On the mantel in the living room rests a huge set of photographs in frames, the big porcelain urn which holds Butterfield the Dog and the tiny copper box with the enamel bluebird on top which holds a tiny bit of Jake. (Cole is not here-here. His ashes are in the Atlantic.)
Every morning I go and greet them, the photographs and ashes and I touch my fingers to my lips and then I touch them lightly along all of the pictures and the box and the urn too and sometimes it takes longer and sometimes it's very fast and never do I have company until this morning when Ben stood silently in the archway leading into the living room watching me as I went about my ritual, only I didn't realize it was a ritual until I turned around and saw him and he asked what I was doing and then I realized I do it every single morning the moment I come downstairs dressed and ready for my day.
Nothing, I say.
That is not nothing. He walks into the room and surveys the mantle. He puts two and two together and makes eight. He looks down at me.
You've made an altar.
Jake doesn't believe in those.
Jake is gone, Bridget.
Not necessarily. I am cross and not ready for the third degree or any sort of discussion about what I know and what I think and what I've been told.
But Ben is smarter than your average bear and he grinds the whole discussion to a halt and changes direction just enough so that I am instantly lost and depending on him to find the way back for both of us, breadcrumbs dropped along the path that we will later follow home.
You know what's missing? Music. Your ritual should include one of his favorite songs.
I turn around and realize the crumbs are gone, eaten by the birds. Night has fallen and now we'll never get back.
I'm not permitted to listen to songs that remind me of Jake. I tell him this woodenly as if he's never heard this before. Ben does not believe in this. Jake taught me this when Cole died. That sometimes you put the songs that remind you of someone away and then you bring them back out when you are stronger.
Sure you are. You know this, bee. It doesn't make it worse. Maybe it might help.
It might hurt, too.
Yeah, it might hurt.
What do you mean?
What happens when it hurts?
I'll hold on to you.
So you want to try it?
No, not now.
Maybe later? Or tomorrow morning?
Maybe. My words are shaped like apologies but they bounce off Ben like coins. He won't be offended by my inability to be polite.
What did you mean by 'not necessarily?' Did Caleb say something to you?
Did he say something to you?
No, I haven't talked to him in a couple days. But if he's playing games again, I'll go talk to him now.
But right now the only thing I want is for Ben to stay put and so I pick up his hand. It's huge and warm and smooth and he has callouses on the pads of his fingers from playing and his nails are stained with blackberry juice from picking berries with me for jam and I kiss the back of his hand and ask him to have some breakfast with me. He slides his arm around my ribcage, pulling me close and asking me what I want for breakfast.
Cake, if we have any left. There were five birthday cakes paraded through the house in the past week and a half. FIVE. If heaven exists, the menu just says cake. Guaranteed.
We can bring our cake back and leave some as offering to the memory of the great Zero the Hero, if you want.
Don't be an asshole, Ben.
Yes, ma'am. Sorry ma'am. He bursts out laughing. I can't help it. I remember a cake story you told me once.
You only remember the dirty stories don't you?
Hell, yes. Those are the best ones.