Harry Dear
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Harry Dear

A short story.

Harry Dear

She handled him with all the careful precision of an obsessive-compulsive cleaner.

“Harry dear, the toothpaste goes in the second drawer, not the first.”

“Harry dear, you should fold your napkin in half crosswise, not lengthwise.”

“Harry dear, please don’t leave your bedroom slippers next to the toilet.”

He watched as she opened the tin of dollar store-brand Danish butter cookies, concentrated and methodical. With one long, yellowed fingernail, she dug beneath the tape and pulled it from the rim of the tin in one unbroken strip. The lid came off with a satisfying pop. She pinched a cookie between her index finger and thumb, lifted it from one of the fluted paper baking cups, and held it to her mouth. The cookie vanished in one swift bite.

He stared at the crumb on the left corner of her dry bottom lip. She had a mole there, too, half a centimeter below the crumb. He used call the mole a beauty mark and say it was endearing. Now, he tried not to think about it whenever they kissed. It helped that they did not kiss much anymore.

Harry looked down at the TV dinner in his lap. The corn was green in the blue light of the television show – Jeopardy!, her favorite – and the image of the crumb flashed across his vision every time he blinked.

“I’m going to take out the garbage, Ethel,” he said. He stood, his plastic dinner tray in hand. He did not look at her.

He heard Ethel munch on another cookie. “Harry dear, make sure you double-knot the bag.”

Harry nodded and tried not to picture more crumbs shooting from her mouth with each word. He walked into their lemon-yellow kitchen and opened the cabinet with the garbage can. The bag was almost empty – just a few napkins and the cardboard boxes from their TV dinners – and it was still not full when he dropped his uneaten food into it.

Even so, he lifted the bag out by its drawstrings and tied them in a single knot. He did not put on his coat or shoes before he went outside. He did not turn on the porch light. He did not even close the door all the way.

When he got outside, he did not walk on the concrete path to the end of their driveway where their garbage cans sat. Instead, he crossed the lawn, and the water on the grass soaked into the bottoms of his socks.

The garbage cans smelled disgusting. Ethel preferred lemon-scented bags – complemented the lemon-yellow kitchen, or something to that effect – so their garbage always had that faint touch of a chemical lemon smell. It stung Harry’s nose.

He heaved the bag up and dumped it in the can. Though the bag was light, the movement was more of a strain on his hips than it would have been twenty years ago. After, his body ached and his breath was shallow, so Harry reached into the pocket of his pajama bottoms and pulled out his secret pack of Pall Mall Oranges and a match.

“Harry dear, you know those things are no good for you,” Ethel used to say whenever she saw the orange-yellow pack. He kept them hidden now.

He lit one of the cigarettes and took a slow drag. He coughed up the smoke a moment later.

Jeopardy! had at least fifteen minutes left, so he had time to relax without consequences. She would not notice the length of his absence as long as he slipped in before the “Final Jeopardy!” question.

Harry sat down on the curb, his Pall Mall between his fingers. The cold of the concrete went straight through his green pajama bottoms. His feet were becoming numb from the chill and his wet socks only made it worse. He tucked his spare hand under his armpit and took another drag from the cigarette. This one was smoother.

Their street was quiet. Nobody owned any loud outdoor dogs, only yappy puppies that slept at night and stayed inside anyway. There were no young children, either, and no one ever drove down their road at night. The streetlamps let off dull discs of orange light. It was not enough to see by even when standing right beneath a lamp.

The neighborhood did not need the streetlamps. No one went outside at night. The cold was too harsh on their aging joints.

Across the street, Mrs. Herrington’s gate was open. Her grandson put it in last month. Harry heard the boy talking on the phone about the new racetrack the city was putting in. The boy used large hand gestures and spoke with a grin. Harry admired his passion.

Now, Harry considered going over and closing the gate, but he was too cold, too sore, and his Pall Mall was half-gone already.

His gaze turned to the garbage can next; there were several scrapes in the green plastic from where the new, high-tech dump truck arm grasped it, lifted it, dumped its contents, and placed it back down. He sometimes watched the truck from the window.

At the foot of the garbage can sat the broken pieces of a green Dos Equis beer bottle. No one in the neighborhood maintained a drinking habit, Harry was sure, so the bottle must have fallen from the truck one week or was thrown there by someone’s visiting teenage grandchild.

It looked pathetic. The broken pieces just sat there, in no pattern at all.

Harry kept looking as he took another drag from his cigarette. The thing had burned down to the butt, so he flicked it to the pavement. He reached over, picked up the larger pieces of the broken beer bottle, and then stood. He dropped the pieces into the garbage can and walked back across the grass.

He would have to change his socks before Ethel saw him again. But Jeopardy! still had at least five minutes left, so he stopped on their Welcome mat and looked back out at the road.

Maybe, when Ethel was out at her weekly hair appointment tomorrow, he would walk outside and strike up a conversation with the dump truck driver. Maybe he would ask about the truck’s arm or offer the guy a Pall Mall. Maybe he would ask if Mrs. Herrington’s grandson could put a fence in his yard, too.

He opened the door and let it shut behind him. He slipped off his wet socks and then walked in the direction of the kitchen to put in a new lemon-scented garbage bag. He stopped at the living room entrance. Ethel said, “Harry dear, don’t forget to lock the door.”

He grunted and watched her shove the last Danish butter cookie in her mouth as a young woman answered the “Final Jeopardy!” question.

“Harry, dear,” Ethel said, then paused. She turned in her wheelchair to look at him. “I love you.”

Harry nodded. “I love you, too.”

Maybe he would leave the door unlocked.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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