The smart little house was tidy and orderly as usual. It had been a marvelous, exciting day. Everything was, or at least should have been, exactly as it should be. Almost on cue Cole put on his favorite music, Pergolesi. On any other Sunday night he’d have settled into his big leather chair with a glass of red wine. The first sip would work its way through his veins, warming his body from the inside out. Cole found that nothing touched his soul quite like that first sip of red wine on a Sunday night. He looked forward to it Monday through Saturday. Whatever happened during the week, the day or life for that matter would melt away as the liquid rolled over his tongue and drained down the back of his throat in all that warmth.
He was living the dream: the perfect music, the perfect chair, a sip of red wine and a good book. All was as it should have been, but rather than settle into the inviting leather chair Cole hesitated, looking around the living room as if something were awry.
He paced about his little house feeling that something wasn’t quite right. That little something nagged at the back of his mind, “The coffee pot?” he thought to himself. But no, on careful examination of the kitchen he found that neither the coffee pot, nor the stove, or oven was on. Nothing that could possibly be on in the kitchen was on. Of course it wouldn’t be. Cole had been away all day on this important day, hadn’t even breakfasted in the house, as he never does on this particular day. How ridiculous he suddenly thought himself for worrying about his house so. He imagined his own mother worrying him senseless on school mornings: Did you get your lunch? You sure you brushed your teeth? Your homework is in your backpack?
He chuckled aloud at himself, “Stop worrying, mom!” he’d say. He wished he had someone to tell him now to simply, “Stop worrying.”
If his mom were alive (she’d passed shortly after his 51st birthday) he’d give her a ring and have a laugh over his current, senseless state.
“Mom, I’ve finally become the person I swore I’d never be.”
“Oh no, you’re republican?”
“Worse, far worse! I’ve finally turned into you, worrying senselessly about this thing and that thing. You’ve created the monster I’ve become, now what do you have to say for yourself?”
They’d have laughed and bantered back and forth for a bit. For a moment he wondered if the something that wasn’t right was a spell of missing his mother. It had been five years since she had passed. She was his only parent. He’d never known his father. He let himself play the conversation out in his mind as it might have gone, remembering all of her key phrases. There were certain things she always asked about, was he healthy, did he need to come over for a home cooked meal and of course, the most dreaded, “Are you going to marry that nice girl you brought to the birthday party?” Ah yes, he rolled his eyes as he recalled. She must have asked him about “marrying the nice girl” since he was twenty something. Even after his friends and big sister had finally stopped bothering him about his bachelor lifestyle she’d continued it.
In his 40s his friends had questioned him about it a lot, especially when he broke up with one that they really liked. “You crazy bastard!” they’d say, “We really thought she was the one!” This was the kind of thing that made Cole uncomfortable. In fact, it was perhaps the only subject that Cole, keen verbalist that he was, somehow couldn’t talk himself out of. The problem was that he could never really explain it himself. He could only agree with them, that he’d also thought the “she” in question was the one. Somehow, when the relationship got to that point, when the question about “the big question” came up something always went wrong. Cole reasoned that he, like some people, just wasn’t cut out for the picket fence lifestyle. Marriage, kids, the whole works, just not his cup of herbal tea. In the end, he could never follow through with it, never fathom a lifetime and his relationships ended in similar fashions until he, as of recently, stopped having relationships all together. They all finally came to understand and accept it, all of them but mom.
He stood in his kitchen shaking his head, as if responding to her question now. Looking up, as people often do when conversing with their passed loved ones, he apologized to her that no, in fact, the something nagging in the back of his mind was not his mother. As often as she was wont to nag at him, it wasn’t her now. “You’re off the hook this time,” he said aloud. Not her, but something. Some evil little nuisance that just wouldn’t let him be!
While looking up toward the heavens in the vague, supposed direction of his mother, he noticed the track lighting and flicked the light switch on and off to ensure everything worked properly. A dead light bulb, apparently, was not the culprit of the pesky little ball of “something not right” building up in the back of his mind.
For most people it might be easy to dismiss the suspicious notion of something not feeling quite right. It’s easy to conclude that whatever it is will surface soon enough, or the mind will produce it out of the blue, perhaps in one of those great revelations that come to one while showering, “The dentist! That’s it. I’m supposed to go the dentist this morning!” These shower revelations, 3am epiphanies or midday mental breakthroughs are common enough for most of us but not for Cole.
