1000 Days

The clock striking midnight signals the turn of a new day. Shadow dominates giving darkness the space it needs to thrive. I lie here awake holding your “hand”. I open my eyes, unable to pierce the thick void of nighttime blackness, staring at a ceiling I know is there.

Slowly the shadow of a light fixture takes form bathed in the soft red glow of the nightlight spilling along the spine of the en-suite. Other shadows take shape and although their objects are familiar, they appear menacing to a sleep addled brain. For a split second, I grip your “hand” tighter in an almost childish unease, but then logic flows in and my brain settles itself.

It takes a few more seconds to realize that the comfort generated by the holding of your “hand” is also an illusion, self generated, a brain remembering the feel of your warmth, the strength in your hand, the weight of your presence. Illusory because there is no hand to speak of, no presence beside me, nor weight, simply an empty shirt that long faded of your scent. I find comfort in the mere memory of those things and in that sense, my brain has learned to comfort itself.

I roll over to lay my head on your “chest” and hold “you”. I recall the soft rise and fall while your breath, warm and restful, flowed gently in and out feeding the life within. I feel it below my fingers as though you’re still here. I remember the uneven rhythm of your heart and in the darkness my ears falsely perceive the low thump-thump, thump-thump, pause, that they used to know so well. The memory of you is so real, so life-like that a part of my brain gains voice and screams it’s scream of a thousand days, “It’s not true! It was a mistake! He’s still here!”

A tear slips from my eye and soaks into your shirt. My heart begins to clench tight against the pain starting to flood in. Several other parts of my brain angrily shush the scream and overpower it, relegating it to its out of reach subconscious prison. It is a false voice and not to be paid any mind. But the pain has been released and there’s nothing left to do but allow myself to feel it, to grapple with the dissonance of doubt and disbelief it spawns anew; as it has each and every single one of these 1000 days without you.

How does one describe the lingering pain of a loss of this magnitude? How do you explain the freshness of it still after such time has passed? How do you convey the emptiness of your very soul? I feel as though a limb has been amputated and I sit here feeling it’s every sensation as phantom. Sometimes a light turns off on its own, or a toilet flushes and I want so badly to believe I live with a ghost and not the faulty fixtures of my cold reality. And other times I even smell you. I smell the you that was familiar, that was never more than twenty feet from me for all of our time together; the You to our Us.

I walk through Our home, still filled with the essence of our Us-ness and it comforts me to think that there are still minuscule fragments of your physical You scattered about as dust living in the cracks and crevices; naturally shed hairs or epithelials a testament to your once celebrated existence in life. You are still all around me, protecting me, enveloping me in arms that can now move through walls we once filled with laughter, love and life.

1000 days after you and my life continues, incomplete, a piece of my very soul amputated without warning. I move through my days trying to acclimatize to this still so fresh-to-me reality, while everyone else whose moved on, glances back at me in frustration.

1000 days have passed in a blur.

But I have memories of us doing things there is no way time would have allowed; that hike we took with the dog – but the dog didn’t come to me until months after you were gone..?..

Confusion ensues and the mind once again spins and tumbles trying to make sense of a fractured pattern it was so used to coding; inserting inaccurate data, making mistakes that I then must consciously and tediously fix for it. All while coming face to face with that cold harsh reality; you don’t exist anymore.

And the pain resurfaces anew,

1000 days after you.

(Dedicated to the memory of my loving husband)

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Toad

**It’s been a long time since I’ve produced a work of fiction here. As many good writers understand, life can get in the way.  So without further adieu, here is a  rough short story that experiments with voice. I hope you enjoy.**
My momma always said toads was a bad omen. Said, if late at night you happen upon one, you was to give it a wide berth lest you fall in its evil spell. I used to sit n’ day dream bout these toads of evil hoppin’ around searchin’ fer souls to take.

