I don’t know why the liverwurst made me think of my husband. When I took it out of the fridge, I was really looking forward to one of my favorite sandwiches–Swiss and liverwurst on white toast, with mayo. As the bread browned, I noticed three tiny dark spots on the top slice of meat. My thumbnail quickly and easily removed them, but that led me to sniff the slice. It smelled OK, but not great. A cautious taste resulted in my dropping all the liverwurst into the trash.
“Darn, I did it again, hon,” I said to my husband. “I kept the liverwurst just a little too long, and now it’s no good.” He didn’t say anything, of course. He died last year. But I still tell him lots of things. I really wish he would answer, or send a sign, even a little one, especially when I have to wrestle with issues alone.
“Use it or lose it is the old saying. All those things that have gone bad, all the new clothes that shrank or got discolored. I was saving them for some special occasion, and then I had to throw them out or get rid of them. Nothing lasts forever. When will I ever learn?” It wasn’t a bad thing that he remained silent; in life he had never been good at recognizing when a question was strictly rhetorical.
“And while I’m at it, how come you never taught me anything about the stuff you always handled? Now I go around asking people for referrals, information, advice about a million things, like fixing toilets or what to do when the phone says New message. Press Play. There is no button that says Play! But the robocalls keep coming. I even get them in Chinese! And I don’t know a single Chinese curse word to say before I hang up on them.”
No response, not even a teeny tiny sign, so I dealt with the immediate problem of lunch myself. As it turned out, peanut butter and jelly made a very enjoyable substitute for the dearly departed liverwurst. “Yum! Haven’t had a PB&J sandwich in years.”
I started a grocery list, with liverwurst as the first item, and went on with my one-sided conversation. “Okay, so lunch was easy, but what about the bigger problems? The super is helpful, you say? Sure, but he’s not always around. Our neighbors are very nice, but the husband is ill and they’re always running to doctors, never home. You know, like what we went through.”
The Swiss cheese was as old as the liverwurst had been. I threw it out and added it to my shopping list. “You can see everything from up there, so you know who I’ve turned to, who’s been here for me, and who’s not. And you’re not surprised by any of it, are you?”
Unable to decide whether to get iced tea or apple cider, I wrote both down on my list. “Don’t need soda, that’s for sure. I still have tons of cans of your damn diet soda in the closet. They were so bad for you, with all those chemicals, but you said What does it matter now anyway? I had no answer for that, so I made sure we were well stocked with the stuff. Now that you’re gone, I keep giving cans away to the service people who come and do things around the house that you used to do.”
I checked up on paper goods. Didn’t need any. I returned to my soliloquy. “My biggest surprise was when 90-year-old Frieda drove up from Pennsylvania that first night you were gone. Took her five hours, because she always insists on driving through Manhattan and never listens to her GPS. She was the only one I could even think of spending those first hours with. And she was just the right person to go with me to the funeral home the next day–unemotional, practical, logical.
“I know you didn’t care at all when she helped me go through your clothes and bag them for donation. And I know you didn’t mind that I kept a few of your favorite shirts and the jacket you wore when we first kissed.”
I checked the levels in the milk bottle and juice container. Neither one was low enough to make it to my list. “You are not surprised by this lady, a cousin by marriage only, coming up to New York for me, but aren’t you just a teensy bit surprised by our first cousins, both of them?
“You always told me Betty is useless, and boy, were you right! That self-centered Italian-American princess called you for every little thing for years, until the day you had to tell her you were too sick to be at her beck and call any more. We didn’t hear from her much after that, did we? And she’s never called once since you left. You know what, dear? She’s going to join the liverwurst.”
I took a carton of eggs out of the fridge and slammed it down on the counter. None broke, but the eggs were way past their expiration date. I cracked one open in the sink, just to check before ditching the whole dozen.
Thick slime oozed out of the shell, the yolk a deep orange with brown spots. I washed the mess down the drain, put the carton into the garbage, and wrote dozen eggs on the list.
“Too bad I can’t chuck my own cousin with that stinky egg! Marie showed up late at the memorial, already drunk, talked to no one, and left soon after getting here. She never even said good-bye. I love how she left a message a month later, wondering why I no longer sent her email jokes.”
The hamburger patties in the freezer predated my husband’s death. “Guess it’s time, guys,” I said as they joined the liverwurst, cheese and eggs in the trash. “Sorry, I know you liked those patties, but they were even older than the eggs. Don’t worry, though–there’s still plenty of diet soda.”I turned to the pantry. The top drawer held assorted soups, crackers and chips. Checking “Best if used by” dates on the cans, boxes, and bags, I dropped a 2-year-old bag of potato chips in the garbage. “I should probably taste that dip in the fridge, come to think of it.” It passed inspection.
The second drawer held baking goods, including an almost-full, rock-solid bag of brown sugar. “Could you maybe send an arrow or something to show me where the terra cotta bear thing is that softens brown sugar?” I asked. He declined to do so; I chucked the bag and wrote brown sugar on my lengthening list.
The cans of Spam in the third drawer stumped me for a time, until I decided to start a bag of nonperishables. “There’s a local food drive this weekend, so I’ll lug them over. I’ve never even tasted this stuff, and I’m sure not starting now,” I said, happy to make more pantry space available and not have another item for my list or the almost-full garbage bag.
I moved on to the bedroom closet. “Here’s your favorite t-shirt, hon, with the drunken donkey on the pocket. And the medical equipment that hospice didn’t take back. Too expensive to just throw out; really hope I’ll find someone who can use it. Letting go of the food, and our cousins, was easier. I’m not ready yet for more.” I closed the closet door.
Teary-eyed, I returned to the kitchen, with all its newly empty spaces. “You’ve been about as helpful as those bereavement handouts and articles I got from hospice,” I chided. “All the trees that had to die to make those pages, and they didn’t do anything for me. Except thatone little poem that I really heard, inside. And I did find such a cute wooden frame for it in the recycling room. You wouldn’t believe the great stuff that people throw away!”
I once again reread the lines of my poem:
I have loved.
I have been loved.
The sun has caressed my face.
Life, you owe nothing. Life, we are at peace.
Then I put on my coat, put the grocery list in my bag, and headed for the supermarket. Through the tears that came once I was alone in my car, I wondered, “I’ll fill the shelves again, but what will fill my empty space?”
Terry Riccardi is a philatelist, free-lance editor and inveterate reader. When not creating dark-hued short stories, she can be found trying to bowl a perfect game, collecting stamps, and searching for lost jigsaw puzzle pieces. She hopes to be a world-famous writer when she grows up.