“Grey Apples, Sugar Milk, Waiting” by Jasmon Drain
Mr. Morgan’s wife gets ready for work early as well. At six. She wasn’t expected to be there until nine thirty. They talked less and less as the days went on, didn’t ask one another if they’d eaten, and slept strategically in unusual areas of the house. She lay in the bathroom with a comforter because she said cold tile floors matched her. He slept in the basement, next to the speakers with a stereo tuned to AM radio, drinking chocolate milk. Each took unconscious turns at watching television in the living room, always tuned to CNN or some local station’s news, volume high, and waiting. They were waiting to see something that would make them feel better.
Because, in their family’s state all colors are faded.
They remain grey like tornado clouds and shift tight red or brown only when getting ready for work. Work was routine, at least it used to be for Mr. Morgan, therefore, it could be considered grey also. The color grey was safe and getting to it on a consistent basis was the goal. It made things hurt less.
One morning after a long rest, he stood up in bed and wrapped his fingers around the silver switch of the overhead bulb, then took a short breath. The bulb was only forty watts – changed a week or so previous – which made the room dim as though photos were being developed. He pushed the door closed where there was a long mirror that extended from top to bottom. He stared at himself. The skin of his face was choppy from remaining stiff on one side of the bed, his eyes were filled with blood and saggy, and there were patches of hair because he had not shaved in seven days.
And he hadn’t been to work in longer. There would be nothing much to do there anyway. He was a tall, overweight father, a dark black man, who sat at a desk. When working he typed some galactic calculation of words per minute, drank chocolate milk instead of coffee, but still put sugar in it (for energy), and waited for a call or message he’d never receive. Assignments piled on his desk in large stacks and he held his head in his hands four hours at a time. One hour break for lunch in which he used the bathroom, took a breath, and drank another cup of chocolate sugar milk.
But everyone at work understood. They simply dropped assignments off with an, “I’m sorry to hear about things,” or “Is there anything we can do to help,” or better yet, “You should take some time off because you deserve it.” He wondered continuously why people say “sorry” to things they forget the minute you are out of their sight.
So, Mr. Morgan took the time off. Eight days: long, hungry, television watched and consistently tuned to CNN, not for the war coverage, instead, for war coverage. He only wanted the specifics.
The news normally covers tragic and cheerful events in our world as though they affect no one and everyone simultaneously, as if they’re passing moments in time everyone should be honored to have experienced during their lives. Iran-Contra and Roger Clemen’s strikeout record were equal. Neil Armstrong and Christa McAuliffe were as well.
Waiting those eight days in front of the television frustrated him. He decided to follow his wife and head back to work. She woke at six, he at six-twenty five. This was perfect timing because they wouldn’t have to cross one another. He’d brush his teeth as she ate cereal; she’d comb her hair while he ironed shirts. Her lipstick was applied in the car; his necktie adjusted alone in the basement. He’d then grab a briefcase containing no important papers that rested on the side of the stereo. By that time, his wife would be gone. In their routine they’d become unconsciously angry at one another. There was no one else to blame. It had gotten so bad in less than two weeks that she didn’t even say goodbye before leaving anymore. The moment the door lock clicked, Mr. Morgan would stand in the basement hallway, adjusting a collar and tie that didn’t matter, and cry, cry, cry. Not because his wife was leaving, instead, he knew she was coming back minus the excitement once held for late night dinners, for talking, for older-folk cuddling. She’d be back empty, filled with the same desire to see the letters of a name she chose twenty-one years ago given some respect. Mr. Morgan hated the clicking sound of the door anyway. Metal on metal made his teeth hurt.
He would then race up the stairs, look from the peephole after she pulled away; grab an apple that had been in the refrigerator so long it was brown, and head to the couch. It usually was around eight-thirty by then. If he didn’t leave at that moment, he’d be late for work. They weren’t expecting him though. And he sat there, slumped over, shirt terribly ironed with the corner of his collar flipped upward and revealing small portions of his tie. Mr. Morgan was waiting, just as his wife had been before him.
Then he heard something from the television that caught his attention. It remained on twenty-four hours a day. He pushed the briefcase to the side of the couch, bit the apple like it was popcorn at a good movie, and focused intently.