There was a toad that year Charlie died. Lookin’ back I can remember it clear as day but no one thought about it then, I guess. Shock maybe, or just a’feared that mentioning it aloud would bring the bad luck on them too.

I remember Rosy Haze sayin’ outside the funeral that the toad musta’ got ’em and swiftly bein’ hushed by her gramma. Rosy was a bit touched by God anyway, momma always said.

Yep, I remember it clear as day now. Hot summers day it was, not the kinda day you’d expect to see a toad that’s fer sure n I guess that’s what makes the tellin of this story so odd – kinda odd that puts prickles under yer skin.

We was playin round the side a the house when we heared this odd chirpin. Didn’t think nothin of it, cause birds was chirpin n singing all mornin anyways. We just kept playin in the dirt, crawlin round with our dinky cars n waiting on traffic jams caused by the odd ant crossin’ our made up streets. I was just thinkin’ on goin’ to ask momma for some lemonade cause we was shore thirsty playin in that hot sun when daddy come bustin out on the porch, screen door a’slammin behind him,

“What in tarnations all that racket?” He screamed at us. We jus shrugged our shoulders, “You kids ain’t messin’ with some animal out here is ya?”

And he come marchin’ over lookin down at us all ornery like a bear that’s been waked up too early. “We ain’t got nuthin daddy.” I spoke up fer us.

The sound was comin from the other side of the house. We followed daddy even though it was hot n the grass was dry n prickly under our bare feet.

And there it was. A big ol’ toad just lyin there in the sun makin the strangest sqwakin noise. Can’t recall as I’d ever heard a toad make noise before, heck can’t recall ever hearin’ one since come to think of it. You know I had goose bumps crawlin up my neck seein that thing lyin there in the middle of our scorched lawn sqwackin’ like…like…well heck, like nothin I’d ever heared afore. Or since.

Never saw daddy turn no shade a white like he did that day too. It was only brief but I saw it. Like his very ghostly soul came out n showed itself. He backed up a couple steps and I heared him say the lords name under his breath.

It was just a toad. But then, I was little n didn’t know much about the workings of the world then. Momma always said to give em a wide bearth. Maybe why daddy covered his ears n went back to the porch.

Bein’ kids we was curious. We ran behind daddy to the porch hollerin “Why he screamin like that daddy?”, “Is it got the rabies?” My little brother shouted.

Daddy stopped n just looked at us. There was fear in his eyes but he grabbed an ol milk crate n he said, “Look, it don’t mean nuthin’ and ya’ll gotta grow up some day believin’ right, so I wantcha to go over there n use this here crate n take it away? Understand? Can’t have yer momma screamin’ if she find out, y’know how she is bout them toads.” And he made a whirlin’ motion near his head.

I knew. But I also saw that daddy looked scared. Maybe cause I heared he done ol’ Mr Jones wrong in a poker game Saturday last, n’ maybe, just maybe mommas toad stories was under his skin too.

I didn’t know no difference. I wasn’t gonna fear no toad thats fer sure.

So off we went, doin as we was told. I’d never heard such a high pitched chirpin comin from no toad before but here it was, middle a’ our summer scorched lawn, openin its mouth and chirpin’ loud.

Lookin back, coulda been maybe caught out in the noon day sun was doin it to him. Lookin back, maybe that toad was just callin fer help in the only way it could.

I held the crate while my little brother, Charlie, tried to coax him in with a stick we’d found near the oak tree.

You know, that toad reared up at Charlie and chirped real loud? No one would ever believe the tellin’ but to this day, I swear it did.

The screen door on the front porch banged then. Momma comin our to see what all the fuss was. When she saw the big toad n heard the otherworldly noise it was makin she near dropped right there. “You kids leave that alone! What am I always tellin ya!? Dear Lord!! Get away from it! It ain’t right!”

Here we, bein kids n all, not knowin’ bout the truth of curses n such, we’re shoutin’ back, “It’s okay momma! He’s just hurt in’ We’s gonna help him back home.” “Yeah, he caint hurt us none if we help ‘im momma” that last part was Charlie.

