These days when Liam awoke, a subtle burn of ginger lingered in the back of his throat. He spent morning hours watching sunlight slide through dust-covered blinds, the color reminding him of sand-filled beach vacations from his childhood.
Today’s trip wasn’t to the beach.
“Maybe we shouldn’t bring orange,” his wife, Poppy, strolled into the bedroom, her blond hair wound up in curlers. She was talking about popsicle flavors, specifically which ones paired well with a long August drive in their un-airconditioned Oldsmobile.
Poppy was in charge of route planning and Liam was in charge of packing, but roadtrip snacks required two-person consent. “Or, is cherry better?”
Liam nodded. His mother used to tell him about cherry blossoms in Kyoto, how the petals spun and fell, covering the ground like a second blush of snow. Five-year old Liam imagined the air in Kyoto smelled sweet and cool like cherry popsicles.
Whenever he asked if that was true, his mother would pause whatever she was chopping, spring onions, ginger, pickled cucumbers, something to season the frozen white fish fillets from the supermarket. She’d sigh and remind him to do his math homework. Math was easy for him. He knew he was the quotient, the result produced by cell division between his mother and the man who left before he was born.
Rubbing his eyes, Liam went into the little ensuite bathroom to pack their toiletry bag. An overnight stay. Toothbrushes. Razor. Allergy medication. Poppy’s special toothpaste for sensitive enamel. His mouth guard to ward off teeth grinding.
He’d hoped the next suitcase they’d pack together would be for a far off place like Marrakesh or Egypt. When he was young, he dreamed of tenting in a desert under the stars. He’d gather his blanket and some sticks to set up camp in the backyard. Shelter was most important. Especially for dreams, his mother would say. If he didn’t protect those, they would go bitter. She was always concerned about taste.
“Or, darling,” Poppy’s voice came from down the hall. “Should we bring two flavors and split them up to share?”
The toiletry bag closed with a loud zip. On their wedding day, his mother warned him that there would be nothing left if he shared too much of himself with the wrong person. These days he wondered if that really mattered. Everyone disappeared in the end.
Leaving the bathroom, he stared at his classic black suit and Poppy’s sensible black dress laid out side by side on the bed. The matching polyester outfits were dark, rumpled, and smelled of being hardly worn. Only for funerals, he thought to himself.
Liam swallowed hard against the quiet burn that returned to his throat, longing to be cooled by the cherry popsicles waiting, silent in the icebox.
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