by Justin Chu
Art by Yash Godiwala
Issue: Ataraxia (Spring 2018)

An image of a kitchen is split diagonally in half, with the left side colorful and abstract and the right side a grayscale photo.

Day 78 of The Cycle:

“Kids! Breakfast is ready!” I called up the stairs as I took off my pink striped apron and hung it on the refrigerator.

“What is it?” They called back, bouncing down the stairs.

I smiled. “Chocolate chip pancakes with strawberries!”

“Alright!” They cheered, now dashing for the kitchen. I shifted my focus towards the tray on the counter. Carefully balancing the pile of pancakes, syrup bottle, and glass of orange juice, I headed towards the bedroom. I paused briefly in front of the door, took in a deep breath and put a smile on my face.

“Honey,” I said as I opened the door, “breakfast in bed!”

“Hmm?” My wife asked, groggily.

“I said breakfast in bed,” I smiled.

“Oooh.” She got up, rubbing her eyes. Her hair spilled down her shoulders like hot chocolate. “What is it?”

“Layered whole-wheat crepes stuffed with fine German chocolate topped with organic strawberries,” I announced, placing the tray on her lap with as much extravagance and grace as I could manage.

“You should switch departments,” she chuckled. “Your more suited for marketing than HR.”

“Hey, I like to think that I’m good at my job.” I retorted. “In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m in line for another raise!”

“Good job,” she spoke through a mouthful of pancake. “At this rate we won’t be screwed when our kids go to college.”

“That’s still a long ways off Ellie,” I laid down besides her. “We’re not that old yet.” The air around her smelled like cinnamon.

“It’s never too late to think about the future.” She sipped the orange juice, and her nose crinkled in disgust. She barely finished swallowing before she started coughing. She shot me a murderous look. God, she looked pretty no matter what she did. “Did you mix lemon juice with this!?”

“What?” I tilted my head. “No, of course not. Why?”

“Then why is it so sour!”

“I don’t know. Maybe the oranges they used were just really sour.” I got up. “I’ll go get you a glass of water.”

“I’ll get it myself.” She moved the tray to the nightstand, jumping out of bed. “I don’t need no man to get me water.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry for my chivalrous act,” I rolled my eyes. “How will I ever make this up to you?”

“Diamond earrings,” she grinned. “And a car. Preferably a red BMW.”

“Ugh, all women are gold diggers.”

“And all men only want sex.”

“And I’ve succeeded,” I gestured towards the kitchen, “as those little devils will testify to.”

“Oh ho?” She gave me a devilish look. “Let’s check.” We ran down the stairs, laughing like little children.

“Oh Dominic,” Ellie called.

“Yesh, mom?” he replied through his pancakes.

“Are you mommy’s kid or are you daddy’s kid?” She moved our six year old to her lap.

“But I’m both of your kids.” He looked at us quizzically.

“Noooo,” she drew out the word. “You can only choose one. Now who do you belong to?”

“Both.” Dominic grinned.

“Ugh, you’re hopeless,” she moved him back to the chair. Domenic and I shared a glance, but soon smiles cracked through our weak pokerfaces. Domenic snorted.

“Hey, no laughing at me!” she whirled around, trying to look as scary as possible. It didn’t work. We only ended up laughing even harder.

“For that, you’re both grounded!”

“Hey, that’s not fair,” Domenic complained. “I was only laughing.”

“Exactly,” I picked him up and slung him onto my back. “Kids naturally like to laugh.”

“Don’t forget that you’re grounded too!”

“How are you going to ground me? I have work.”

“No going to work then!”

“Oh and I suppose you’ll work then?” I taunted. She hesitated, prompting us both to laugh again.

“Okay that’s enough of that.” Ellie said, lips pursed. “Domenic, you have to go to school now. Remember to bring Angie with you.”

“Okay, mom.” Domenic bounced off of his chair, calling out to his little sister. They ran to grab their backpacks and lunches.

“Bye mom, bye dad!” They both called.

“Bye Angie, bye Domenic,” we replied. The door shut, and we could hear their excited squeals as they raced each other to the bus stop.

