The bacon bent but didn’t break. Perfect. the eggs were fluffy, and the soft hash browns were encased in a golden crisp. The spices were balanced–he could tell from the smell. His coffee sat on the end table to his right; the steam tickled his nose.
He grabbed a slice of bacon and ripped off a mouthful. He delicately grabbed his mug and introduced the coffee to the bacon. The salty taste of the bacon mingled with the bitter liquid in a pleasant marriage.
He closed his eyes and wallowed in the atmosphere of the morning. Through the window the sunlight pierced through the tree branches. Its rays illuminated the airborne dust in the living room, casting streaks from the branches’ shadows.
Knock, knock, knock.
After the first rap, his body tensed with surprise, but after the second and third it cramped.
“I’m not home!” He made no effort to sound decorous. He shoved a spoonful of hash browns down without tasting it.
“Oh, of course you’re not!” Replied a man’s voice beyond the door. “To whom am I speaking, then?”
“What do you want?”
“I want to visit. Can I enter, Miles?”
Miles looked at the door with a quizzical look. “How do you know my name? Who are you?”
“I am someone you can trust, and I know your name because I can be trusted.”
“Sorry, you’ve come to the wrong house.”
“I don’t make mistakes, Miles! I am at the right house at the right time to see the right person–you.”
“Well, you interrupted my breakfast. Not the right time.”
“Not interrupted,” the voice said. “I came to join you in eating breakfast.”
How presumptuous! “Join me? The nerve!” Miles bemoaned.
“Did you make enough bacon for me?”
Miles glared at the door. “All out, sorry.”
After a lengthy pause, Miles began to think he left. He sighed and slightly relaxed his shoulders, which had still been tight since it knocked. He ate a spoonful of eggs.
“Enough of this!” shouted the Annoyance.
The door burst open. The Annoyance stood silhouetted against the morning sun.
“You broke the door!” Miles breathed out to prevent an outburst. “That’ll cost you.”
“Cost me what?” He inspected the door and lock. “Nothing’s broken.”
“Some parts fell off but it’s fixable, not broken.” He turned back to Miles. “Now that the door’s open, is it safe to come in?”
“I won’t step on any toes.”
“You already are. Besides, what can you possibly offer me in return?”
“What do you mean? Can I not simply want to visit? Must I offer something?”
“You must have some motive.”
“Well….” The Annoyance began. “I am here for one reason.”
“Ha! I knew it! Ulterior motives.”
“No. Please, let me explain.”
Miles raised his eyebrows.
The Annoyance took a breath. “You need me.”
“Excuse me? Does it look like I need help?” Miles waved his hand, pointing haphazardly around his home.
“Yes, but not in the way you think.”
“Oh for the love of Pete, just go bother somebody else.”
“How about I visit for a little while?” He glanced at the clock, “‘Til 8, and then if you still want me gone, I’ll be gone forever.”
“All-righty!” He reached down and picked up a suitcase that was previously out of Miles’s sight, then marched in.
“Make yourself at home.” Miles said sarcastically.
“Why, thank you!” The Annoyance exclaimed. “I will.” The Annoyance placed his suitcase on the kitchen counter, and began rummaging through the cupboards. “Where are your plates?”
“Left of the sink.” Miles said.
“Thank you.” He opened it and sifted through the assortment.
“Just pick one!”
“I’ve got to find just the right color. It matters.”
Miles rolled is eyes and glanced at his plate. There was a fly dancing on his eggs, and the bacon was now dry and cold. The ketchup in the hash browns was growing crusty, making the whole plate look like cat vomit.
“It’s still good,” the Annoyance said, standing over him, “just stir it up a bit.” A waft of anise erupted as he plopped next to Miles.
What’s this guy gonna do to me?
Miles eyed him closely while he shoveled up a spoonful of eggs. The man’s face resembled a clown without makeup with his protruding cheeks, round nose, enormous lips and brambly hair. On another day Miles would’ve burst out laughing at such a goof.
“So…what’s your name?”
“Your last name?”
Smith bit into a slice of bacon. “Both.”
Miles squinted. “You’re name is ‘Smith Smith’? Really?”
He smiled, a bit of egg hanging from his upper lip. “Well, it’s ‘Smith S. Smith.’”
“Let me guess, your middle name is ‘Smith,’ as well?”
“Nope. It’s Steve.”
“Oh I thought for sure it would be–”
“–No! Just kidding. It is ‘Smith’! How’d you know?”
Smith continued tearing into his food. He bit into the bacon and then stopped suddenly. He took it out of his mouth and examined it before meticulously tearing off a chewy, fatty segment. “Yucky fat.”
Miles stood up to throw his breakfast away.
He was about to lift the lid to the trash can when Smith reminded, “I told you it was still good!”
“Nope.” Miles opened the lid and swiped the food into the abyss.
Now even the trash had its fill of breakfast. He groped his stomach, then took out the eggs and bacon to remake his meal. Smith’s suitcase commandeered the counter, so he assembled his food on the pull-out cutting board.
The luggage begged his attention as he cracked the eggs into a bowl.
I don’t want to know what’s in there. “Smith, why do you need this?” Miles said, pointing to the suitcase.
“Everything.” Smith said without taking his attention away from his hash browns. “You never know.”
Of course. The ever-ready traveller.
He remade his breakfast and sat down at the table, away from Smith, with his eggs and bacon.
From the couch, Smith sat in silence after he had finished his breakfast. “So, now what do we do?” He said as Miles swallowed his last mouthful.
