In February, I survived a devastating car accident. It was quite the affair, the whole shebang. Light at the end of the tunnel, life flashing before my eyes, clinically dead for thirty seconds, seeing Death himself, everything. They tell me I’m lucky to be alive, even luckier that I only sustained simple fractures in my legs, though the bruises on my face will take time to fade and there may be some short-term memory loss. My heart stopped, but they started it back up again. The guy behind me was fishing for his phone and not paying attention. He plowed into me. My back seat was in the front seat and me? I was just lucky. I lived.
In March, I attend physical therapy. My legs creak as I maneuver on crutches and my head aches. I have bad dreams and am afraid to ride in cars. Steve tells me I’m useless, that I’m using everything as an excuse to be a lazy slob and get him to take care of me.
“You’re taking advantage of me,” he says, among many other less savory things. I am not brave enough to tell him to move out, nor mention the two years he’d been out of work while I paid all the bills. If I do, he might run to Mother, and then I’d have to hear all about how if I’m not able to land a spouse, I can at least make myself useful by “helping my poor brother out”.
The aspirin bottle stays filled. For that I am grateful. I take more than I should and chase it with some sleep aids and sometimes a shot of tequila. Together they help me sleep and sometimes even chase the bad dreams away.
In April, the headaches subside. Steve disappears with some woman he meets down at the local pub. He’ll be back, full of reasons to blame the failed relationship on her. But in the meantime, I enjoy the quiet apartment and clean bathroom. I return to work, sign contracts, and attend board meetings without dreading going home at the end of the day. I clean up the get-well flowers that have been arriving, some from work, some from friends, and some from neither. A few more bouquets arrive even after I’ve recovered. Azaleas, my favorite.
By the time May rolls around I feel brave enough to drive again. I get behind the wheel and try to breathe as cold sweat covers my neck. I try to drive to work every day, which is thankfully reasonably close to home and avoiding the freeway only adds fifteen minutes to the commute. My father calls asking for money. He might have been in a pub, or jail, or half-passed out in an alley. It’s difficult for me to tell.
“Come on, kid,” he slurs. “I know you got some cash to spare. You got that big, fancy corporate job. Help your old man out.”
I point out that I only just recovered from an accident, have a lawsuit I am still fighting with the man who hit me, and am still paying Steve’s student loans from three different degrees he didn’t finish. Dad calls me a bitch and hangs up, but calls back the next day to ask again, as if the previous day’s conversation never happened. I send him the last thousand dollars in my savings account. That afternoon, the deli calls to confirm delivery of my favorite triple-chocolate cheesecake. I didn’t order it, but I accept it.
In June, an email arrives that simply reads “Coffee?” Unfortunately, it’s followed by one from Steve asking for money, claiming he and “Honey” can’t make rent. He’s punctual – he knows when my paychecks are deposited. I sit on it for a day, which earns me a screaming phone call from my mother. I send Steve his money and nurse four shots of whisky, then reply to the first email “Sorry, not now.”
In July, I get flowers again. Sunflowers this time, my other favorite. They come with a simple card filled with kind well-wishes, and ends with “I am patient.”
Steve returns like a drunken whirlwind in August. I leave for work one day and return home to him snoring on the couch, a bottle of beer laying on its side at his feet, dribbling liberally onto the carpet I nearly threw out my back cleaning with a rented steam cleaner. I sigh and go to my room to find he has already sifted through it searching for cash. After re-folding and putting away my socks and undergarments, I find my secret cash stash has been moved from its usual spot under the mattress, where Steve had already searched, to inside the cover of my ceiling light.
The next day Steve declares he is sore with all women and is resolved to focus on his education and finally get his career on track. To do so, of course, he will need money to enroll in university. I suggest the community college is cheaper and narrowly dodge a beer bottle heading for my face.
September brings me a lottery ticket that arrives in the mail. It wins a hefty five thousand dollars. Steve heads to Vegas for a weekend with Honey, whom he recently reconciled with and declared to be the love of his life. I try to get my money back for the four classes he had signed up for and find I must lose twenty percent of cost due to late withdrawal.
A text hits my phone in October.
Coffee on Halloween?
I chuckle and reply.
Do you even have a costume?
The response comes quickly.
I don’t need one.
I hover my finger over the keys. In the next room, I hear Steve and Mindy — the rebound from Honey and new love of his life — screaming at each other. I sigh.
Halloween rolls around and I correctly guess that the night devolves into a wild party, too much to drink, raucous lovemaking, then followed by a fistfight that I call the cops to break up. On the plus side, that’s the end of Mindy, who I’m pretty sure was stealing from both Steve and I.
November brings freezing rain with it. A gift package arrives with a sturdy new umbrella, just in time for Steve and I to arrive at our mother and her new boyfriend’s flat for Thanksgiving dinner. I pick at my kale salad and say nothing while mother praises Steve for his “brilliant initiative” of going back to school. I don’t mention that he hasn’t been to class in so long that he doesn’t even know I cancelled his classes.
He finds out in December, and I earn another screaming phone call from my mother for “undermining” and “sabotaging” him. Meanwhile, he has managed to find my cash stash and takes his girl — not Honey or Mindy — on another holiday. My phone pings again with “Coffee?” as I sit by the rain-streaked window pondering my existence and drowning my sorrows with the dregs leftover in various liquor bottles. I turn it down and the next day a bag of premium coffee beans arrive at my door.
In January, I work up the courage to tell Steve to move out or start paying bills and he busts my lip. I look up apartment listing on my phone and run budgets for supporting two apartments on my salary while waiting for my turn to be stitched up.
“Hello? Are you there?”
I must have blacked out for a moment. The voice on the phone calls out to me again. My fingers are shaking. “I’m sorry, I’m here. Could you say that again?”
“We need you to come I.D. the body down at the city morgue. Please arrive by 6pm with a photo I.D. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Identifying Steve does not turn out to be difficult. His face is still mostly intact though the same cannot be said for the rest of him. He was driving erratically in the rain, they said, dashing between large transport trucks, one of which skidded off the road just as he was trying to squeeze past. His blood alcohol level was through the roof. I look down at his mangled body and try to sort out my feelings. Mother might kill herself with grief, I think. Father might even shed a tear or two. The coroner lays a hand on my shoulder to comfort me and I politely brush him off. He asks if I need some time alone, and I tell him I want to go home, then do just that.
When I walk inside, he’s sitting at my kitchen table.
“I thought you were patient,” I say, laying the umbrella he gave me next to my wet shoes.
“There is a limit to patience,” he replies.
“Doesn’t this break the rules?”
He shrugs. “His time was coming. I merely sped it up a bit.”
“By how much?”
“Twenty years, give or take.”
I drop my bag and jacket on the couch and head to the kitchen, where I open the cabinets and sift through their contents. “You look different.”
He looks down at himself. He looks good. I like the suit vest better than the black robes, and he fills it out well despite being mostly bones. “I went casual.”
“And the scythe?”
“You said it made you nervous. Plus it’s mostly decorative.”
“You knew I’d like this look,” I say, taking out the bag of coffee beans he sent for Christmas. “Same way you know about all the other things I like.”
“I watched your whole life when we met, remember?”
“All in the second it flashed before my eyes.”
“I have a good memory.” He tilts his head thoughtfully. “Are you displeased?”
“All of it. Any of it. Steve.”
“I didn’t say that.” I set the beans next to the grinder. “One sugar or two?”