A Short Story
It arrived on a Thursday afternoon. I’d been drinking my afternoon cup of tea when I heard the sound of the mailbox closing; the whine, the clink.
Eventually I made my way down the hill, slowly, in no rush to see the plethora of bills and ads that no doubt awaited me. I carefully shuffled back up the hill, the post in a bunch under my arm, putting off looking through it all for as long as possible.
In through the door, then locked it behind me. I plopped the pile on the kitchen table and sat in front of it. Drained the last of my tea.
I flipped through two ads for loans, one for cleaning the gutters. Created a trash pile off to the side. Then an envelope caught my eye.
Something in the back of my brain told me I recognized the handwriting but I couldn’t place it. I tore into the lavender envelope. It was a card. A letter fell out onto my lap.
The card said something about “Thinking of You” but it barely registered. I saw the scrawled name at the bottom of the card. I picked up the letter. It had been three years or more since I’d even allowed myself to think of him. Much longer since we’d spoken on the phone. It hadn’t ended well between us, not at all. I was shocked that he had written.
Our daughter was what they called “gifted” with a much higher than average IQ. She was on track to get a high school diploma by the age of eleven. She never made it.
One rainy night a drunk driver ran a red light and crashed through our car. He, my husband and I, we were banged and bruised, but she—she had been trapped in the car.
I remember laying with my face on the pavement, staring at her, crying… she upside-down and immobilized, me—just trying to stay close, to reassure her. But—smart as she was—she knew and accepted it before we did. She knew she was on her way out.
“I’m sorry, Momma. I had things to do. There were things I wanted to say,” she said, matter-of-factly, her blue eyes burrowing into mine.
“I know, Sweetie! Hold on! You will say them one day!” I was not ready to let go.
“No, I have stories to tell. I have books and poetry to write, inventions to invent,” she said, then sighed. “I’m not ready. Why do I have to go?” she asked, and the last shred of my heart shattered.
A month after we buried her, he had left. My husband, he couldn’t take it. I tried to tell him about my pain, but his was too great. He fell into a bottle and as far as I knew, he’d never come out of it.
I began to read his letter.
He told me of the darkest days, the days that blurred together, a fog of booze and tears. He spoke of the great guilt he carried; guilt that he had been at the wheel, though very sober and not at all at fault, he still felt he should’ve been able to prevent the accident. The guilt he also carried that he had not been there for me when I needed him.
They were all things I’d wanted to hear so badly at the time, but now… it just felt like too little, too late. My heart had died the night our child did, and I had nothing left to give him, not even my forgiveness.
He wanted me to speak words of encouragement to him, to tell him everything would be okay, but I couldn’t speak the words. In fact, I dropped the letter into the trash bin, only partially read.
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand it, I could not fathom why a child should have to die, then the bitter irony of my husband becoming a drunk afterwards, it was just too much. Life had become too much.
I had managed to get a new job, one working from home, doing data entry. Within a year, I rarely left the house. My friends had all fallen away. A few tried for weeks, maybe months, to reach me, but eventually they grew tired of me telling them to go away and leave me alone… they finally did.
I lived like a zombie, a ghost. Wake up, have coffee, take a shower. Work. Lunch. Work. TV. Bed. I talked to people as infrequently as I possibly could. Most of what I needed to survive was delivered to my door, ordered online. I only ever saw the sun on my walks to and from the mailbox each afternoon. The sun was an affront to me, how dare it shine when everything in me was rain?
It’s funny how life goes on, the world still turns, after a tragedy. The ant-farm of life still buzzing away like normal, like everything was just as it should be, like… like… my pain, my loss, didn’t matter, didn’t compute. Not part of the Matrix.
After a few moments pondering, I went and grabbed the letter out of the trash bin. I wiped the few coffee grounds off of it that had stained the pages, and I folded it neatly. I put it in my desk drawer.
I couldn’t read the rest of it today, not this day. But one day, I would read it. I would finish it. I’d call him and tell him how much I loved and missed him, and that, for what it was worth, I forgave him.
Maybe one day, but not today. One day, I’d open the blinds, prop open the door, let the sun back in. One day I’d go out to the store to make my purchases, to a coffee shop and have a cup of coffee in public, smile at a stranger.
One day I’d compartmentalize my pain, put away my grief.
One day I’d finish the letter from him.