day Mom.”
‘You too. Goodbye.’
He glanced at his mobile… 10 a.m.
Feeling emotionally drained, he entered the kitchen and grabbed a bag of marijuana from the freezer. Years ago, he’d visited a medical marijuana doctor and complained of sleep deprivation, and work-related stress symptoms.
Afterward, the doctor issued a medical marijuana card.
Under California law, the card permitted legal purchase of marijuana from approved medical dispensaries.
Since that time, Drew spent months experimenting with different weed strains. Seeking the perfect cure to relieve his ailments.
He tried Din Viesel for insomnia.
Blueberry Pie for general pain.
Purple Krayz for stress.
Recreational marijuana had since been legalized in California. But his medical card provided a fifteen percent discount when compared to having no card at all.
Returning to the living room. He retrieved a black glass pipe he and Mag purchased years earlier, then packed it full of Purple Krayz.
Flopping himself into an oversized black leather massage chair.
He retrieved the chair’s handheld controller and engaged the lowest setting. While sunlight evaporated morning fog outside, he inhaled on the pipe. Deep.
Pausing for a moment.
Exhaling a thick plume of smoke inside the room.
It wafted aimlessly towards the ceiling, windows, and walls.
The weed effect is immediate.
Relaxation and calm.
He took two more hits. Finishing the pipe. Then inhaled the rooms hazy air before holding it in and exhaling all remnants of stress.
Drew sighed… now I can focus.
He looked down at the massage chair, remembering… we spent 2000 dollars on this thing. What a waste. But he wanted it, and convinced Mag to support the purchase.
However, two years later it occupied valuable space in their apartment. Mag never used it, and Drew rarely did.
He smiled to himself… I’ll never tell her this was a shitty purchase.
Inspecting the controller in his hand he sneered,
“I need a real massage.”
In the bathroom. He brushed his teeth and showered. Then drank two pints of water before putting on clothes and stepping out the apartment door.
Whistling down the sidewalk.
Five blocks later, he’d reached his destination.
THE INSIDE OF GOLD MASSAGE was gaudy and cheaply appointed. To the left, a small waiting area with worn out gray pleather couches paralleled a black glass coffee table; littered with outdated sports magazines. Tall silver floor lamps in the corners of the room emanated soft pink light, washing the space in a powder-puff glow. To the right, a waist-high glass window revealed a confined office space. It housed a collection of pink and white colored clothes and Hello-Kitty bags scattered across the floor.
A television in the opposite corner played a Korean soap opera and a middle-aged Asian woman watched its screen. Sitting sideways to the window, she slid it open and peered at Drew,
“Welcome to Gold Massage. You been before?”
Drew rolled his eyes and shook his head,
“You people ask the same question every time I come here. The answer is always yes.”
Unphased, she grabbed a clipboard with an attached pen and questionnaire.
Handing it to him,
“You fill out?”
“Sure. Is Goo working today?”
He had no desire to memorize the names of each massage therapist employed at Gold Massage. But grew accustomed to two ladies at this location.
Goo and Cathy.
Cathy… Presumably in her forties. Retained slight bags under her eyes and yielded weathered hands. Likely from spending years of manual, tedious labor. She was friendly and accommodating, and her powerful fingers delivered precise pressure wherever they touched.
Cathy’s massage skills were flawless.
However Drew preferred Goo… seemingly in her twenties. Her milk-soft hands touched him warmly and she spoke in an alluring innocent accent. Claiming to despise her job and asking questions about Drew’s life, his career, and his wife.
But Goo’s massage skills were weak and he often wondered… does she even know what she’s doing?
Her hands applied pathetic pressure.
Rubbing in lazy circles against his body.
Nevertheless she was young, beautiful, and petite. And Drew imagined in-another-life, he could’ve been her mentor.
The receptionist frowned,
“Everybody like Goo.”
Turning towards the television, she waved the back of her hand,
“Goo busy with customer. Ten minute.”
Drew walked to the waiting area and sat on the couch. Completing the massage questionnaire…
Have you ever had a Massage Therapy before?
Do you have difficulty lying down?
Do you have allergic reactions to oil, lotions, ointments, etc…?
Do you experience stress in your work, family, or any aspects of life?
Scribbling responses to the remaining questions. He stood and returned the clipboard to the receptionist. Scanning it, she pointed at the bottom of the form,
“You forgot sign.”
“Why do you need my signature? I’m not opening a bank account here, am I?” She tilted her head and scowled as if ready to argue her point.
But then… recoiled. Forcing an uneasy smile,
“Please wait. Thank you.”
