"Why do we always buy too many bananas?" I shout to Ben from the kitchen. "We've managed yet again to end up with a nearly rotten banana on our counter." He doesn't answer, and I decide that I will freeze it to make banana bread when I have more time. I open the freezer and am confronted by the fact that I never have time anymore. "Did you know I have enough bananas frozen at the moment to make bread for our entire building?" I slam the door in disgust.
My husband comes up behind me and slips an arm around my waist. I yelp and stiffen as his cold hand slides under my shirt and touches my waist. He chuckles and steps away. Ben has a towel around his waist, and his hair is wet. "Don't you worry about that banana, honey. I'll give it a good home." He pats his slim belly and I can't help but smile.
"You're so caring towards all of our fruits and vegetables, Benny." He grins and runs his hand through his hair. I see him register the suit jacket thrown over my arm and high heels on my feet, and his smile fades.
"Are you leaving already? I thought we were going to have breakfast together." He gestures towards the bar that runs along the edge of our counter, and I notice guiltily that he has set two places with cereal bowls and mugs for coffee. He reaches into a cabinet and pulls out a box of Toasty-O's. "Look, I just made breakfast! Now you have to stay."
"Honey, you're very sweet but…" He kisses my cheek and pulls the chair out for me, and what can I do? I drop my bag and sit down with my husband. I watch his long, slender musician's fingers as they set about the mundane tasks of pouring the cereal and then the milk, tearing open the packets of pink artificial sweetener and tipping them into the coffee. I love my husband's hands. Elegant and dexterous, gentle and continually chapped, they add a joy to these menial, quotidian tasks that isn't there when I perform them. I'm impatient, spilling, tearing, shaking, eager to get to the next task and leave this one behind. Watching him is peaceful to me.
He sits next to me, his leg touching mine, and we eat in companionable silence. I notice that he is still in just a towel and I am taken by the expanse of pale white skin across his back. Ben is covered in gooseflesh, and I am suddenly ashamed that I had forced him to eat breakfast sopping wet and practically naked. I reach behind my back and grab the cardigan that had been hanging off of the back of my chair and wrap it around his shoulders.
At the door he wraps me tightly in his thin arms. Kissing Ben in the morning is a wonderful sensory experience. His face is smooth and his skin smells like shaving cream, and his mouth is all coffee and slightly bitter sweetener. He musses my hair, but I don't complain, but just bury my fingers in his baby soft brown curls trying to get my fix before I have to leave for work.
"Bye, Katie. Call me. I'll be in the studio all day and I'll keep my phone with me." I nod and smile as I walk out the front door.
He calls me at four-thirty. It's the first time I've spoken to him all day. "Are you going to be home on time?" I look at my desk in despair. It's strewn with trades and compliance paperwork and I briefly feel like crying.
"I don't think so, Ben. Will you start dinner, and I'll be home as soon as I can? I've probably got a good three hours of work left." He's silent on the other end of the line for a moment, and I'm worried that he's angry. He takes a deep breath.
"I'm concerned that you work too hard." Ben pauses. "And I know I'm selfish, but I want to see you, too." I take off my glasses, and swallow the lump in my throat. I press the heel of my left hand into my closed eye and sigh.
"That's not selfish at all." But I'm suddenly overwhelmed by frustration. I am not angry at my husband, but I don't know what the right answer is, and I hate feeling this helpless. "But I don't know what you expect me to do. It's not like I'm the only one working long hours." My tone is snippy, and I feel like a shit. I soften my voice. "Trust me, I want to come home. I'll be there as soon as I can." His tone is subdued as we say our goodbyes.
That night, I arrive home at 6:15. He sees me and smiles. "Hey! You made it home much earlier than you thought."
I throw myself in his arms and mumble grouchily into his collar. His hand comes up and he smoothes my hair away from my face. That night, I lay with my head in his lap, filling out compliance paperwork that I had smuggled out of the office in my bag.
The next day we resolve to have lunch together. Ben is going to work in the music studio all morning, and then come pick me up at work and take me to our favorite restaurant – Jasmine. I can feel that he is trying to make sure that we don't grow apart despite my long hours, and I love him for it. I know that I have been working too much this last year, but I resolve that I will make more time for what's really important. I'm the one who suggests lunch.
I work through the noon hour, waiting for Ben. At 12:30 he calls me to say that he is on his way. My job is five minutes from my house so I lock my computer and tell my boss I'm on my way to lunch. She grumbles, but I staunchly refuse to feel guilty for taking a break that is mine by law. I walk outside holding my purse, and see Ben pull into the turning lane at the intersection in front of my office. The window is down, and I can tell he is enjoying the warm weather. I hear the steady pump of the bass from whatever his latest project is. When he's editing a song, he likes to pop it into the sound system on the car and drive listening to each thump as if it is a heartbeat.
The red light changes into a green arrow and Ben turns left across traffic. He sees me and is smiling hello as the tractor-trailer runs the red light and smashes into the passenger side of the car. My answering smile freezes and my mouth opens in horror as I watch our small Hyundai crumple under the pressure. It flips several times before coming to rest on its roof. I begin to scream and run into the intersection. The car is unrecognizable. I am frantically scrabbling to find my husband in the wreckage, but I can't get the doors open and all I can picture are his sweet, chapped hands crushed by the steering wheel as I scream and scream.
The funeral is closed-casket. The coffin is draped in pale white lilies and I picture the curve of his back from that morning he made me breakfast while still dressed in a towel. I sit numbly while the pastor sermonizes on life-everlasting. I am glad to escape and go back to our condo where I can be alone with his memory.
I go into our bedroom and put on one of his t-shirts. I curl up on my side and remember the warmth of his chest against my back, and the sweetness of his breath on my neck, deep and even as he sleeps. I get up and restlessly pad into the bathroom and pick up his shaving lotion. I carefully spray some into my cupped palm and spread it over my hands. I cry and breathe deeply.
I'm sitting in his swivel chair in the office listening to his last song when my doorbell rings. I open the door, still in his t-shirt and see elderly Mrs. Brandis from across the hall. She looks stricken and can't meet my eyes, unsure what to say to a 26 year old woman who's just lost the husband of her youth. In her hands she is holding a loaf of banana bread and she hands it to me with a feeble smile. I thank her politely and close the door. Taking it into the kitchen I eat a slice, choking it down past the tears.