No Cream, No Sugar

Justin Herrmann

I refill Brian’s father’s cup, which is stained inside nearly the same shade as the coffee. I couldn’t find creamer, milk, or sugar, so I sip mine black, wonder how long my lipstick will stain the rim. His minimalism reminds me so much of Brian my heart both flutters and breaks. I tear from a rustic loaf of bread. The spongy flesh warms my fingers. The belongings I’d sent from Carbondale, mostly things Brian hardly wore, remain folded in a neat stack on the slate countertop. Chair legs scrape the thick grain of the floorboards as Brian’s father moves closer to my side of the table. The heat from his hand envelopes my wrist. His fingers, thick and knobby like five fingerling potatoes. His breath, like the aroma of the bread multiplied.

“These messages you’ve been sending, Diana,” he says. He means the sexting, which I started the morning after Brian’s funeral. “I’ve been alone in this Alaskan bush cabin for some time. Don’t mistake me for needing this.”

He doesn’t understand what I want.

I straddle him. I place my mouth on his mouth. This seems easier than explaining I want what only he can give, Brian’s genes.

He doesn’t taste like Brian, so I rub my hands through thick beard. I moan into an ear the way Brian liked.


Not long ago, inside a tent at the foothills of the Brooks Range, I’d said to Brian, “I’m ready for things I don’t think you want.”

He’d just drained a blister on my heel with a searing needle. It was summer. The sun wouldn’t be setting. I could see my life spread out on the nylon floor. Dried beans and flavored tea bags, my creature comforts.

He tore duct tape with his teeth, smoothed it around my heel, said, “I know this planet has more than four corners, Diana. I look forward to the day when Diana Junior fills me in about the ones I missed.” His teeth were beautiful, his beard, wild. I bit his dirt-caked knuckles. I drew him close.


Sunrise, I sit on the edge of Brian’s father’s bed, silence everywhere except for a steady whistle coming from his nose. I curl against him, wrap his arm over me. The skin on his hand feels dry like onion skin.

I go to the curtain-less window, wipe condensation. Snow falls, each huge flake seems to hang in the air, reluctant to meet the earth. Somewhere behind the dense birch, there’s a stream where Brian used to catch trout, a place he’d promised to take me.

I dress in Brian’s orange flannel, an unopened Christmas gift.

I make my way down the hill in low-top sneakers, believe a stream will soon appear, believe I’ll glimpse the future Brian promised me. Instead, at the bottom of the hill, my socks soaked through, I find another cabin. Odd shapes bulge around the property. I realize the shapes are children’s toys covered in fresh snow: a tricycle, wagon, maybe a soccer ball. On the porch is a bicycle with two flat tires. Smoke rises from a chimney. Fresh boot prints lead through the snow toward a four foot by four foot outhouse. A malamute emerges from a crudely-shingled dog house, drags its chain through gnawed trout skeletons and yellow snow, barks ferociously. The outhouse door swings open. I have the instinct to flee, but instead I wait. A nail-thin girl, no older than five, steps into the cold in a thick flannel nightgown. We make eye contact. “Randall,” she shouts at the dog, “shut your mouth.”

Later, Brian’s father is shirtless at the stove. I’m overwhelmed by the odor of simmering garlic. Eggs sizzle in cast iron.

“Morning,” he says. “That color looks nice on you.” I can see vapor as he talks. A strange green and red pattern appears to be tattooed around his nipple; the pattern, I realize, is my lip stick and teeth marks. “This’d been Brian’s favorite breakfast,” he says.

Yesterday, I don’t recall him speaking Brian’s name. I understand this may be part of the grieving process, but really, who wants so much garlic first thing in the morning?

Photo credit: Skley on /  CC BY-ND

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