“Alright, honey,” I said, walking towards my office. “I need to get ready for work, so could you wash the dishes?” My heart suddenly pounded. Explosions like gunshots ripped through my brain. I keeled over from the pain, but it stopped as fast as it started.

When I looked up, the world looked like a soapy bubble, like a puddle of grease in a bigger puddle of water. The air was constantly distorting, flipping in on itself over and over.

“What the hell?” I spun around, trying to get a sense of what was going on. The world became increasingly distorted. Reality was a kaleidoscopic lava lamp, and I was the nine year old staring at it in wonder.

“Honey, what’s going on?” I turned to face her, but even she was distorted. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

Just then, the kitchen, the living room, everything faded out. In their place, were the same kitchen, living room, but it looked like years had passed. The sofa had holes in it, the carpet had roach droppings, tear stains, and blood streaked its surface.

“You need to wake up, John,” my wife said. I spun on my heels, expecting to see her. She was there, but not entirely. She was translucent, and seemed to glow with an unnatural light.

“Ellie, a-a-are you a…” My voice trailed off.

“Yes, John.” She smiled sadly. “I’m a ghost.” I continued to stare.

“How?” I finally asked. “Why?”

“I’m dead,” she said.

“How?” I was utterly confused. “You. We were just in this kitchen with our kids. What on earth happened?”

“You know the answer to that.”

“No, no I don’t”

“Yes you do.” She floated closer. “You just have to remember.”

“Remember,” I mumbled. I searched my brain, racking for an answer. Nothing came, except for blank faces and the daydream I was just living. I just about gave up, when everything hit me, literally and metaphorically.

The night of the same day. A man with a gun yelling about money. Gunshots sounded, and I tackled him. He had a bullet in his head, but it was too late.

I collapsed onto my knees, trembling.

“Five shots,” I murmured. “Five shots and you, Angie, and Domenic were all gone.”

“Yes.” She knelt down, putting a hand on my cheek.

“I missed you.” I was crying. Hot tears that burned like molten lead dripped down my face. “I missed all of you, so much.”

“It’s okay John,” She hugged me. “It’s okay.”

Suddenly, she also began to fade away.

“Wha-” I stammered. “What’s happening?”
“I can finally move on John,” She smiled. “I can finally join Domenic and Angie.”

“No, you can’t!” I was desperate. “I just got you back for the first time in years. Don’t go!”
“I’m sorry, but I have to move on.” She was almost completely gone. “You do too.”

“I can’t!” I was screaming now. “How? I loved you so much!”

“If you truly love me, then you’ll know what I want you to do.”She faded out of existence. Her last whisper died alongside her.

I began to cry all over again. I cried tears of sorrow at first, then tears of anger, and finally back to sorrow. When I was finally done, I knew that she was right. Ellie wanted me to move on, but I didn’t know if I had the strength to. I looked at my phone, it was March 27, around two and a half months from when they…

I closed my eyes, and heaved a heavy sigh. I didn’t want to think about it. Not now, not ever. I wasn’t even sure if I could move on, the hole left behind was like a black hole, sucking in anything and everything.

When I finally got up, and I did, I took a deep breath. As I did, confidence, happiness, and strength, all things that I hadn’t felt in the longest time, filled me. I smiled, but it was half-hearted at best. I would try my best, but Ellie, I’m afraid that your request may have been too much.

5 months later…

I laughed with my friends. We were in a bar, and my friend had just cracked a joke. About what, I didn’t care. I was happy, and that’s all that mattered. I excused myself to use the restroom, and began the stroll down the corridor. This was the bar where I met Ellie, and I’d be lying if my heart didn’t hurt at the thought, but I was working on it. I was on the overall though, happy. Happy that I could once again appreciate life, work, play, and the other things.

Suddenly, I bumped into someone. Lukewarm beer from my bottle had splashed all over my shirt.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” they said. I dragged my head out of the clouds to look at the person, and there was a lady in a red dress. She was blonde, had piercing emerald green eyes, and smelled like ground nutmeg. We locked eyes for a moment, the air around us stilling for just a second. And she smiled.