This short story has been buzzing around in my head for over a week now. Frankly, I am grateful to have it out in the world and not still stuck in my head! It came from a nightmare, though this wasn’t the nightmare. It was more a product of the sadness and loss I felt within it. Turned into something which is, for me, more about hope.
Would that we all live a life which, when taken as a whole, comes down as one of love and happiness.
A warm summer breeze disturbed the curtains in the window. Lost in thought, the movement brought Eddie back to the present. Looking out of the window, to the lake beyond, Eddie smiled at Jill relaxing on a recliner, bathing in the warm sun at the end of the dock. From this far away, she could be the same girl he met more than fifty-years ago. Only the wheelchair parked next to her revealing the impact of time on her body. But not her smile. Not her laugh. Not her love.
Looking down at the dresser in their bedroom, Eddie picked up a picture from their wedding day. Standing, hand-in-hand, on the church steps. She’d been so beautiful that day. So full of life. He remembered how proud he’d been to have this woman in his world. How blessed. He never knew why she chose him, but my God, how lucky he felt. Every day from their first meeting until today. Tracing a finger over her smile, he smiled back at her image.
Returning the picture, the old man looked at their other photos. Jill loved to sit at this dresser, surrounded by happy memories, with the view of the lake and city beyond. All the smiling faces captured in time. Saved to be cherished. Seen and recalled, sometimes shared together with a laugh of recollection. Though that was rarer these days, his memory wasn’t what it had been. She always remembered, feigning annoyance at him not recalling, teasing him about his age. They would always laugh. Laugh together. That’s what he would miss the most.
Looking to the middle of the collection, Eddie reached out, hand trembling slightly to a picture of a young girl. Touching the frame, unable to pick it up. She was, what? Seven if he recalled correctly. A wistful look on her face, flowers in her hair. She sat on the deck as her mother did now.
Margaret. Maggy. Named for Jill’s mother, who had died just the year before her granddaughter’s birth. They had much in common, his daughter and mother-in-law. Both stubborn, serious, single-minded and quick to temper. Yet, both devoted to family, quick with a joke and seemingly possessing an unending reserve of compassion. In their eyes too, the only child in the whole family to have inherited her grandmother’s sea-grey eyes. Her long, deep red hair only seeming to accent her eyes. A real heart-breaker.
Or she would have been.
Like her grandmother, Maggy got sick. Much sooner than the elder, of course. It started less than five years after the photograph. The life slowly leaked from her. Tiredness, nose-bleeds, then a fever. The Doctors weren’t sure where to start, but when they were, it was too late. Nothing they could do, they sent her home to be with her family.
The jokes stopped coming, her eyes dimmed, even her red hair became dull, lifeless.
Then one Autumn night she was gone. Eddie held Jill as she screamed her pain and loss into the night. Held her as his tears blurred out the men taking his daughter away for the last time. Held her as his heart felt like it would burst from his chest. Held her as they laid her to rest in a wooden box, too small, oh way too small.
Even now, so many years later, the pain was too much. He’d never spoken of it. Hadn’t spoken of her. Of Maggy. Of his daughter. Since then, since her funeral.
There were times he wanted to die, to end the loss. But he had Jill and Michael. Their son.
Moving his hand from Maggy’s picture, Eddie picked up the latest photograph in their collection. Michael in his uniform. They’d been so proud when he had enlisted, going off to protect their country, to fight for peace. Michael looked like his father, stern, stoic, strong-jawed and proud. A man Eddie was proud to be a father to.
So far from home now, Michael had called last week, he couldn’t say where he was or what he was doing. But he looked well on the video and assured them he would be home soon. It would all be over soon.
Jill called from the dock, her voice floating in with the breeze and just as welcome. Returning the photograph, Eddie walked from their bedroom and closed the door behind him.
He carefully made his way down the stairs, old bones complaining all the way. Creaking and twinging pain where once he would have run to her. It could be worse, he thought, but it won’t be now.
Walking from the hall into the family room, Eddie paused by his favourite chair to look around him. He’d chosen this home with Jill, a place to raise children and live their lives. When they first saw it, they knew they would live full and happy lives here. Oh, there had been arguments, sad times, loss, but here, in this house, they made a life together and lived it. All around him memories unravelled, it was as if the happiness of their lives had left a mark on the soul of the building.
Hearing Jill call again, Eddie willed his aching body to take him to his wife. Out, through the back door, leaving it wide open to the world. Into the brilliant sunlight and across the perfectly mowed lawn. Finally, walking across the dock, the old wood reassuring under foot, to stand with Jill.
She looked up, smiling and squinting through the sun, “You took your time, where were you?”
Eddie looked deep into her eyes, so full of love, “Just taking a last look, you know? Remembering.”
Her smile faltered a moment, “It will be okay, won’t it?”
Eddie nodded, then motioned her forward, “Come on, make some room, let’s sit like we used to.”
Smiling, Jill moved forward with some effort, giving Eddie enough space to sit behind her, one of his legs on either side of the lounger. With a sigh, Jill lay back, resting on his chest. Wrapping his arms around her, Eddie let her rest on him now as she always had, Jill took his hand in hers.
Holding his wife close, Eddie whispered in her ear, “Thank you.”
“All of this. Sharing your life. The home we built, the family we had. All of it. I never thought I would see this much happiness. So, thank you for your love and accepting mine.”
Jill said nothing, just squeezed his hand and looked out at the lake.
“I never said that I miss Maggy. But I do. Every day.” He said, a single tear rolling down his cheek and falling into Jill’s hair.
“You never needed to. I know you do and so does she. We never stopped loving her and you can tell her yourself soon.” Replied Jill, her voice filled with hope and love.
“Aren’t you scared?”
“No, Eddie. We’ve lived full lives and you’re with me. How can I be scared with your arms around me, keeping me safe?”
In the distance, over the city, a small object came into view, falling from the sky. Getting lower, and lower before seeming to stop in mid-air. With a blinding flash, the weapon detonated, vaporising the city and sending a distinctive mushroom cloud billowing toward the heavens. In that instant of the explosion, Eddie’s retinas fused, blinding him from the oncoming destruction.
Holding Jill tight, Eddie leaned round and kissed her cheek. “Whatever comes next, and I glad we’re finding out together.”
“Together.” Jill said turning her head to kiss her husband as the roaring wall of flame tore across the countryside towards them.
Breaking the kiss to sightlessly touch her face one last time, Eddie leaned close and whispered three words from his heart as the flames engulfed them both.