He walked into the house and was immediately overwhelmed by the smell of stale cigarettes. No one smoked in this house; the odor was stowed away— invisibly— in the fibers of the dark blue uniform. He went directly to the basement, scuffed across the cold floor, and then pulled the chrome beaded chain to turn on the incandescent lightbulb dangling over the Kenmore.
He could always catch the chain on the first grab in the darkness. It had become a mental challenge, but he kept it to himself. No one would understand, so why inform anyone that he made small wagers with himself before he reached for it.
“If I catch it on the first grab, I will treat myself to a large coffee tomorrow morning, right after I pick up the mail.”
Reaching for a thin chain in the pitch black of a windowless cellar had become his way of determining that his hand was still steady. It was a gauge to find if his coordination and ability to make accurate mental estimates were still up to par. He caught it perfectly.
He missed the chain on the first grab two years and three months ago. He later learned that she had pulled it too quickly— or too hard— before leaving the dank laundry room with a basket filled with clean sheets. The recoil of that snap launched the small glass crystal at the end of the chain over the protruding brass pull on the cupboard door where the Tide and dryer sheets were stored.
That night, he felt panic when he missed. Had he finally lost it? He flailed around repeatedly, swiping his hand through the black humid air—no chain! Was it broken? Had he miscounted the seventeen evenly spaced steps across the uneven basement floor? He grabbed repeatedly and comically. When his hand found the drooping loop, he pulled it so hard that the ornamental glass knob struck him square in the eye. The light came on.
He skipped the coffee the next day. A bet is a bet, and he lost.
It had been a long shift—fourteen hours. The cop knew that the uniform had to be thrown into the washing machine immediately. This would minimize the odors carried into his safe space. His house was a refuge from the stinky—smokey— places that he had recently visited, sometimes uninvited, on his patrol shift.
He threw the indigo uniform— filled with the odors of bad habits and poor decisions— into the thirty-six-year-old washer. It made noises that would not be considered normal, but it worked just fine.
She would ask him for a new washing machine again, soon. The ancient machine was dented and scratched. It was his first. It had become a challenge to keep it running. When she came along, she had changed all the furniture, the curtains, and the flooring, even the menu; he kept his washer.
He kicked a wedge of an old cedar shingle deeper under the front right corner. He muttered, “That’ll steady you. You won’t be keeping me awake,” The Kenmore fought back but complied with his wishes. This could change without warning.
A quick shower and a cursory search of the fridge contents revealed nothing unusual or suspicious. He looked at the clock while he cleaned up the leftover guacamole with a couple of stale saltines.
“0327hrs.” He could sleep for four hours if he went to bed right now. He brushed his teeth again. There was no reason to breathe fire into her face when he climbed into bed. He was sure that the garlic was better than the old cigarette smoke that was now being mechanically and chemically scrubbed out of his Blauer uniform. He heard the old machine knocking like an angry upstairs neighbor. The wedge must have moved again.
He slipped into the bed like a well-starched— stumbling— apparition. He groped for the remote and recovered it near the middle of the bed. He held it with the full intention of finding an infomercial about coated baking pans that were easy to clean no matter how long you left burned cheese in the bottom.
He thought about cheese for a few minutes. He had no control over the pre-dream thought process. He knew it made no sense, but it felt like the right thing to ponder. He could hear Dobie Gray’s smooth tones as “Drift Away” eclipsed the thoughts of crispy cheese on the bottom of a copper pan. Sleep would be coming soon.
He took a deep breath, and then he felt it. It happened every time, usually within three to five minutes of entering the well broken-in western king. There was the touch. It is not spoken about—often— within police circles, but he knew it was not uncommon. It was one of the most basic reassurances displayed between the members of a family unit.
The touch most often comes when a formerly sleeping spouse reaches delicately across to make sure that their slumber has been disturbed because their partner has made it home.
The touch has never been taught, nor was it ever talked about. It needs no instruction, no written directions. The touch just happens, and it happens for good reasons.
Dark days followed by short nights have made the touch symbolic yet gratifying. It is different for each one of us, yet it is done for the same reasons no matter where you are in the world.
Her voice broke the silence of the dark room, “Did you eat the guacamole?”
He stroked her hand and turned his head toward the wall. He knew he had consumed too much garlic.
He closed his eyes and focused more on Dobie Gray and less on the burned cheese. The song always started on the second verse when he was worn out. He felt like he was humming the melody, but it was probably just part of the dream
“Beginning to think that I’m wastin’ time
I don’t understand the things I do.
The world outside looks so unkind,
So I’m countin’ on you to carry me through.”
Another day, another bet, another successful grab at the beaded chrome chain. He would have his coffee. First, he would sleep.
(Copyright 2018 Timothy Cotton)
*While I was working on a new missive for this week’s post, I didn’t feel it was adequately written, and rewritten, so I moved it to a back burner and pulled this piece out of the wayback machine.
I was traveling this past week, and I ignored the twinges to spend some time writing, and, instead, just tried to observe those around me at locations where I don’t normally find myself. It was the pause that refreshes, but it also discomboulated my personal writing timelines. I apologize.
“The Touch” is introspective, and only partially autobiographical. Many of the thoughts and actions are taken from my own life, but some are borrowed from the lives of others. I tried to make all in the series of essays to encompass a tapestry of police officers that I have known through the 33 years on the job. It’s still one of my favorites, and it evokes strong emotions when I read it. It’s probably because I have lived much of it, but also because some of the thoughts and points were gleaned from officers who are no longer with us. I don’t dwell on loss, but loss sometimes visits you late at night, usually uninvited.
Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. This is an essay that I wanted to be included in my book, “The Detective in the Dooryard.” It didn’t make it. I order to keep it fresh in my mind, I hope it’s okay that I placed it into my blog.
For those who have tossed change into the BuyMeACoffee cup, thank you. Some have chosen to be members in the “Royal Order of Dooryard Visitors” as regular donors— we think the name is cool and Monty Pythonesque. Every single one of you who stop by are important and appreciated by me. TC