I felt empty, queasy. "I could use a cup of coffee. How about you?"
"Yes!" She smiled at me, then let loose of Dad’s hand and, as had long been her habit when anticipating a welcome happening, pressed the palms of her hands together chest-high and patty-caked. "Do you want a little something in it?"
I knew she meant whiskey, this woman who made no habit of imbibing. As his wife of fifty-four years, she undoubtedly felt a stronger need than I did for a shot of something to bolster her psyche. "No, thanks," I said. "But you go ahead." I smiled back.
Nervous giggles accompanied us to the kitchen. I fixed the coffee pot. Mom got a step-stool and reached a whiskey bottle down from the top shelf of the cooler.
While the coffee percolated, I called the funeral home where my father’s burial arrangements had already been made. I learned when they would come pick up his body, then called my siblings with the news.
The aroma of fresh coffee drew Mom and me back to the kitchen. I took two cups from the cupboard and poured, sliding the first one towards her. She poured a little whiskey into it, then capped the bottle when I refused it again.
* * *Dad’s funeral was held on Wednesday, June 3, 1987. I held my breath as the casket emerged from the back of the hearse and Mike took his place as one of six pallbearers, having graciously agreed when my mother had asked him. Slowly, they crossed the pavement toward the meadow-like cemetery. I gasped when Mike tripped on the curbing, nearly losing his hold on the brass rail of the casket. Somehow he regained his balance without creating an incident.
Following the graveside services and a gathering at my folks’ house, we went home after making sure someone would stay with Mom that night.
Mike went to work the next morning, June 4, 1987, his 52nd birthday. I drove out to check on Mom, to help with the paperwork she must do now that Dad was gone. It was a long day, and I got home barely before Mike did.
"Well, guess what?" He greeted me at the top of the stairs.
"I got a birthday present at work this afternoon." He wasn’t smiling. I couldn’t tell whether he was about to joke or reveal a gift.
"Yep. Ed Coleman, head of the drafting department, called me into his office after lunch. He told me that because I wasn’t doing well with the computer stuff and physically didn’t qualify to work in the field any longer, I’d have to apply for a medical retirement or be out of a job as of December 31st."
Oh, dear God. My brain ran wild for a few seconds, then realized that Mike stood waiting for my reaction. "I’m sorry, honey. Never rains but it pours, huh?"
"Guess so." He pulled some papers from his inside jacket pocket and tossed them on the kitchen counter. "There’s the application for the medical retirement. I need to fill it out and return it to him as soon as possible. Also, he said I should apply for Social Security Disability, but there’s no guarantee we’ll be awarded either one. I’ll have to undergo whatever medical testing is required, and then wait several months before we learn the outcome. He thinks I might have enough vacation and sick leave days saved up to cover two or three months of paychecks." He raised both hands, covering his face for a moment, then slid them down and off his chin. Anguish revealed.
"So, do you still go to work tomorrow?"
"Yep. Don’t know why. I’m probably not good enough to empty the trash!"
"Don’t depress yourself more, Mike. Something will work out—we’ll just take it one day at a time for a while."
"Got any dinner planned?" He looked around the kitchen.
"I haven’t started any yet—got home from Mom’s just ahead of you. Want to grab a hamburger somewhere?"
"I’d rather have a drink!"
"Okay," I agreed, although I’d rather he didn’t, but I had more interest in getting him fed than starting a battle. "How about the Chinese place?"
* * *We walked into the dimly lit Chinese restaurant and selected a high-back booth. Mike ordered a bourbon and Seven from the cocktail waitress. I politely refused.
He received his drink, paid the waitress for it, then took a sip and relaxed into the booth with a low, audible sigh.
Our food server delivered a pot of hot tea and two cups, then took our order. I poured for us both, sliding one cup across the table to Mike. "We’ve got to talk about what we might need to do."
"Yep." He sipped his bourbon and Seven again. "Got any ideas?"
"Not right this minute. Finances concern me the most. We’ll probably need to sell the house … find a cheaper place."
"Yep. One thing for sure if we do—I want to get out of King County!"
"How come?" I took a sip of my tea.
"I’m sick and tired of it—the politics at work, the conniving contractors, the traffic … everything! I want to get away from it all—move somewhere north, like Mount Vernon."
"Okay with me. We’d better start a list." I fished a pen from my purse, pulled the placemat out from under my bowl of noodles, and began to write on it, reciting aloud as I did. "House... income…"
"Hold it!" Mike held up his hand. "Speaking of income … Coleman said he wants to see us both in his office next week. He’s going to work out the specifics of how much my medical retirement pay would be, and how much vacation and sick time I have left that can be used in place of workdays to fill out the year. He’ll let me know what day and time."
The waitress came with our dinners—prawns, fried rice and chow yuk for Mike. Chicken noodles for me. "Anything else?" She asked before leaving our table.
"Another bourbon and Seven," Mike answered.
"Yes, Sir," she said, and left.
I picked up my pen again. "Okay. I’ll add ‘meeting’ to the top of my list."
The cocktail waitress delivered Mike’s second bourbon and Seven. He flipped a five dollar bill onto her tray. She gave him some change, and we continued to speculate about our unknown future between bites of dinner.
The buzzards of old soon joined the foreboding thoughts in my brain, their ominous cries diffusing my concentration until I saw the cocktail waitress heading our way again. I stared her in the eye, gently shaking my head, "no." She acknowledged with a nod of her own, then turned to visit a different table.