When I hear the sound of water running in the bathroom, I know it is time to get up. Shower alarm, says the voice. There’s a sheep’s skin under my bare feet. The voice calls this a “thank you” mat. My thoughts are organized, as if going through a checklist. I slip into a blue Brooks Brothers dress shirt. It’s wrinkled and the collar is sticking up on one side, just the way I like it. I walk into the kitchen and fill the electric kettle. By now my morning erection has subsided, so I head into the bathroom to urinate and dump yesterday’s coffee grounds from the French press into the toilet.
My wife is in the shower, but we don’t speak. A thin plastic curtain stands between us. She is engaged in her own ritual. In the kitchen, I rinse out the coffee pot, put toast in the toaster and get the Lavazza coffee, cream cheese, and soy milk out of the fridge. The water has stopped boiling. I dump some fresh grounds into the pot, bring it up to my nose and inhale. As I pour the water in, I’m twirling the pot, making a coffee tornado in the bottom. There’s an almond-colored layer of foam at the top, and I know it is good.
The toast has popped up. I take a knife and spread cream cheese onto one slice, and mash the other on top. Once the sandwich is bagged, I grab a bowl and pour in some oatmeal with a little water. One minute and ten seconds. That’s how long I microwave it for. I stand there with my back against the counter, eating a banana, waiting for my wife to emerge from the bathroom. She’s fully dressed, with towel-dried hair.
“Happy birthday,” she says. “You’re thirty. Can you believe it?”
I say yes, I can believe it, but really, I don’t know if I can. At least not right now. She checks her email, and I bring over the coffee and her oatmeal.
“You already have 16 happy birthday posts on your facebook wall,” she tells me.
I look on, sitting beside her on the couch. She reads out names and posts.
“Happy birthday from Iraq,” she says, quoting my college friend Jay. “’Noah, your uncle Ray wishes you a happy birth day.’ That’s a very direct birthday wish.”
“I think he really meant it,” I say, thinking about my uncle in Blairsville, Georgia.
Takayo finishes her oatmeal and hands me the bowl. I make oatmeal for myself with that same bowl while she dries her hair. One minute and ten seconds later, the microwave bell goes ding and I pull out the bowl and let it cool. I go back into the fridge for her lunch box: Broiled butterfish, sticky rice, and sautéed carrots. It was last night’s dinner. I pack it and the cream cheese sandwich into her purse.
When the hair dryer goes off, Takayo comes out, sits back down to the computer, and drains her cup of coffee. “I’ve got to go,” she says. I help straighten her coat collar and hand her the purse. She puts on her shoes and stands by the door. “Happy birthday,” she says. “You’re old.” I kiss her goodbye, and wait for her to turn around and wave one last time before walking down the stairs. She turns, waves, and heads down the stairs, just like always. I close the door.
After breakfast, I skim over my notes from the past two days, looking for an angle. There are two notebooks containing two different, yet similar, styles of handwriting. One person, I think, operating in two states of mind. The larger notebook contains my actions and intentions. I think back to the email I wrote to my wife, saying that I was going to Amsterdam for the night. The post-wave trio, Future Islands, was the headlining band at De Club Up. That train was comfortable, and fast – the type of speed you pray for when you’re fleeing the scene of a crime. For two hours, I read Vonnegut and scribbled away in my notebook:
“I devoured a burger patty, no bun, and zucchini parmesan leftovers. I have a pretty good idea where ‘Future Islands’ are playing tonight…I’m still not sure if I’ll be able to get the interview…sent Sam, the singer, a message online, but haven’t gotten a reply back yet. They are young and on tour overseas…who knows, just write the hell out of it and save the details for later…the whole thing’s the story…”I look up from my notebook to the computer screen. Fifteen new happy birthday messages are now on my facebook wall.
“Happy birthday from Scotland,” Faulkner writes.
“Happy birthday Flying Pork Knuckle,” says Nirav.
I walk into the bedroom, pull on a pair of jeans, and wrap a cashmere Burberry scarf around my neck because I am cold. Like an old man. Old and cold.