To Hal, the coffee tasted like dusty, drab earth.
His tongue could not forget that flavor, familiar since childhood, when his brother would shove his face into the ground during tackle football and not let him up to breathe for years and years. He was pretty sure he still had dirt in his lungs, and in his stomach, and in all of his body. Forever one with the earth. He coughed, to be sure.
No dirt came out.
Despite the coffee’s taste, it was warm and necessary on this blistering morning. Wearing pj’s and a robe, he shuffled over to the top of the driveway and watched the plows roll through his desolate neighborhood, snow piles blooming higher, drifts exploding in the morning wind.
None of the other houses had residents to stand outside. They were all filled with young families and children who would wait until the afternoon sunshine to come outside and play. No school today.
The days of shoveling and building forts and ice weaponry were long in Hal’s past, but those memories provided him some small, warm comfort this morning.
When he’d awoken to the news that Steve had died, Hal just hugged himself and didn’t say a word. He just hung up on Alice and that was that. He’d have to apologize to her, maybe at the Wake. They’d reached the age where this was going to happen more and more. Just like his twenties, when friends were getting married, or his thirties, when friends were having babies, or his sixties, when friends were retiring.
Time would never stop, and neither would common habits.
He finished his coffee and went inside to sit by the fire place and warm his hands. The next few days would be sad, but emotions would remain easy. He’d have to comfort Alice, remind her of the good old days, and the fact that she and Steve had been high-school sweethearts. She probably hadn’t forgotten, obviously, but sometimes it helps. Then he’d have to find a way to make it to the funeral amid all of the snow, and then buy a nice gift for her, then put on his suit again, his tailored suit that just became more worn with each passing year.
Hal looked forward to the day when he could buy a new suit and actually wear it, to feel presentable, like he’d actually “made it” in his life.
Eventually, he did wear a new suit.
And the earth still tasted like earth.