The announcer was a white man with a smooth tan, who had enough mustache to cover his top and bottom lips equally. He wore a green shirt and held his voice in an octave that sounded straining:
“Eleven Iraqi citizens and three American soldiers were killed in another bombing just outside of Baghdad. This looks to have been another terrorist act perpetuated by members of the extremist party. Many other civilians were injured in the blast. A car was reportedly driven into the middle of a busy residential street and exploded from a bomb placed inside its trunk. There is no word yet as to how many civilians were injured total. We will give a full report at eight.”
Mr. Morgan thought about how the announcer didn’t care about those people, not even enough to think of their families – American or otherwise – or the charred and burned red skin of injured victims.
Each day Mr. Morgan did a similar thing: take a shower with the water somewhat warm, not wash under his arms because it required energy he reserved to grab an apple, and travel past the television as though it weren’t there. It managed to consistently snatch his attention and bring him back to the couch. He’d watch his wife leave from the peephole, sob, fix his tie, waste enough time to make him late, walk to the refrigerator, sit down, bite in. The same reporter with the controlled octave and detached perspective told related stories. Even after reporting for a second time about a fuel tanker exploding at a gas station, a blast which killed eighty civilians, the reporter maintained his insularity.
Today Mr. Morgan’s apple was softer and a browner red. His left fist remained balled. Long enough he’d waited with no results. It was not going to happen. Everyday this was the routine: Wait. The white text of letters on the bottom of the screen read the Dow Jones report, Michael Jackson’s trial status, Brittany Spears’ hair shaving, steroids in baseball, tomorrow’s weather, more troops deployed. And as the announcer continued talking, Mr. Morgan walked back to the front door.
They would never give his situation special attention. His family was not special. She was his little girl, a wannabe soldier since the age of seventeen, with short hair, reddish brown skin like his apples, boy shoulders and a formerly delicate pair of eyes. She was deployed two years ago. Initially his daughter was a member of the reserves, only accepting duty because it offered security and an opportunity to take better care of herself later. Mr. Morgan said no, he’d dip into his retirement fund if need be. But the daughter explained how black men barely had anything for retirement as it was. She would not take her father’s.
He couldn’t forget how excited she became about serving in Iraq, serving the country that gave her a chance at freedom. She was told how things weren’t so bad there.
That was the beginning of the family’s dwindling conversations.
The volume of the television was still relatively high as Mr. Morgan stood at the front door, peering out at his car. By then he was deaf. Although the television was loud, in his home it was as quiet as church during prayer.
“Going to work will take my mind off things,” he said aloud. He stepped outside slowly, and threw the apple core into the grass, watching it roll toward the street. Mr. Morgan opened the door and sat in the driver’s seat. There was a small carton of spoiled chocolate milk in the cup holder to his right, a picture of his daughter in the armrest compartment, three un-smoked cigarettes in the clean ashtray, and a radio always tuned to the AM news station. The cry he released in the house took twenty pounds from him. Going to work on this day may just make him feel better. As Mr. Morgan began backing from the driveway, cars passed going in each direction. They were all different shades of blues and oranges and greens, which all eventually added up to grey. He started the car, put his foot to the brake, shifted the vehicle into reverse. A large fuel tanker sped by and he watched it closely through the mirror. It was silver, shiny from the sun’s reflection, with a jet-black grill. Surely this was the same make and model the bomber taped some infinite amount of explosives to which killed his daughter. Mr. Morgan turned up the radio, opening his ears wide to the speaker. He began waiting again, as his wife did in her own way on the trip to work, and they both did in disparate rooms of the house, without meals, without conversation, without their daughter.
So he looked forward to a new carton of chocolate milk at work, seasoned syrupy with extra sugar, forward to the desk with mountains of paper. He almost anticipated his hands resting along his face in those four-hour intervals, to the lunch break he really never took, to hearing the I’m sorrys and, I hope you feel better soons. He now desired the absence of his wife’s voice over the volume of televisions and radios. Those things were all he had now. Because in the end, no matter how long they waited and waited and waited, they’d never hear anything again anyway.
The United States’ involvement in “conflicts” with the supposed purpose of “liberating oppressed people” has consumed the majority of pages in history books taught throughout U.S. high schools. But, through those efforts of liberation, United States soldiers’ lives are being sacrificed all the while. There is little mention of those soldiers amongst these books. Jasmon Drain would like to dedicate Grey Apples, Sugar Milk, Waiting to any person who may have lost someone to military conflict.