The day after Harry died, I bought cats.
The pet shop lady looked at me like I was deranged. Her name was Martha.
‘You want thirty cats!?’
‘I’m sorry you want T-H-I-R-T-Y as in three times ten cats!?’
‘Are they all for you?’
She gave me the once-over. Mid-length brown hair, simple white T-shirt, faded blue jeans – fairly average, not pretty but not ugly and incredibly normal. I wasn’t old. I wasn’t a crazy cat lady. She eyed me suspiciously.
‘Any specific breed?’
‘You want ALL the thirty cats to be Siamese?’
Martha was bewildered. Nevertheless, she whipped out a contract, soI scrawled down ‘E. Johnson’. Then she named a price – and without flinching, I flashed out my credit card.
I stepped out of the pet store feeling oddly liberated. Its not every day that you buy thirty cats that are specifically Siamese.
* * *
The day after Harry died, I ate a sandwich.
‘It’s just not right’
‘What’s just not right?’
‘The lettuce is soggy and the bread is stale. Also, there’s too much mustard which overpowers everything and the tomato tastes funny’
‘Really? You know I really don’t mind it Mr. Johnson I think…’
‘No, I don’t like it’ I interrupted
Silence hung in the air. My colleague continued to eat her sandwich with the soggy lettuce and the stale bread and the funny tomato. I could feel the eyes of the other people in the café boring into me. I could hear their thoughts – why is he just sitting there? Why is he not eating his sandwich.
Their questions whispered in my ears, slowly building up into a crescendo… until it was at an unbearable decibel – my head pounding with criticisms, my ears ringing with judgments.
I couldn’t take it anymore. My chair screeched as I furiously got up and made my way out of the café.
‘Was the sandwich really that bad!?’ I heard faintly as I slammed the door shut.
* * *
The day after Harry died, I joined the gym.
‘Are you sure you don’t require any assistance sir?’
‘Please sir, all our staff are fully trained and have achieved gold status in accordance with the national fitness education standards’
‘That is quite an achievement’
‘Yes Mr. Johnson, it is. So they will happily and VERY professionally assist you with your training’
‘I said I’m positive’
We silently seethed at each other. She had played by the rules of how-to-treat-old-people-so-you-seem-politically-correct and we both knew I had won.
‘Well please call if you would like any help’
‘It is impressive for a man of your age to be so focused on your fitness’
I heaved onto the cycling machine. The man on my right looked like the Hulk, except not green. The man on my left looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his body building years.They both looked at me like I was a martian.
Eventually, they got bored of staring at me and resumed their cycling. We all looked straight ahead – silently watching the Oprah re-run that was playing on TV.
I pedaled slowly but rhythmically… right, left… right, left. It was a pattern both tedious yet strangely comforting.
* * *
On Christmas Eve, the Johnson’s have a family dinner. It is a rule, a custom steeped in the Johnson family tradition – it happens every year and there is always chicken and it is always delicious.
The Johnson’s gathered around the table, doing what they do on every Christmas Eve Dinner –piling potatoes and pouring wine and complementing Mrs. Johnson for her wonderful chicken.
As Mr. Johnson passed the gravy, he commented, ‘I think we’re all coping well without Harry’
‘Yeah’ everyone chorused in reply.