“I don’t know. You tell me.” Miles said without looking at him.
Smith jumped up from the couch and ran to his suitcase. “I thought you would never ask!”
“What are you doing?” He asked.
He didn’t reply. He opened his suitcase and smiled after looking inside. He then looked up at Miles with an overstated smile that was hard to read.
Smith Smith Smith whipped out an assortment of tools from his suitcase.
“Now the work begins!”
Smith made his way to the bathroom, but hesitated after peeking inside. He turned to Miles. “This room is a mess.”
“The house is lived in.”
“It’s not that.” Smith’s tone was serious. “The walls look like they’re corroding. We must renovate this now. Get up and help me.”
“Or I could call a serviceman when I’m good and ready.”
Smith beckoned to Miles. “Seriously…have you seen this? There’s bound to be mold behind the walls and I think those are mouse turds.”
“You really want to do this now?”
“It needs to be kid-friendly.” Miles grabbed a drywall saw, then paused, as if thinking, then threw it down and grabbed a hammer instead.
He laid no sheet nor put on safety goggles. The hammer broke through the drywall effortlessly.
Miles watched helplessly as large, white fragments of sheetrock fell to the bathroom floor.
“Yup, you’ve got some mold.” Mumbled Smith as he shined a flashlight into the hole in the wall.
“Yes.” Smith looked over at him. “Look.”
Miles lazily got up, walked to the bathroom and stooped over to see a nasty strain of black mold growing throughout the interior of the wall.
“What do we do?”
“I’ll do it.” Smith offered a small smile. “Don’t worry.”
“No, I want to help.”
“That’s fine, I got it.”
“Whatever. I’m not paying you either. Breakfast was enough.”
“No need to may me.”
Smith twisted the hammer to the claw side and proceeded to rip out the drywall chunks that clung to the nails.
“Yeah…I saw the stained trim but I didn’t think anything needed to be done about it yet.” Miles said.
Smith laughed. “Seriously? There’s water stains on the paneling under the sink, indicative of mold.” He shook his head, still chuckling, and continued removing the drywall. “Besides,” he added, “if you knew what you were doing, you would know that I was doing this wrong.”
Miles nervously rubbed his head, put on his shoes and left the house to get the morning paper. He welcomed the outside air. He lingered long at the mailbox, gazing around the landscape, and slowly paced back to the house, buying time. He delayed some more by standing on the front porch to read the entire front page of the paper. Then, he heard something inside that surprised him: silence.
He opened the door, with new curiosity, to see Smith standing at his bedroom door, staring into his bedroom.
“Your nightstand.” Smith said.
Nightstand? “What about it?” He thought about the framed picture of his late wife next to his alarm clock. Besides the alarm clock, a tissue box and an empty cup, the picture was the only thing of significance.
Smith turned to Miles. His face had lost its original luster. “Is that your wife?”
I’m not talking about this.
“Did she die?”
“What happened to the child?”
Miles shuffled his feet and pointed to the bathroom. “How do I get rid of the mold?”
“Where is he now?”
“If you need supplies I’ll head to town.” Miles turned to the key-hook.
Miles grabbed the car keys and paused at the doorway with his back to Smith. “He’s with another family now, adopted.”
“Ever wonder how things might be different?”
“I’ll get the stuff for drywall. If you need tools, there’s some in the garage.”
“You thought you couldn’t raise him?”
“You think it’s wrong to be happy, don’t you?”
Miles was silent and remained motionless.
“You think, somehow, you don’t deserve love.”
Not today. Not now. “OK. Time to go.” Miles turned and pointed out the door while staring at the floor.
Smith dragged his feet over to the counter and silently began to put his tools away.
Miles left through the door, distancing himself. He trudged to the backyard through the grass and dew. Something inside broke and bounced around, trying to get out. He placed his head against a maple tree with his hands grasping the trunk. He closed his eyes and focused on the smooth bark but couldn’t stop the images from bubbling up.
Memories of that day returned. He saw his wife smile at their son for the first time. He remembered how hard the labor was for her, but as she looked at their firstborn she didn’t seem to mind the pain. She said something about his nose when the doctor muttered something about the placenta.
Miles halted the next memories before they raced out, just like he had done for years, keeping them in the darkest recesses. He knew if he let them out now they would be poignant as the day they were created.
He opened his eyes; the maple tree was quivering from the tears. He lingered at the tree for a moment, staring off at nothing. Birds sang with occasional pauses and the breeze came and went, but Miles walked around the lawn until his shoes and socks were soaked with dew. He was relieved to see Smith gone. He then went inside–with less peace than when Smith was there.
A small piece of paper with scribbled black words laid on the counter:
Your son’s adoptive parents lost custody. If you decide to go through with this, give me a call and I’ll explain everything and we can take the next step…or you can stay put and I’ll never bother you again. But please remember, you’re a father and you can’t change that. You don’t deserve to be unloved–neither does your son.
Smith S. Smith
He stared at the paper, then let it blur away as his vision went blank. He didn’t think about anything; he just let whatever it was inside bounce around again.
He bit his lip and went to his bedroom. His body felt heavy, as if his instincts were telling him to stop. He found his cellphone, labored back to the counter, and drew up the keypad on the screen. He closed his eyes and exhaled to ease the bouncing inside. The weight of the impending pain tempted him to resist, but he didn’t care about that anymore. He opened his eyes and dialed the number.