Momma turned to the house then and we heared the screen door screechin as she yelled inside, “Charles Sr!! Charles Sr, look what them kids is messin with! Oh dear lord, protect my babies! Charles Sr. You get out here this instant!”

Charlie n me, we coaxed that ol’ toad in our milk crate n we carried it off toward the pond. Well, I was 9 and a girl, n’ Charlie was 5, so we wasn’t quite sure about toads but I knew bullfrogs was in the pond, never occurred to neither of us that toads was different. So off we went, n we spilled that ol’ toad there on the waters edge. Big as my head that one was. Heavy. Never seen one as big in all my years since.

Our good deed done we ran home to listen to momma n daddy fightin over that toad long until daddy passed out from drink.

Momma made us say triple prayers that night and held us in bed with her n her bible fer the next week. I guess until she felt the curse was lifted.

Week after that, Charlie caught a fish down to the pond n’ so proud of himself, it was a good sized catfish fer such a little guy, he held that fish high and took off runnin towards home to show momma. I sat laughin watchin him go. Neither of us heard the car speedin down the roadway. Charlie musta flew 20 feet in the air.

Can still hear momma screamin. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Just sat there, frozen, as people rushed around hollerin.

And dammit, if that toad weren’t sittin there watchin me!!

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9 Days

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I sit staring out into the yard. I’m waiting. Waiting for something to happen. It’s a thing that will never happen again. A puzzle piece slips from between my fingers snapping me back to the room. I realize I’ve been listening. Listening for his key in the door.

I think, “You have 9 days to come home before the year ends, no questions asked, no hard feelings.Just please, come home.” 9 days and I will love you harder this time, I will hold you here with me forever. When it comes time to leave, we’ll go together, hand in hand, the same way we walked through life. You won’t be alone. At the end? You won’t be alone again.

My ears wade through the silence, evaluating it. My mind is mapping the room, searching. My heart is thudding with an insatiable expectation that has been there for 356 days. 356 days of missing sounds, missing disruptions in air currents, missing the detection of a presence that has been there for 20 years.

Fact: You’re missing. You cannot be returned. The dead do not return.

Facts are quickly discredited in favor of hope. Hopeless hoping. Hoping against all that is known of this universe. Hope for things that cannot be. Hope for the sound of your key in the front door. Hope for your form moving through the fog in the distance. Hope for the sound of your voice calling, “Hey, I’m home.”

Would you be sorry? If you walked through that door again, would you be sorry for doing what you did? Would you apologize for this unimaginable pain in my heart? Would you apologize for tearing a wound through my very soul?

I bleed. Every day. No one sees. No one can. But I feel it.

It pours from me. Leaks from my eyes. Sprays, invisible, like a fierce geyser from my mouth. It rises from the very pit of my being and it pours in a painful soul crushing surge outward, spilling into my reality. Disrupting my balance. Threatening my sanity.

I hold onto hope. It is a vain endeavor and still my mind grasps it like a life preserver. It lives in the back of my brain, a constant companion denying fact, shielding me in a protective layer of ignorance. Denial. A fear of feeling the full impact of truth.

My ears pierce through the thickness of the surrounding silence.  They lock onto the handle at the front door. My mind measures the distance. My heart leaps in anticipation. The silence wins out. Again. There will be no key. No return. No warmth. No joy.

And time keeps ticking ever downward. For hope, it is running out. 9 days. There are 9 days before reality crashes into my existence. Again. Like a knife, slicing me from chin to abdomen, splaying all my reality over the ground for all to see. Silence.

You have 9 days to tell me it was all a mistake. You have 9 days to stop this play. I was never a willing actor in this theater.

You have 9 days to come home to me. No questions. All forgiven. Alter this reality.

9 days before silence and shadow become my constant and only companions.

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