There is no running back to the front door to double check that it’s locked in Cole’s world, Cole knows that it’s locked. There’s no wondering, “What was I supposed to do this morning?” Cole knows what he’s supposed to do every morning. Everything in life is written down, scheduled on a daily calendar or penciled in strategically on a notepad, which is strategically checked at specific times three times a week. The epitome of type A, anal (some of his past girlfriends would say), organized to a fault: Cole.
The feeling of something being out of place was so foreign and unfamiliar to him that he couldn’t let it go. If something felt awry there was a logical reason for it and he couldn’t proceed with Pergolesi or Stephen King until he got to the bottom of it.
Cole sat at his kitchen table and consulted his calendar and notepad. He reviewed tomorrow’s meetings with clients, the month’s court dates, deadlines; everything was in order. He had no unattended or urgent emails or voicemails. His to do lists were exactly as he’d imagined them. He’d left no major chore or project undone. There were no over-looked birthdays. His life stared back at him perfectly organized, challenging him to find even the slightest blemish, a single uncrossed “t” in his beautifully designed life. Cole smiled, quite pleased with himself and the upcoming week. He even grinned, seeing that very Sunday, this particularly important day, on his calendar, for it had gone so well.
Brian, Ella and the two kids had left for a trip to Washington D.C. Brian, Cole’s dearest friend from college, surprises his family with a vacation every year as a Christmas present. During the week leading to Christmas he torments them with daily clues about their destination that year. Sometimes he gives them the clues over dinner. Sometimes he posts a picture significant of the secret place on the fridge for them to see as they make their separate ways toward breakfast in the morning. Cole quite often helped Brian develop clues and had been there at many a dinner as the family ogled over their collected tips and begged for more. It was quite a show and Brian loved to tease them.
“Airplane? Dad, that’s not a clue!” Shyla reprimanded her father, “That’s not fair!” Shyla, Brian and Ella’s 12 year-old daughter, held her dad accountable for providing valid, legitimate clues. At the mention of airplane on this specific incident, Shyla turned to Cole for back up, “Uncle Cole, that’s not fair, is it?”
This was the time to shine. Cole glowed during moments like this, helping Shyla fight her battles. Shyla fancied her “Uncle Cole” the best lawyer in the world. She lit up as he plead her case. She’d really get into it, offer to consult Merriam Webster on the definition of the word “clue” or list all previous destinations that involved an airplane to prove that this could not possibly qualify as a clue. Cole beamed with pride at her precocious arguments and secretly fathomed she might follow in his footsteps one day, becoming a lawyer herself.
That morning, as is customary on this annual occasion, he’d arrived at the house in time to help the family herd themselves out the door. It had become part of the Christmas vacation tradition and one of Cole’s most anticipated days of the year. It was an ever important day and for this reason he smiled satisfactorily, seeing it on his calendar as a high priority event. Cole had played his part excellently, as always!
He’d always plan the family breakfast in advance, being especially careful to include comfort foods the kids might not get on the trip. A few years ago they’d gone to India. Cole had made a peanut butter and jelly French toast creation for the kids, explaining that they didn’t do peanut butter and jelly in India, which was their absolute, must have at the time.
“But how can people live without peanut butter and jelly?” Aden had wanted to know.
“You’re going to see all sorts of different ways folks live their lives,” Brian had explained.
“And the Taj Mahal, we’re going to see the Taj Mahal!” Shyla had shrieked. The destination was only revealed the day before departure but she somehow managed to do her research in this short time, flipping madly through the pages of guidebooks until she found her eye’s treasure.
Every year Cole helped with last minute packing, coming through with little things they seemed to forget until right up before departure. Brian ensured his friend every year, “This year I’ve got it all. It’s gonna be an easy escape this time around!”
Yet it never was. Somehow, in spite of all the planning and preparation, the family just couldn’t manage it. Shyla, in fact, was the only one ever packed, prepared and ready to go. She’d even have a ten-day weather forecast, chasing little Aden around chirping, “It’s summer in South America. Pack two pairs of sandals and 2 swim shorts!” And then, “80% humidity guys, this is no joke. Whoa, 85% humidity on Tuesday! It’ll be like a rainforest. Wait a minute, it is a rainforest!”
This was the nature of the ruckus about the house while Cole prepared his pre-departure breakfast. He also prepared lunches and snack packs for the airport and flight for everyone. He came through with extra batteries for Brian’s digital camera as he came running through the kitchen in a flurry, throwing open this drawer and that. Cole calmly and coolly held up the 2 packs of batteries he’d brought for Brian, as he had every year since his friend first forgot them. He made it a point to remember everything that they didn’t.