Her voice, stretched the word you for what seemed an eternity.
Fifteen minutes later. A pint-sized woman greeted Drew and led him down the same red-lit hallway he’d walked countless times before; ushering to a pink massage room.
Inside, she motioned the act of removing clothes and smiled,
“Goo ready soon. Prease, take off.”
The closet size room was decorated with a mixture of scented candles and lavender oils, and a small portable radio. Playing sounds of light rain and muted thunder.
For his sixty-minute session, Drew retrieved three-times the hourly amount and placed the money on a small table next to the door. Removing his clothes, he placed a towel over his midsection and laid face-up on the massage table.
Seconds later… Goo walked in.
“Hi, how ah you?”
Her accented voice raised in pitch towards the end of the question and Drew turned his head. Gazing at her face,
“I’m good. Nice to see you again.”
“Good to see you too. You ah…”
Her eyes gazed up in recollection,
“Ahh. You remember my name? That’s good.”
Drew chuckled, “I remember yours too. It’s Goo.”
“You have good memoly.” She flashed a bright smile, “Mine not so good.” Moving closer to him, she hovered beside, as if inspecting his appearance. Then rested her warm hand on his chest.
“How you feer?” Her deep, black eyes lay surrounded by bright flawless skin. Over-emphasizing their depth.
But Drew’s gaze fell to her cleavage. Inviting him in cavernously.
Standing barely five feet tall, she had larger breasts than Mag and whether real or fake; Drew didn’t care. He loved everything about them.
“I’m dealing with a lot of things right now,” he said.
“You probably don’t remember. But last time we spoke, I told you my father is very sick.”
“Yes. I lemember.”
Approaching the small table, she picked up her payment and counted it. Folding the cash. Stuffing it in the band of her black leggings,
“He have cancel?”
“Yes.” Drew squinted, “He’s got inoperable cancer. He’s dying. Probably won’t survive much longer. My mother’s taking care of him and it’s really difficult for her.”
“I am solly. It vely sad. Arways sickness vely bad everyone. Prease. Turn over.” She motioned him to turn, face down on the table. “My mother arso vely sick. My father wolk hald. Long time. My blother, sister at home. They rife hald ‘cause palents not wolk anymo.”
Drew sighed… I’m not here to listen to your problems.
Positioning his right hand around his neck, he tapped his shoulder blade, “My shoulders are very sore. I need you to massage them. Also my neck and back are sore.”
“Wha ‘bout heel?” Goo’s hand bolted up and under Drew’s towel, between his thighs. Touching his manhood. His body twitched. Surprised by her quick movement and irritated by the audacity of the question. He clenched his thighs and Goo withdrew her hand.
“Don’t do that yet!” he frowned.
“First do shoulders. Then neck and back.”
EXITING GOLD MASSAGE at 1:30 p.m. He walked three blocks to McShane’s Pub and Grill and grabbed a seat at the bar. Delighted to see his favorite bartender Lisa working behind it. She recognized him as he sat,
“Hey! What’s going on?”
Her raspy, boisterous voice echoed throughout the small pub.
“Not much,” said Drew, “I have work to do at home. But do I feel like doing it?”
“Hell no.” Lisa smiled, “Why would you wanna be bored at home, working all day. When you can be here, having fun with me instead?”
Her arms spread slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and she pressed her hands on top of the bar. Leaning towards Drew,
“Eat, drink, or both?”
“Both. Gimme a Philly Cheesesteak and whatever you recommend for an IPA.”
“That’s a lot of pressure. What if you don’t like what I suggest?”
“Then it’s free.”
Lisa grinned, “You wish.”
A chalkboard positioned high-behind the bar, listed current drafts and bottled beers available. Lisa looked at it and motioned her hand toward the India Pale Ale section,
“We just tapped the Einstok Icelandic. It’s medium bodied. Piney with a bit of citrus. I like it. You wanna sample?”
“That would be fantastic,” Drew smirked. Lisa walked to retrieve a glass and Drew glanced at her figure from behind.
Wafer thin hips with impossibly narrow calves and thighs.
He recalled in a previous conversation she’d mentioned former employment as a Hooters waitress.
The shape of her body revealed the same.
Returning with the sampler, she handed it to Drew,
“Let me know if you like it. I’ll put your cheesesteak order in now.”
Drew sipped and swirled the bitter ale around his tongue before swallowing it. He considered himself a beer connoisseur and noted the hoppiness and fruity overtones of the aromatic brew. Concurring… hmmm, there is an undertone of piney-ness.
