By Luke Wiget
Wilson Willowdell shaved his face. He was naked at the mirror and his mustache kit lay open in front of him. Strapped inside were two black brushes and a pair of small, sharp scissors. He worked the scissors to his thin, dark mustache, taking off just a shade. When he was finished it was even and good. You could not have drawn it on any straighter than he cut it. It was Sunday, the only day that Wilson cooked for himself alone. On other days he attended the ancient skillet at the diner. He cooked slowly but not many complained. His French toast saved him from any real criticism. The toast was fluffy and light as new snow.
He ladled water around the sink with his hands until the shavings were gone and reached for his robe on the hook of the door and walked into the bedroom where he stepped into his slippers. He smoothed the blankets on the bed and straightened his alarm clock where its hands stirred on the nightstand. He closed his closet door. As Wilson completed his rounds he pictured the parts of his day so that he could see them separately and also as one. He envisioned his meals the way certain people prepare an outfit before donning it. Pressed coffee, then to the porch to see that there was seed in the birdfeeder. And then biscuits and gravy and more coffee and eggs and pancakes and bacon and the dishes done before noon and a nap after that.
He stopped the water just before the kettle blew and poured a few fingers’ worth atop the coffee grounds until they blossomed to almost golden. Then the rest of the water for two-and-a-half minutes. While the timer wound to zero Wilson looked out the kitchen window, so thin it was, that he could hear the finishing-end of the snowstorm. He listened to the snow fall. It sounded like far-off lake waves. His mug was by the press and was clean and white and waiting.
On the porch the feeder was full. Not many birds this late in winter. He breathed in and the coffee and the snow and all of it filled his great stomach. The trees were spangled with snow. So was the drive and somewhere beneath that the main road. It all shone. It was winter. The spangled everything. It was a new year. The bacon waited. Wilson Willowdell smiled into his mug. The thin mustache straightened.
From a couple steps down he saw, cutting through the middle of the quarter-mile drive, from the porch on until the bend, a set of retreating footprints. His son Gabriel’s no doubt. Come down from the neighbors’ where he lived with a man and woman whose kids were away at college. Gabriel had lived half his thirty years without a mother. She was gone by a car crash. The son had traveled and earned half a degree in too many subjects for any of it to count in Wilson’s mind. Now Gabriel dropped by and drank Wilson’s scotch on the porch and used the cordless phone until the batteries were spent. Just a halfway prodigal son because he never left enough for it to seem as if he had returned. Gabriel lingered. Wilson never asked his son where the crash happened or how fast or anything at all because it didn’t matter. He knew his scotch was gone. But none of the other usual signs were there. No empty glass on the handrail or butts on the steps. Wilson sighed and sipped his coffee and walked off of the steps into the new snow.
He crouched to inspect the impressions and quickly stood back up and straightened his robe. The heft of his stomach pushed out as evenly as meat within the casing of a sausage.
He looked out for a while until his coffee was gone. He ran his hand over his face feeling for wayward hairs, any out of tune with the rest. There were one or two. The snow penetrated his slippers. What he wanted was to trim the hairs. And the bacon waited. And he could see now that next to his foot the tracks were too small to be a man’s. They were more a woman’s. But no matter, he thought. Whether of ghosts or of the son or just shadows among all that bright, they would be whited out in one hour’s time. He walked back in.
This story was initially published in Issue 9 of H.O.W. Journal.