The Day After Paradise

Jen Dunn

Yesterday we saw Paradise – one of its coffee shops. Rich wood floors and sunset orange walls. Artwork on display: fine-lined, personified trees. We were at the table in the kitchen. Waving, blowing kisses, all talking at once. Then the kid left to play, and it was only the screen and the two of us, just looking, silent and grinning, and suddenly shy. Cruise ship passengers wandered past the open windows. “We’re back at sea tonight,” said the voice we miss in our house. “I’ll email you tonight.”

In the dark of the morning I pull the phone under the covers, and it glows. No email. The heater clicks, turning on, and as I stretch I hear, “Mommy!” He calls from his room, through the door and down the hall. “Is it time to get up?” I roll to the other side of the bed, onto the cool, unwrinkled sheets. I breathe for a moment, and push up.

It’s nothing; he was busy. Through the blinds, there’s new snow on everything, and the darkness is lifting. “Mommmmmmy!” I check again, then put the phone on the dresser, walk down the hall. We’ve been lucky. Planes came from Russia, buzzing low over his ship. In Haiti, he felt the aftershocks I saw on the news. Then he came home. He’ll come home this time, too.

Breakfast, followed by an hour of dinosaurs and racetracks. Check again. Bundle up in coats and hats and little mittens that keep falling off. Two shovels: a big one and a smaller one made of red plastic. Both get to work.

When the car is free we go to the grocery store. Get a cookie. Don’t get a roast because who would eat it? Get a roast because of all the leftovers, and I won’t have to cook again for days. The cashier smiles and hands over a black and white picture that will soon be plastered with every color of crayon. I think of the phone, lying in my purse. Back in the car, the heater blasting, I pull it out.

Nothing from him, but our play date has cancelled. We go to the mall and I put a dollar into the mechanical car that rumbles and shakes and makes the kid squeal. We leave with a sweater I’ll probably return and a larger pair of mittens. Beside the sliding doors we zip up, and the cold seeps off the shoppers walking past us on their way inside. I check again before we step out, smile for the kid’s sake, and hold his hand while we trudge through the parking lot.

Half a pizza left on the table; the roast in the freezer, still in its shopping bag. We curl up on the couch and watch a video. No email before bath time. No email after. None at lights out.

I stop checking in the quiet hours, willing away the thought that he’s been hurt, or he doesn’t care. He’s doing his job, and I’m doing mine. I promised I’d wait, and I will.

More snow tonight, just starting to fall. Looking out through the blinds, I think of Paradise, the white beach I glimpsed over his shoulder. In bed, I reach for the phone one last time. Long day today, but a good day, says the email. Sorry, comms were down. With a smile, I close my eyes. I see little cheeks, rosy from the cold, and sleeves smeared with pizza sauce. I hear bright laughter. Yes, it was a long day, but a good day. Tomorrow, when I send my answer, I’ll tell him all about it.