He ordered a pint from Lisa, then stared at two television panels positioned on the back-bar wall.
One, showing a daytime sports talk show.
The other, playing a soccer game. He asked aloud,
“Did the Pens win last night?”
Being born and raised near Pittsburgh, PA… The Pittsburgh Penguins had long been his favorite hockey team.
Though the question was intended for Lisa, another customer responded.
“Screw the damn Penguins! Go Sharks!”
Looking across the bartop, he recognized the respondent as Gary; another regular customer who possessed free time during the work-week.
Drew raised his brow, “The Sharks? Are they a hockey team? I never heard of em.”
“Really? They beat the Penguins last time they played.”
“Refresh my memory? How many Stanley Cups do the Sharks have?”
Lisa waved her arms down, “No cat-fighting!!” Pointing at Gary, she froze him with her finger and her eyes pierced Drew, laser-like.
“Yes motherfucker. We all know the Pens have more than four Stanley Cups and the lowly Sharks struggle for one. We also know Pittsburgh sucks balls as a city! That’s why you stopped living there a long time ago and now you live here!”
“Whoa!!” The all-male gaggle of customers erupted… oohing and awing at Lisa’s snappy response. It’s the same thing they’ve done a-hundred times before. Since she’s the reason why they’re here.
Drew smiled sheepishly and another customer cautioned him.
“Careful man. She looks nice and sweet on the outside. But she’ll stab you in the throat and laugh while you bleed.”
“I won’t laugh,” Lisa smiled, “I’m not that evil. I’ll just smirk as you choke on your own blood. Then I’ll tell you to clean up your friggin mess and get the hell out.”
“And that’s why I love you,” said Drew.
“You don’t tip me like you love me.”
“I’ll give you more than the tip. I’ll give you the whole thing.”
Lisa smirked and delivered his cheesesteak. “I’m sure you will.” Leaning over the bar, she whispered,
“Pens won, five to two.”
“I’m getting you another beer. Any objections?”
Her tone implied… there better not be!
“Whatever you say.”
She extended her hand towards Drew like a school teacher drawing attention to her model student… nodding at the other patrons approvingly, “Gentlemen! Pay close attention to Drew! Because he just told you what I like to hear.”
In relaxation mode.
The next two hours – warped.
Drinking his third pint of beer, he checked his phone… 4 p.m.
In the middle of beer number four, he felt the effects of alcohol tiring his body and craved a cigarette.
The lingering odor of smoke infested hands and clothes forced him to give up smoking tobacco years ago.
If not for e-cigs, he might have been prompted to quit altogether by Mag.
The only problem was… the most affordable nicotine e-cig cartridges were sold at 7-Eleven. Requiring a bus ride, or ODIS to get there.
Drew pondered… that’s too much trouble.
Retrieving his mobile, he texted Mag.
Currently at work, she would leave in two hours and usually responded to his texts quickly.
<Drew> What’s your status?
Thirty seconds later, a response.
<Mag> Super busy. But hoping to leave soon, even though I should stay late. How’s your day?
<Drew> I have more work to do. But so far it’s okay
<Mag> That’s good
<Drew> Can you get e-cig cartridges on the way home?
A task… Mag hated to do, since Drew worked from home.
He had all day to get cartridges from the store.
However, with 7-Eleven directly in her path home, she didn’t know how to counter the request. Nonetheless, she sighed… why do I have to do it? I don’t smoke that crap.
<Mag> Can’t you get them?
<Drew> I’m in the middle of work. 7-Eleven is more than two miles from our place. We talk about this all the time. You pass 7-Eleven on the way home. You’re right there
<Mag> I knew you’d say that
<Drew> Then why’d you ask?
<Drew> Get cherry. If they don’t have cherry, get blueberry
On the way home, he stopped at a local market and bought food for dinner, then headed back to the apartment. Upon arrival, he turned on his laptop and prepared Chicken Cordon Bleu with Twice Baked Potatoes, and Kale Salad. Afterward… completing a small bit of project work.
The kitchen lay a mess of dirty pots and stained countertops when Mag arrived.
Greeted by the welcome aroma of a home-cooked meal.
During her drive home, she’d stewed in anger about her 7-Eleven errand. But after viewing Drew’s meal, she sighed… if I complain now, he’ll say I’m ungrateful.
During dinner, he explained the intricate details of their meal and she swallowed her pride. Forcing a courteous smile, she handed him the e-cig cartridges.
“Thanks for getting them.”
“You’re welcome. They didn’t have cherry.”