Hugh flicked the light switch into the upward position and the aged fluorescent bulb in the kitchen flickered three times, struggling for life. The tube stabilized, reflecting off the ugly green sink tile and filled the room with a sickly glow. As Hugh shuffled his bare feet into the room he winced, remembering why his wife had wanted him to install a different color tile. This caused Hugh to pause and smile. He missed Emma. Or was it Anna? It was definitely Emma. Lately, Hugh was having trouble remembering things. Even the slightest moments of clarity brought small pockets of joy to his day.
Had he showered today? Had he shaved? Raising a callused hand to his face, the familiar scratch of his gray whiskers across his palm accurately answered one of his questions. Why had he come into the kitchen? The disorientation was always worst at night. His dark brown eyes scanned the countertop, pausing on a half loaf of bread, the wrapper of which hung wide open. Of one thing Hugh was certain: He was hungry. He always preferred to go to bed on a full stomach. It helped him sleep.
His arthritic fingers opened and closed around two pieces of the hardening white bread. He removed them from the plastic and placed them on the counter side by side. A quick shuffle to his right put him face to face with the icebox, and with a quick yank, the door opened toward him. Hugh paused, enjoying the rush of cool air, which relieved the heat of an otherwise stale evening.
From the depths of the refrigerator he removed a sack of pre-packaged turkey meat and on his second trip into the chill, a container of store-brand mayonnaise and a jar of bread and butter pickles. He always preferred those to the Kosher Dill. Didn’t he? He was certain he did. He reached below the counter to fetch a butter knife from the drawer but something in the sink caught his eye.
Cautiously, Hugh reached down into the disposal side of the double sink and retrieved a butter knife, the dull blade covered in what appeared to be mayonnaise. He brought the utensil close, turning it over in his hands as he inspected the condiment-covered edge. It was definitely mayonnaise, and it was fresh. He could tell because it hadn’t turned the clear color that comes with extended exposure to the air. Had he already eaten? He couldn’t remember. Still holding the knife, he peered down to investigate the front of his green and brown plaid robe.
His bushy eyebrows narrowed as he acknowledged the breadcrumbs lining the front of the garment and gathering throughout his chest hair like some sort of edible ascot. Frustrated at his sudden lapse in memory he grabbed a clump of turkey from the bag and slammed it onto one slice of bread. Two pickles swiftly followed, landing atop the meat mountain. Hugh glared at the mayonnaise, a silent argument waging between them.
If he had already eaten once tonight, then he had no desire to digest the same meal twice. He was certain that he’d purchased mustard on his last trip to the corner market. But when was that? Last week? Longer? A quick search through the refrigerator proved fruitless. Frustrated, he began rummaging through his cabinets and it wasn’t long before he saw the jar of mustard inside. To his dismay, it was several shelves up and far out of an old man’s reach. Why would he inconvenience himself so?
Mustering up whatever strength was left in his tired bones Hugh managed to drag a wooden chair from the nearby table to its resting place beneath the cupboard. After an unsteady climb, he retrieved his prize and getting down proved much easier than his ascent. He quickly went to work squeezing the mustard onto the sandwich. In his state of bliss, he didn’t bother to remove the chair from the kitchen, but rather, sat upon it, bringing the sandwich to his salivating mouth.
The first bite brought Hugh to a point somewhere between ecstasy and pure contentment. He chewed and smiled and laughed as he ate. Suddenly, the chewing froze. The clouds of the old man’s mind had parted and filled with sunlight and a rare moment of clarity tore through an otherwise foggy day. All it took was one lucid second for Hugh to remember one important thing: He was deathly allergic to mustard.