He’d hold up a bag filled with vitamins for Ella as she passed through for a coffee refill, “Oh my, I can’t believe I forgot again!” she’d exclaim. He’d put in enough vitamins for the whole family and a few extra in case someone should drop one. He’d present Aden with a new story book for the airplane and Shyla with books of word searches and cross words, mechanical pencils to go along with them.
Cole would load the car while the family ran around looking for last minutes, double-checking and triple checking lists. Finally, they’d all sit down for the best part, Cole’s gourmet breakfast and perhaps greatest cooking endeavor of the year.
Oh, it was the best of days! The whole family buzzed about in glee, brimming with excitement. Shyla was most excited this year about the Hope diamond. That morning she had spewed out all the facts, “45.52 carats!” she’d exclaimed at the breakfast table.
“They say it once belonged to King Louis XIV of France, centuries ago in the year sixteen hunnnndred and sixty eight!”
Shyla loved to emphasize historic dates like that, always elongating the “hu-nnnn-dred” for dramatic effect.
Cole sat now at his own table, face flushed with joy as he thought of Shyla’s delightful chatter about the diamond. His heart rose as he thought of all of them at the airport waiting to board the plane, finally taking off to realize all of their dreams and plans. Shyla, that much closer to her cherished Hope diamond. Oh, he could only imagine her face as she beheld the treasure! He’d have to wait for the pictures and even the pictures surely wouldn’t do justice to that golden moment.
Cole’s thoughts stopped for a minute. It suddenly surfaced from the depths of his mind. The pictures. That was it! But of course! Suddenly Cole was certain that he hadn’t asked them to take Shyla’s picture as she first caught site of the gem. How silly! He couldn’t believe it, but he was sure now that the something bothering him in the back of his head, the one “t” left uncrossed that day, was this business about the picture. “Incredible!” he thought, “Something so small and minor, yet overlooked and forgotten could be such an incessant nag.” He stood up and walked about excitedly, victorious over the festering little uncertainty that had plagued him since arriving home.
Cole walked out of the kitchen and laughed out loud at himself as he approached his leather chair with peace of mind, amused at his brief moment of self-doubt. Amused that he’d checked every corner of the house and opened up his notes and calendars over something so small. Something so minor, something not even so important had caused him such angst and grief.
The living room, that bit of mental uncertainty now squashed, again appeared to him the perfect little Sunday evening haven he had designed it to be. Relief, Cole was flooded with relief, finally able to relax into his Sunday routine.
The phone rang as he continued to regard his setting. “Ah, this must be my opportunity,” he thought, imagining that it could only be them on the other end of the line. He glanced at the clock and noted that there was still another 20 minutes before they would board the plane. It was just enough time to bid Uncle Cole goodbye one last time. It would be either Brian or Shyla on the phone when he picked up, but most likely Shyla. She’d tell him that they all wanted to thank him one last time, or maybe she’d need him to look something up online about the Hope diamond, some question she’d dawned that couldn’t be answered by the guidebook. He’d Google it while she babbled on excitedly, and it would be the perfect moment to mention it, “Don’t forget to have your picture taken for Uncle Cole when you see that Hope diamond now!” He rushed to the phone with boyish hype.
“Hullo there!” he answered in his best, booming Uncle Cole voice.
“Uncle Cole! We’re about to board,” she began.
He started to answer, “Indeed you are!”
But Shyla talked over him. He heard the chaos of the airport in the background. Like the chaos, her words were rushed and frenzied, “Mom forgot to tell you there’s a package coming tomorrow. She needs you to get it off the doorstep after work.”
“Oh, why surely, yes, yes!”
“Ok, gotta go!”
“Great, and Shy-”
But she had already hung up the phone.
Cole hung up his phone too and made his way to the big leather chair. The room was tidy and cozy. Pergolesi added the perfect touch as Cole reached for the bottle of wine.
“And Shyla, don’t forget to have your picture taken when you see that monster of a diamond!” he muttered to himself.
A tear plopped into his glass before he could sip it, causing a slight undulation, a minor blemish in the otherwise smooth surface of the burgundy liquid. He regarded the glass as if it had committed some kind of crime. That perfect first sip of Sunday night wine, the warmth that touches the soul and melts away the worries of the day, ruined. He wiped at his face but the tears kept coming, plopping into the liquid, so many undulations, soiling most dreadfully his favorite moment of the week.