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Tomorrow is too late

Gus woke up to a familiar sound: seagulls squawking as the sun rose on a warm summer’s day. The smell of salty Atlantic sea air rolled in through the open window in his bedroom which, combined with the noise of the birds, roused him to consciousness. He pulled back the curtains and looked out over the ocean, breathing the smell in deeply (well, as deeply as he could).

He put himself through his morning routine, assembled a modest breakfast of toast and black coffee, and went to enjoy it out on his balcony. Gus lived on the eighth floor of a medium-sized apartment building, in a small town on the eastern coast of the United States (the specific name of which is not important to our story).

Gus enjoyed watching the maritime traffic from his balcony in the morning, before the day got oppressively hot and he was forced indoors. He saw some dinghies had already put out to the open waters before the sun had even risen, and were mere specks amongst the visual noise of the churning waters. The pleasure boats were all still moored at the docks though – their owners wouldn’t unleash them on to the waters for another couple hours.

As he finished off his toast, Gus lit the first of what would surely be many cigarettes today. He had stopped enjoying smoking years ago, but like his boat-watching, or the smell of the ocean, it was familiar. There was a comfort he took in the certainty of his routine.

Gus’ appearance was unremarkable for someone his age. He was in his late seventies, about 5’8″, somewhat stout, with salt-and-pepper black hair that he kept short, but not too short. He shaved regularly, didn’t need glasses, and dressed modestly, often in a pair of brown or tan slacks and a plain blue shirt of varying hues.

After about an hour or so of enjoying the view from his balcony, the day began to warm to an unpleasant degree, and Gus retreated to the interior of his apartment. As he shut the sliding screen door to the balcony behind him, he turned to head towards his easy chair when his calendar caught his eye. He thought for probably too long about what the date was before coming to the conclusion that tomorrow had a reminder scrawled on it:

“Jennifer – Birthday – 24”.

Like much of his life, he added these reminders to each successive year’s calendar on automatic. He would record birthdays and anniversaries for the last bit of family he had: his son, and his son’s two children, who he surmised were both now in their mid-to-late twenties. Gus hadn’t had regular contact with them for…almost twenty years? He couldn’t even remember why any more.

They weren’t part of the routine.

He stared at the scrawled note on the calendar. He could picture Jennifer clearly in his mind’s eye – as a five-year-old. What was she like now? He wondered if she took after him at all, or his ex-wife. Did she play any sports? What were her hobbies? He thinks he heard about a boyfriend when he last spoke to his son a year or two ago. How was that going?

His eyes watered slightly. He took a couple slow breaths, to steady himself. They weren’t terribly deep, but they helped quell the tide of emotion that had threatened to drag him out to sea. In that moment, he had resolved to himself: he would call her tomorrow. He would ask about her hobbies. He would ask if she would like to see him sometime. She could even bring that boyfriend.

He crossed the room with more purpose in his step than he had had in a while, and settled in to his easy chair. There was a big game today, and as long as the boys played well and those damn rookies didn’t choke like always, they should have it in the bag.

“I swear, if I had a nickel for every rookie that cost this team a title…” He muttered to himself as he scanned around for the remote. He found it, pointing himself back to the TV, and saw the corner of the calendar peeking around the edge of the TV. He smiled. Tomorrow.

It was past sundown and Gus was back out on his balcony, the night bringing the world respite from the oppressive heat of the day. He was whistling softly to himself, the last nub of a cigarette glowing between his fingers. He took a slow, final drag, and butted it out in the ashtray resting on a small folding table beside him.

He lifted himself from his chair with slightly more effort than usual, and made his way inside. As he turned to close the screen door behind him, he caught himself on the wall. His head was spinning. Must have gotten up too fast. He tried to steady himself, again taking slow, shallow breaths.

His arm was starting to hurt. A lot. Had holding himself upright really become this difficult? No, this wasn’t exhaustion, this was something else. He got a nervous look in his eyes and began casting around the inside of his apartment for the phone. He needed help. Now.

He saw it a couple feet away on the side table by his chair; he turned, let go of the wall, and collapsed on the ground. He reached out with his good arm, but it was no use. It may as well have been on one of those dinghies out at sea.

Panic began to overtake him. His one arm screamed in pain, a shooting pain driving up and down it. His chest hurt a lot; he could barely breathe. He was taking short, whimpering breaths, and began curling in to a ball on his apartment floor. He opened his eyes briefly against the pain, and looked up.

“Jennifer – Birthday – 24”.

Tomorrow.

His eyes welled with tears.

It was a couple days before anyone had noticed that Gus had been eerily silent, and absent from his usual routine (the parts at least that brought him briefly in contact with other people, like the super of his apartment, or the local grocer). Police had been called, and the worst had been confirmed. The body had already been removed and the apartment cleaned by professionals by the time Jennifer and her parents stopped by.

“…probably going to smell like cigarette smoke in there,” remarked Jennifer’s father as he lead their small troupe through the door. They now had the unhappy task to assess a life they barely knew, and decide what was worth keeping.

As they spread out, the first thing Jennifer was drawn to was the calendar. She saw her birthday marked, almost a week ago to the day. She looked at it quizzically and turned around to address her parents: “Why did he have my birthday on his calendar?”

She began flipping through the months. It wasn’t just hers. “Why did he have everyone’s marked? And your anniversary? Did he ever call you, or write a letter or…something?” Her dad frowned a little, and shook his head.

“I don’t know,” he responded. He looked around at what was technically his father’s apartment, and saw the degrees and professional accolades his father had earned in life. They were faded, and a little smoke-damaged. He couldn’t help but look at them in a detached way, though: they were being assessed for their material value, not their sentimental value.

Jennifer made a small frowning face to herself, and looked back at the calendar.

“I wish he would have called.”

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