This short story was inspired by Nikki at Flying Through Water’s Penguin Prompt: Relax. I’ve probably taken it in a strange direction, but this is what came out. I hope you enjoy.
He would never see this. His daughter’s wobbly legs getting stronger, moving onto walking legs and then running legs. He wouldn’t see his son’s hair grow so long that it brushes against his eyes. The kind green of them revealed as he flicks the brown strands away.
Karen sucked in a sharp breath as she watched her children play in the backyard, chasing a butterfly around the swing set. Not yet two and eight, they had lost their Father and she had lost her Aaron. Caleb, will remember him but Jackie calls out his name out of habit, her tiny fist stuck in her mouth as she looks at pictures on the phone.
Four had become three but she couldn’t think about it too hard because her throat closed over and she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t be the Mother these kids needed if she let grief crush her, they just lost their Dad and she was determined that they weren’t going to lose their Mum too.
But at moments like this when they were happy, the childish shrieks and laughter echoing through the empty house, these were the times that were the hardest. These were the times she missed him the most. She could cry now, be the grieving wife when they weren’t looking. Just a woman who had lost her best friend, her soulmate, and the only person in the World that knew her, that really knew her.
Grief strangled her and squeezed at her heart, and she let the tears come. Her hand clawed at her chest to carve out the pain, the unbearable weight on her shoulders.
“Aaron,” she whispered. “I can’t do this without you.”
The doorbell rang and she ignored it, until the high-pitched voice of Laurel from next door, came down the hallway.
Karen wiped her face with the wet chux and took a few deep breaths before she opened the front door.
Laurel was standing just inside the screen door in a maroon velour tracksuit, her grey curls swept up in a bun and she wore a pair of floral oven mitts, a casserole dish in her gloved hands.
“I made my mother’s lasagne,” she said pushing past her and shuffling into the kitchen. “You can freeze the rest and have it next week.”
“That’s very kind, Laurel, but you didn’t need to.”
She put the dish on the stove and pulled off her oven mitts. “Of course I didn’t have to. Now,” she pressed her small hands against Karen’s cheeks, the warmth from the hot dish lingering in her palms. Or maybe it was just her, she was warm.
“I’ve made you a cuppa and put out a slice of my cherry pie, it’s on the kitchen table at my place. Just put your feet up and relax for a minute. Go on over and help yourself before it gets cold, I’ve left the front door open, and I’ll watch the kiddies.”
She patted Karen’s cheek and the tears fell again. Her small arms wrapped her in a cinnamon scented hug.
“Oh Karen,” she said into her ear, “I remember when my Richard died. Sometimes you just need to be on your own. Go.” She pulled back and turned Karen’s shoulders towards the front door. “I’ll make sure they eat and come back when you’re ready.”
“Thank you,” she said before her tears came flowing so hard she barely made it next door.
On Laurel’s kitchen table as promised, was a cup of tea, steam rising lazily from the bone china, a tea pot that she bet was full to the brim, and a piece of cherry pie. The other thoughtful addition was a box of tissues. She inhaled deeply and let the quiet of Laurel’s house and the cinnamon scented air seep into her bones.