Last Meal

Last Meal

by Simon Hole

There was a time when the apartment had been bright and cheery. Tasselled tie-backs held open the flowery drapes and the sun’s rays bounced off sparkling tiles. Back then, Byron enjoyed standing at the window, feeling the warmth of the sun as he looked out at their little corner of the city; all was right with the world.

These days the drapes were dusty and most often closed. The tiles were grimy and dust bunnies inhabited every corner. Byron seldom looked out at the city anymore. The sun had lost its warmth. His world was no longer right.

Byron didn’t have a favorite day of the week, at least not since Nina walked out the door two years ago and took with her any reason to look forward to weekends. Now Saturdays and Sundays were spent by himself. At first he would occasionally take in a movie, but going alone got old fast. It would seem that Nina had taken all of their friends with her. That and the fact that he’d sit through the entire film thinking about how much he had enjoyed being there with Nina. He seldom remembered anything about the shows he sat through.

Mostly he spent his weekends sitting in the darkened living room playing on-line backgammon, losing three games out of every four. He had had a hard time focusing these past twenty-four months.

Although he didn’t have a favorite day, it was no contest as to which was his least favorite. The one thing he could count on was that of all the miserable days he suffered through, Thursdays would be the worst.

Byron always slept poorly on Wednesday nights. It was one of those chicken or the egg things. Did he lose sleep knowing how crappy the next day was going to be? Or did the lack of a proper night’s sleep cause his Thursdays to descend from his normally miserable days into something so much worse?

It was on a Thursday that Nina left. It started out as a perfectly ordinary day. As usual, he woke up first and ate a quiet breakfast while glancing at the newspaper. As usual, he let Nina know he was leaving for work. And as usual, she woke up just enough to acknowledge him before rolling over. He came home that night to an empty apartment and a note that said simply, “Sorry.”

The second reason Thursdays were so wretched was work related. His job as an accountant for a regional restaurant chain was mostly just boring. But Wednesday was the end of their week and all stores submitted inventory and sales reports by noon on Thursday. Except when a general manager was late. With twenty-eight stores and counting, that happened as often as not. Byron’s job on Thursday was to compile all the reports into one master report. It had to be finished in time for upper management to take it home with them.

So Thursdays were always stressful. Today was worse than usual. He had slept so badly that he hit the snooze button once too often and ended up late getting to work. Then three stores didn’t get their reports in on time and Timpson had been all over him from two o’clock on. “Make sure that report is done in time for me to get to my daughter’s recital.” By the time he left the office, he was so out of sorts that he missed his subway stop and had to walk five blocks back to his apartment. Which, of course, took him past what had been Nina and his favorite restaurant.

He stood a moment looking through the window. It crossed his mind to go in, anything to break up his terrible day, but he knew it was a bad idea. He’d spend the whole time thinking about all the meals they had enjoyed. He didn’t need that reminder of what he had lost.

So instead, he trudged the rest of the way home and prepared his regular Thursday meal. When Nina had first left, Byron subsisted on frozen Lean Cuisine meals every night for a month before he decided that probably wasn’t very healthy. So he had established a meal plan: Monday was fish sticks; Tuesday, take out Chinese; and so on. Thursdays he ate boxed macaroni and cheese.

Sitting at the table with a glass of milk, two slices of bread and a plate of Kraft, he wondered, was real cheese ever that color? He shoveled some in, chewing slowly, trying not to think about the metallic taste that would be left in his mouth.

Instead, he imagined some of the scrumptious meals he and Nina had enjoyed: fish smothered with cream sauces, veal blanketed with Parmesan cheese, golden brown turkeys, piping hot soups.

Expecting magical aromas, he inhaled deeply. With a nose full of macaroni and cheese, he picked up his plate and glass and headed for the garbage disposal, wondering what his ex was eating tonight.

Two steps from the sink, the glass slipped from his fingers. It crashed to the floor, breaking and spilling the remaining milk across the tile. He stood for a moment, staring at the mess, and then, purposefully, he let the plate drop as well. Slowly Byron slumped to the floor till he was sitting in the mess, his back against the cabinets.

Through watery eyes, he stared at the longest shard of broken glass.

◊ ◊ ◊

Simon Hole

Simon Hole lives in rural Rhode Island, USA, where he taught fourth grade for 35 years. While teaching, he wrote and published essays and so-authored a book focused on life in the classroom.  Since retiring in 2011, he has been playing poker, gardening, and writing short fiction.

7 thoughts on “Last Meal

  1. A dreary tale, intentionally so, The title, I think, gives away too much, diminishing the impact of the open ending. Somehow, too, the tragedy is diminished by a failure to make Byron a more attractive character. AGB

    1. Thanks for the comments. Wish I had thought of the title giving away too much, although it really wasn’t supposed to be a surprise ending. The piece about tragedy is interesting. So, because Byron isn’t an attractive character, what happens here, and what is apparently happening next, isn’t a tragedy. Something about that doesn’t seem right, even though, culturally, you are probably spot on. Hum. Thanks for making me think.

      1. Simon, I appreciate your thoughtful response. Here is my point about tragedy: the classic Greek tragedies involved protagonists that were looked up to, and who were brought down by flaw in their character. We don’t need to, and probably shouldn’t be bound by cultural norms, but when the protagonist is someone we look down on, we often laugh at their misfortunes. Think Chaplin. Best, AGB

        1. Absolutely. And yet I can’t help thinking that in the real world it doesn’t matter if the person is someone we look up to or look down on – tragedy is tragedy. Or maybe there is a difference between tragedy and tragic. Anyway, thanks for the conversation.

  2. Although not as downtrodden as Byron, I know the feeling of the long, endless days without one’s love. My wife is gone for a couple of weeks and I’m missing her pretty badly so this resonates with me.

  3. I firstly wanted to kick some life into the wretched man, but then he wasn’t worth the effort.

    1. I kind of felt the same way. Funny, I hadn’t intended for Byron to become such a loser. He used to be a pretty good guy, but he just couldn’t get over Nina leaving him.

Leave a Reply