A few years ago I decided to write a contemporary fiction piece based on a short scene I had in my head. It was a husband receiving a letter from his dead wife.
Michael sat at the kitchen table, his palms drenched in sweat. He just wanted to get up and pace but knew his knees would buckle. The lack of sleep had taken its toll, as dark chocolate pupils peered over his heavy eye-lids. His eyes strained to focus on Laura’s letter that lay on the table, the same one that delivered a bad punch line a few weeks earlier. As he moved his hand towards it, pain tore through him, like the very essence of his soul had been scorched by the presence of it. Michael rubbed his eyes, as he saw a green glow coming from beneath the letter. As if it was his own personal kryptonite and he was powerless.
Michael knew nothing about Laura’s letter that was brought to him by the family solicitor a few days after the funeral. A passage in the letter started all this chaos of emotions, changing his sorrow and loss, into anger and pain.
But now I feel you should know the truth, baby. You will no doubt hate me for this,
all I can say is I am sorry. So many times I tried to tell you, but could never find the right words. I am so sorry, do you remember that time we had a break back in ’99.
I know we have looked back on it over the years and laughed and cried, but something happened whilst we were on that break. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but I was so angry with you, baby. I don’t even recall his name or what he looks like. There is no other
way to say it, but I am sure Clark is…
The remaining words of the passage had been branded into his mind, but he did not want to think about them.
From the Kitchen table, he could see into the living room. Photo albums covered the coffee table, all opened at different pages. Empty beer bottles were scattered around the room. The couch had doubled as his bed for the last couple of weeks as he could not face sleeping in their bed, alone. Every time he stepped into their master bedroom, he felt the presence of her slipping away piece by piece.
Michael knocked back the last bit of beer and placed the bottle on the table, as he stood up. His soul screamed as he reached for the letter, once in his hand the green glow disappeared. Without looking, he folded the letter and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He walked over to the fridge but paused as he caught his reflection in the glass cupboard. For days he hadn’t bothered to look in a mirror, he recognised the eyes, but something had changed. Stylish stubble was now a bushy beard, his dark brown hair that once flowed looked flat and greasy. He had become his shadow self.
Magnets covered the fridge door, holding up a shopping and jobs to-do list all written by Laura’s hand. In the middle, held up by a heart-shaped magnet, was the last photo of her, taken a few days before she was diagnosed with the brain tumour. He stared at her hazel eyes, but the more he looked, he began to see how Clark looked like Laura. The same big smile, brown freckles and cute dimples. The rest of the family said Clark got his height and hair colour from Michael’s genes, but something had always bothered him and since Laura’s letter he thought of it more. Clark’s blue eyes. Michael had read about the possibility of two brown-eyed parents conceiving a blue-eyed child and the odds were slim. He wondered if anyone else had doubts about him being Clark’s father.
With a cold beer in his hand, he headed into the living room. The bottle opener was lying on the floor, but as he reached for it, he caught sight of a photo in one of the albums. It was of the day Clark was born as he lay in his cot in the hospital. He wore a little light blue baby grow and around his wrist was his tiny nametag, his small hand wrapped around Michaels’ finger. A tear rolled down Michael’s cheek as he began to look through the rest of the album; with every memory captured, he could see Clark grow.
Michael heard faint laughter coming from the front of the house, he moved to the hallway and it changed to a snorting laugh. Just like Laura’s, it always made him smile. As he stood in the doorway to the front room, he flicked the light switch. As the light grew, the room became clear. Christmas stockings hung from the mantelpiece, red and gold tinsel was draped around the tree set-up in the bay window. Mountains of presents hid the base of it. Clark and Andrew were arguing over a nameless gift, both of them adamant that it was on their pile then Laura appeared and damped the growing tension. Michael saw Laura throw a look back in his direction as if to say, are you just going to stand there or are you going to give me a hand. As he moved, the memory faded and the tree was replaced by the TV. The laughter carried on up the street.
Michael moved towards the staircase. A dozen letters lay abandoned on the bottom step. As he put his foot on the second step, a squeak filled the silence. Number two on the things-to-do list, Laura had nagged him about it for months. He went up a few more steps and stopped. As he sat down, he pulled the letter from his pocket and began to fiddle with it. He thought of the photo where Clark’s hand was wrapped around his finger, whether it was by blood or not, there was a bond that could not be broken. Michael toyed with the letter then placed it back in his pocket, as he looked around; he saw a photo on the wall. The Fishers and Keaton’s family caravan holiday in Wales. Laura’s keen eye had caught Michael and Frank sat on a wooden bench, Pippa was carrying a tray of snacks. Andrew was lying on a recliner listening to his I-pod and playing on his PSP. Michael recalled that it only ever left Andrew’s hands when he was eating. Corey and Clark were chasing each other around the caravan.
It was on their second holiday together when Michael found out that Frank and Pippa had a secret. The Keaton’s spoke about the IVF treatment.
“Four times we tried, Michael.”
“Yeah, but it obviously worked, look you got Corey.”
“We did get Corey, and we wouldn’t change him for anything, but.”
“There is a but, don’t tell me he is an alien!”
“No, he isn’t, we adopted him after the IVF failed.”
“Well, I would never have guessed it. What was it like when you got him?”
“Corey made us feel complete, like a family, exactly like what you have got Michael”
Michael watched them the next day and could tell this was true. Nobody questioned Frank and Pippa about Corey, everybody just accepted it. He thought the same should be said for Clark, nobody needed to know.
Michael climbed the rest of the steps to the landing. Every part of his body felt drained and he could not remember the last time he had a good nights sleep. Frank and Pippa had kindly taken the boys away for the week, he was grateful for that as he didn’t want anyone to see his shadow self. But he knew he had to get himself right for when they returned.
Michael stood at the door to the master bedroom and paused. Every time he had gone into their room, he felt her slipping away. He knew that he had to let her go, not just for his sanity, but for the boys too. She wasn’t coming back. He started to think of the boys and how they may have felt, over the last few weeks. Michael reached for the door slowly; he took a deep breath before he tightly gripped the handle. He pulled, it clicked and then he pushed the door open. As he stepped into the darkness, he closed his eyes and flicked the light on.
“Please be there!”
All he wanted was to see her and hold her one more time, just to see her sitting on the bed or at her dressing table, with that smile of hers. He felt the light fill the room and for a moment as he opened his eyes, he thought he caught a glimpse of her but the lack of sleep and alcohol had caught up with him now. The room was just as Laura had left it, no mess, everything had a place, which was how she saw most things.
As he shut the door Laura’s dressing gown kissed his hand, he unhooked it and sat on her side of the bed. He held it to his chest and inhaled, it smelt of her. The bed felt soft but he was heavy. Blindly he reached for the alarm clock but he caught the button to the CD player and his eyes welled up, as the silence was broken. Each note played painted the picture of the funeral in his mind, all the handshakes and kind words came flooding back. His tears flowed and he saw them glisten like diamonds on the floor. For the first time, he listened to the lyrics and could see why she picked it, not because it was her favourite artist but part of the lyrics cut deep into his soul. Two lines of the verse played over and over in his mind cutting deeper and deeper.
To me, you lived a life of burden.
And the pain was yours alone.
For the first time he thought, what must it have been like for Laura? How painful it must have been for her, not once, did she show the pressure that burdened her? Did she just forget, let it lie dormant or did it fight to be heard. As he closed his eyes and drifted off, he knew that she was free. As her secret had found a new host.