I had this dream we bought a black lab that ran around our yard and grew from a puppy to a sleek adult dog in seconds. The dog listened when we called her. No leash. We couldn’t decide on her name. Samantha? I said, but you shook your head, and that is all I remember. Good thing because this has nothing to do with the story.
The story is that I woke up, and I saw that gallon of distilled water on the door of the refrigerator, the bottom shelf, and I remembered. I remembered him.
I thought, dump this water once and for all so she doesn’t have to see it anymore. So I won’t, either.
I thought, what a life he had toward the end having to drink bland water.
I thought, I don’t even know what distilled water tastes like or what distilled means. I thought of his hand holding the fogged glass. No ice. I guess I like my drink neat, he said. You smiled. Where on earth did you even hear that? you said.
So I poured myself my own neat water. As it came out, I swear I could picture him at the kitchen table, his hunched shoulder blades, his wind-burned scalp and neck. Wearing that old T-shirt he had taken from me that said Time is an Invention. Almost, almost a man. Did we know then the way this would go? Did we think then it would work out?
Just pouring the water, I could tell it was different.
Whatever regular water has, this didn’t have. Too smooth. Too unexcited or something.
And I tasted it and tried to taste what he was tasting all those months.
Can’t I even have a lime? he said.
Too many germs, we said.
He held the glass with both hands and sipped carefully like a child who might spill. His cracked lips needed a swipe of ChapStick.
If you want to know the truth, the water tasted fine. It tasted like divinity and what I imagine glaciers to taste like. I drank from our plastic tumbler, the one with the green stripes, and when I poured the rest of the gallon down the drain, I let it wash over my hands. I splashed some on my face and ran my wet, distilled fingers through my hair.
I held the empty jug and looked around. I imagined him looking at me and shrugging. Or him saying, All better now, big guy? I still hear him. I am still, still, so surprised by the gone-ness of him, the objects that I think he will come back for. His ukulele. His handgrips on the bureau, the hacky sack ball. The shirt over his desk chair that I now can have back if I wanted to have it back.
He would have known what to name that dog in my dream. He would have looked at her with his brown wholesome eyes, as she stood by that corner of the fence, by the white magnolia that’s just starting to bloom now, and the name he would have called out would have sounded right. Something like Lexi. Something like Jade. Maybe he would have thrown a ball to her, and she would have dashed after it.
Now I wait here in the quiet kitchen as the sun lights up the patches of grass and the holly bush in the yard. I want to say something wise like there is truth in grief; or, his water runs through me now, but I bring the empty gallon out to the recycling bin in the garage so you won’t see it. It bounces when I drop it in, and I am grateful it’s gone, grateful in a weird way I shared this last thing with him. Grateful we never had that dog because she would be so, so lost here without him.
Ethan Joella teaches English and psychology at University of Delaware and runs his own business that specializes in writing workshops and online course development. His work has appeared in River Teeth, The International Fiction Review, The MacGuffin, Rattle, Delaware Beach Life, and Third Wednesday. He has published two poetry chapbooks and lives in Delaware and Pennsylvania with his wife and daughters