The old man always seemed one step away from death. Like the next one would claim him, the reaper mawing at his heels would finally snag a bony ankle and drag him to the underworld. You always thought that it was the strict adherence to routine that kept him alive, as was common with many of the Japanese men you knew from work at the marketplace. Twelve-hour days on his feet allowed for the appearance of togetherness. But watching him closely, as you did, as you could not avoid, you began to notice the wiring starting to loosen. When you saw him in the morning, his first words would fail to materialize—out came only a cough filmed with gruel, some undiscovered mucus that covered his openings like cheesecloth. When he reached low for something, you’d see the stall, the contemplation, as if his joints and muscles were saying, “No. You will not get up from this.”
Today you saw him skittering across the iced parking lot before your shift. His ears latched with muffs, a nude herringbone shawl sarcophagizing his hollowed cheekbones. Oversized khakis flopping around in the breeze, emphasizing the diaper silhouette around his puff-pastry of an ass. Most mornings, though, he would be there well before you arrived, his car parked pell-mell in the tundra of the parking lot. You always wondered why he decided to sleeve his steering wheel in leopard print. Those times he invited you in the car, perhaps after a shift while you both waited for the windows to defrost, you would focus all your thoughts on the steering wheel, trying to shake the image of the mottled hands clutching it. To reach over and peel the cover off, to throw it in a slush puddle, to hide it from him, to burn it to ash. The thoughts circulate without end. Wait patiently. Wait until he leaves the window down or the door unlocked. You will get your chance. You absolutely will.
His boss had scrubbed away most of his assignments when he returned to work the following week, but Charlie was glad to be back to it, in the way that his mind became occupied by the letters and words and sentences of his editing. It was enough to sustain his appetite, but not enough to overwhelm it, like pasta salad in July to his post-funeral palate. There came a preternatural effortlessness to his editing now that he had one less reason to go home; it was like his brain was ready to welcome any tool necessary to forget. He excelled through his first two assignments, inquired his boss for additional work, until he was the most productive in the office, bar none.
But the workday could only last so long, and their home was just that — theirs. There was no separating where Levent’s belongings began and Charlie’s ended. And it didn’t help there were so many things to begin with. Their friends knew them as the packrats of the group, each inherently unable to let go of the bric-a-brac that accumulated seemingly overnight, the kind of people you would ask if you wanted to spend a day trying to make pasta, because, and it was almost a guarantee, Levent and Charlie would have a once-used pasta maker lying around somewhere.
A month after the funeral, Charlie was still confronted by ghosts of his boyfriend each morning. These confrontations started small — harmless, sugarcoated memories — like when he would notice one of Levent’s thick, dark hairs on the brush and think, “Oh, that’s right, he’s…” But then the day would wear Charlie away to almost nothing, down to memories that would pulsate through his mind while he stood motionless in the various spots of their home they had never inhabited together, tucked away behind the stove he had shoved away from the wall, or beyond the closed door of the hallway linen closet, trying to eradicate every wiry, steelwool hair from the carpeted floor. Then, in those dark, forgotten places, the rest of the thought would materialize. “Oh, that’s right. He’s dead. Levent is dead and you will never see him again.”