Sara jumped and said "I didn't hear you come in" as she continued to wash the dishes.
Sara was a teacher. She loved the job and the sense of accomplishment that came from inspiring a student; loved the feeling when an indifferent student became an exceptional one, as rare as that reality was. The trick was identifying those students who were worth the effort. The trick was in making the magic happen.
Still, her life did not feel whole to her.
Jake walked over to the sink, wrapped his arms around his wife and kissed her on the neck. She turned around, took a look at him and said with concern and not for the first time: "You look exhausted."
"I am. All I want is a beer and a shot, and a little rest. I'm gonna sit in my recliner for a while before supper and watch ESPN."
They had been married for twenty eight years. Long enough for the passion to shrink to familiarity.
Sara resented this. Used to be when Jake wrapped his arms around her she felt loved and appreciated.
She felt happy.
She used to look forward to their easy expressions of love. Now she felt nothing.
Sara felt that Jake took her for granted, and this made her feel like a piece of furniture.
He was sixty two and worked in the warehouse of a food distribution company. It was hard work and he was proud that he could keep up with guys who were twenty and thirty years younger than he was, but the job was taking a toll.
He spent his entire shift loading the trucks that would drive all over the state delivering meat and vegetables and candy and canned goods to massive supermarkets whose requirement for product was insatiable. He was in and out of coolers all day, lifting heavy loads - he felt the wear and tear in his joints, in his muscles and in his soul.
He knew he was breaking down. He knew he should find another line of work.
But what the hell else could he do? He had been doing the same thing for thirty two years.
At his age, there was no where else to go. There were no more options.
When Jake got home all he wanted to do was to get off his feet and give his body a chance to bounce back. All he wanted was a chance to relax with a beer, a little whiskey and his cats.
He worshiped his cats. On the surface it seemed ironic because he was such a big guy, a tough guy in every sense of the word. Seemed like more of a dog guy.
But the cats brought him so much peace. They were gentle and loving and so goddamn cute. They made him feel human, made him feel alive - the exact opposite of how his life made him feel.
He named them Gregg Allman and Keith Richards and he always used their full names when he talked to them or about them.
It never took long for one of the cats to curl up in his lap once he hit the recliner. Sometimes, Gregg Allman would curl up in Jake's lap and Keith Richards would lie across his chest, as long as he pushed the recliner back far enough.
The kind of love humans are incapable of achieving.
Tonight, Keith Richards jumped up into Jake's lap; Gregg Allman considered the possibilities and decided to curl up in one of the cushy cat beds Sara and Jake had lying around the kitchen and living room. The one directly over the heating vent.
Keith Richards was old but vital, just like the real deal. He kept on keeping on, even at the age of eighteen. He still chased Gregg Allman around, still played with pens and balls and eyeliner and and every other goddamn thing he could get his paws on.
He had a little trouble getting around but it didn't seem to bother him, although tonight he seemed a little slower, a little on the listless side.
Maybe he was bored.
Jake switched on ESPN and took a sip of his beer, ice cold just the way he liked it. He picked up his favorite whiskey glass, the squared one, heavy with a solid bottom.
As he raised the drink to his lips the thought occurred to him that he used to drink his whiskey out of a glass made from Waterford crystal, a beautiful piece of art that made Jake feel a little more special, but that glass was long gone.
Like a lot of things in Jake's life.
He took a sip and sighed.
His thoughts turned to money as they often did. He thought at this point in his life he would be financially set; ready to settle in to a peaceful and fulfilling retirement.
But he and Sara made some mistakes and questionable decisions along the way. They didn't have a nest egg, they didn't have a retirement fund; what they had was an endless road ahead of them of work and sacrifice and worry.
Sometimes Jake felt like that truth wore him out more than the job did.
He sipped the last of his beer, downed the whiskey and rubbed Keith Richard's head, saying: "Maybe someday I'll get lucky. Maybe someday I'll hit the lottery."
Jake fell asleep.
An hour later Sara called that supper was ready. She had made his favorite, a sausage and potato casserole with extra onions. Jake loved his onions.
He didn't answer immediately and she knew he was sleeping. This happened a lot.
Sara scooped a heaping helping into a bowl, sprinkled it with a little salt, a little pepper, grabbed a paper towel and walked it over to Jake.
She gently touched his shoulder, which typically woke him up, but he didn't move.
Jake was dead.
Sara staggered back and dropped the bowl, which shattered on the hardwood floor, dumping the casserole in a steaming heap. Keith Richards did not jump up startled.
Sara reached out with a trembling hand and touched Keith Richards' head.
He didn't move. He was dead.
Sara's eyes glazed over and her body shook as she stood in front of the recliner taking in this macabre scene.
They both looked so peaceful and so content.
A thought struck her like lightening and with what felt like vicious clarity - the only peace anyone ever finds is in death.
Five minutes later, she reached down and picked up the cat. She sat on the floor with her back to the wall unit that held the TV and Jake's lucky elephants and absent-mindedly stroked Keith Richards' head.
Sara stared at Jake in his precious recliner.
She shed no tears.