2.13.2016

Terminus

Deborah and I were chimed awake by the redundant dual alarms of our smart phones in the guest room of her brother Mark's Sarasota Florida home at the unsatisfying hour of 5 AM.

I slept well, albeit not long enough. The night before, we'd gone out for Thai food with Mark, his wife Michelle, and Deborah's mom Sandy (her dad Howie had stayed back at the house), after which we chatted for a couple hours in Mark and Michelle's living room before retiring. I got about six hours of sleep, within spec, but far less than the eight or more I'd gotten used to over the past fortnight of our vacation.

Deborah complained of hip pain as we sprung from the bed and got ready to depart, via rental car, for the Tampa airport.

"I must have slept on it wrong," she said.

"Or it's bone cancer," I replied, pushing the conversation over the cliff prematurely.

She rolled her eyes and went to the bathroom to wash her face and insert her contact lenses.

I dressed, then went to the kitchen and made coffee using the "one hitter" coffee machine Howie had shown me how to operate the night before.

I turned on the power and waited. After a few seconds, the machine made a gurgling noise as it preheated the water in its reservoir. A half minute later or so, two buttons on the top of the machine illuminated blue. Both buttons had coffee cup icons on them, though one had a smaller icon than the other. I wasn't sure if the size difference referred to the volume or strength of the coffee produced. As I'd been instructed, I opened the compartment on the top of the machine and inserted the small, vacuum-sealed, plastic catridge containing the dry coffee grounds. It was about twice the size of one of those little plastic containers of chilled creamer they give you when you order coffee at a restaurant. I closed the compartment and put a coffee mug on the platform underneath the dispenser nozzle before pressing the blue button with the larger coffee cup icon. Size or strength? Either way, I was going with the optimal selection. The machine made a whirring noise this time and seconds later coffee began to pour into my mug, filling it about three quarters full. As it did so, I reflected on the convenience and efficiency of these one-cup-at-a-time machines. How many of the tiny discarded cartridges of spent coffee grounds would it take to fill a landfill? Would some end up in the oceans and be eaten by baby sea turtles? Were they biodegradable and how long would it take? These are the places my mind goes before I have amply caffeinated it.

I opened the refrigerator and pulled out the jug of unsweetened almond milk I'd seen in there the night before. I topped off the coffee mug with this, to "take the edge off," and then drank the cooled coffee quickly. I put the empty mug in the sink and returned to the guest bedroom.

I was fully dressed and packed, but Deborah was still getting ready, so I reclined on the double bed and read a couple pages of the Orson Scott Card book of short stories Mark had lent me the previous night until she was done. The story was gripping, about a ghoulish monster baby that relentlessly stalks the sociopathic main character. I had foolishly started reading it before I went to bed, not realizing I would have difficulty putting it down, which probably also cut into my sleep time a bit.

When Deborah was ready, we rolled our suitcases down the hallway toward the garage entry as quietly as we could and were greeted by Deborah's mom in the hallway, barefoot, bleary eyed, and wearing one of those old school flannel nightgowns - the kind I always picture Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge character wearing as he is accosted by the ghosts, past, present, and future, but without the accompanying nightcap.

"I hope we didn't wake you up," Deborah whispered to her mom.

"Oh no. I was already up," Sandy said, waving a hand dismissively. "Actually, I woke up before you did."

Sandy and Howie were "snowbirds," migrating from their home in Wisconsin to Florida to share the house with Mark and Michelle during the winter months.

"We are heading out," Deborah said.

"I'll close the garage door behind you," Sandy said, following us down the hall.

We wheeled our suitcases through the garage and out into the quiet pre-dawn gloom. Sandy watched us from inside the house through a crack in the garage entry door.

"Let's hurry up and go so she isn't waiting there too long," Deborah said as I loaded our suitcases into the trunk. I closed the trunk and put my carry on bag on the back seat before climbing into the passenger seat of the rental car. Sandy returned our farewell waves as we backed out of the driveway and the robotic female GPS voice on Deborah's phone instructed us on the most expedient route to the rental car return lot of the Tampa International Airport.

The drive was fairly easy at that hour of the morning, save for a few blinding high beams in the rearview mirror that caused Deborah to flick the tiny lever at the base of said mirror in an attempt to dim them. Deborah missed a confusing exit for the airport, but the scenic route provided a fortuitous opportunity to refill the tank of the rental car at a gas station before we returned it.

Requesting a wheelchair at the Delta checkin counter was simple and we didn't need to rely on airport staff to push Deborah to the gate. They let me do it. At the gate, we requested a seat change to allow Deborah to sit by the forward bulkhead behind first class, due to her handicap. That was successful and afforded me more leg room as an added bonus. The flights were smooth and Deborah got wheelchair assistance between gates during our layover in Atlanta.

It was not entirely pleasant transitioning, in the span of a few hours, from balmy subtropical Florida to artic subzero Wisconsin. But the fortnight of vacation was ample to reset my psyche and allow me to step back and reflect on life while hanging out with loved ones in spectacularly cool and relaxing places.

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