The dark made no difference to the man. His heart lay under a blanket, covered. His ears ached to hear, but silence was only met with a small, labored breath. The man who never cried, who made no sounds, uttered no requests longed to hear one word. He waited, lingered, but the dark room heard only the small, struggling breath of a sleeping child.
“I never heard you,” she blinked in the bright sunlight. The new house had no shade from its young trees. The man stared at her red lips holding in her gritted, glittering white teeth. She still looked beautiful, but there was a hardness to her eyes now, and he stepped back on the lawn.
“I asked you to call if there was ever a problem.”
“I never heard you.”
“You said that before,” but his voice sounded hoarse.
“Well,” she snapped her sunglasses onto her nose, “I didn’t.”
He shifted his weight, unsettled.
“Besides,” she continued, her calm tone belying her clicking fingernails, “we have never needed your help. There has never been a problem until … anyway, it doesn’t matter now, does it?”
The man stared at her perfectly manicured shell, “Not to you. But what happened-”
“Don’t judge me! If I made a mistake, then no one is perfect! What did you expect when you left, a newsletter? You left! So, you come back and think we’re all glad to see you, that everything will be fixed easily. Did you really think that?” She tilted her head and he could see the shadow-prints of her eyes measuring him behind the tinted lenses, “What did you come here for?”
“You said I had a daughter.”
Her lips split into a cruel smile, “You did.”
The shutting of the car door made a clipped sound and the cold froze his nostrils as his breath came out in little puffs, highlighting his initial anxiety. He could smell fall, the smell of dust and pine in a swirl of pumpkin spice. But autumn had been swept away from this sacred place. Even though trees stood tall and proud, their blankets of color had been removed day by day so that the ground could be clearly seen.
The man saw the maple he was looking for, christened in red leaves that hung on tenaciously to their branches despite the cold snap of wind that whipped his face. He trudged his weighted feet through the maze of mounds. Set in his course, he did not falter until he came to a sunken mound guarded by a small stone. She had said she wanted a small stone. He found himself kneeling suddenly, his knees had a funny way of buckling when he allowed himself to think of her, to feel. But he could not cry, there were too many emotions. He began to sort through them methodically like an old woman sorting through her buttons, looking for some that might match. Nothing seemed to make sense. The buttons fell out in a jumbled array of colors and sizes. He picked one up and looked at it.
“I loved you.”
I love you, too. Will we always be together?
“Of course. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?”
That’s what the fairytales say.
“I’ve never felt like this – do you think it’s real? That it will last?”
When I’m with you, I do.
“So did I,” stated the man as he placed the first memory button down. He held the next one in his palm and rubbed it gently with his thumb. He could still see her face when he lifted the veil, feel her smile as she clearly spoke her vows, but he could no longer taste her as he once had. That memory had faded. The next memory didn’t match, he didnt want to remember this one. He winced in pain as it spiked its way through his soul. His hands became fists as screams filled his ears.
“You’ve got to make it stop! Please, she’s – wait, Helen! Helen, honey, stay with me. Helen. Helen? Helen!”
I love you … I do .. there’s just so much … I’m tired. Don’t let me go, promise. Promise!
He turned his eyes to the stone as though it might comfort him.
Helen Stuart James
Wife and daughter,
“I never let you go,” he whispered into the wind, “but you left me.” He closed his eyes and saw her once more, “What did you want to tell me?”
She pulled his hand to her abdomen. It was still firm, but she giggled as he looked at her quizzically, A piece of you. God has given me a piece of you, of us to last beyond our lives. A child, she gently touched his face, our child.
He cradled his knees to his chin and began rocking slightly.