He Who Left

Submitted by Julianna Franconi to Contest #19 in response to: Write a short story about someone searching for the perfect gift for their partner.... view prompt

I wake up to darkness. My big bed I find empty and cold. It takes me a minute for the bliss of forgetting to fade, but I then I remember. I remember everything. The ache in my chest settles in, sinking into every nerve, every muscle, until my whole body groans with the weight of heartbreak. Every morning it’s the same. Forgetting. Remembering. And the throbbing pain. 

I don’t know if its too early to get out of bed and I don’t bother checking the clock. I want to stay wrapped tight in my sheets, protected from the sadness. I glance over to my nightstand and see my ring. My gorgeous wedding ring. Even though I shouldn’t, I snatch it from the table, and slip it onto my left ring finger. I feel safer now. I am stronger with it on. 

I sink into my covers and lay face up toward the ceiling. If I strain my ears, I can just hear the faint, even breathes of Eric in the room next door. A small smile tugs on my mouth. He’s the only thing that kept me going since Grant left us. The only thing that gets me out of bed each morning. My son is the sunshine that burns through the suffocating darkness. 

Suddenly I have the urge to see him, to check that he’s still there. I flip my heavy duvet off my body and stand. My legs wobble. Another day has started. A wave of fresh pain washes over me. It makes my steps feel heavy and my trip to Eric’s room takes what seems like hours. By the time I get there, I’m almost certain he’s wake. I’m not very stealthy. 

As I had guessed, when I reach for the door, it creaks open, and I see my handsome, perfect son on the other side. His face his cubby with youth and his hair a gold blond. He looks more like me than I ever realized. But he smiles like Grant. That hurts me the most. 

“Mommy,” he says in his blubbery accent of a three year old, “You woke me up!”

I’m not surprised. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. Go back to bed.” 

He grabs onto my leg. “I can’t. I want to see Daddy.” 

My heart stalls. Every year on the same day we see Grant. Once a year. Only once. My son had to see his father. I had to see my husband. And I like to think Grant likes to see us, too. So I agreed to see him. But I could only handle one visit. I tried to remember when I had arranged a trip to see Grant. I swallow the baseball size lump in my throat and sputter, “Eric, sweety, I don’t think we’re going to see Daddy today.” 

“But it’s the 17th!” he shouts, “We’ve gone every year!”  

I stifle a sob. It is December 17th. Today is the day. “Are you sure you want to go?” I ask, hoping for an answer I know I wasn’t going to get.

“Yeah, Mommy! Don’t you want to see Daddy, too?” Eric says, his big eyes looking up at me.

Of course I don’t. I can’t even imagine seeing him. “Yes, of course I want to see him,” I hope he can’t sense the lie, “Now go get ready. I want to get there before sunrise.

***

The car ride is long. It always is. The meeting point is almost two hours away. I let Eric use his iPad to play or watch a show. And I zone out into the starry night sky and listen to the low hum of the car engine. I try not to think, or my thoughts drift to Grant. How I didn’t even get to tell him goodbye or I love you. He left me. He left my son. Our son. And yet I can’t hate him. The sorrow drowns all my other emotions. 

 It’s been more than a year since my husband left. You would think the pain would fade, but somehow it’s managed to grow. I still wear my ring. I haven’t gone on one date. I live in the same house in the same place. I’ve preserved everything how it was before Grant left. Maybe a small piece of me hopes that he’ll come back, that when he sees everyone still loves him, that everyone is waiting for him, he’ll return. But, I know, as much as I try to deny it, it’s impossible. 

***

I pull up to the meeting place just as the sun begins to rise. I slowly open the car door while Eric leaps out, excited. He looks to me, his face happy and bright. I softly smile, “Go ahead, sweetheart. You know where he is.” Eric gives me a quick hug, for which I’m very grateful for, and runs off. 

I walk after him, sure to keep a particularly sluggish pace. I can’t see Grant just yet. The wound still feels so raw, so new. So I drag myself along the stone walkway, through the tall trees. They’re a deep, beautiful green, crisp in the cool air. They seem so alive. How? In a place like this? 

I hear a rustle. My eyes dart to the direction of the noise. I squint to see what looks like a short, elderly woman kneeling down on the ground, hunched and weeping. I’m surprised to see someone here so early in the morning. It feels as if I’m intruding, so I trudge a little faster. 

The quicker I walk, the more nervous I get. I wonder if I should have brought Grant something, a small gift or flowers. I wonder if I’m enough. If our son’s enough. 

Then I see him. My heat holds. My breath catches. I see my perfect little boy talking to my husband with a huge grin on his face, complete wonder in his eyes, like he’s been waiting years to tell his daddy the story. 

Suddenly, I find myself making my way over to both of them. I’m drawn to them like a magnet. I need to be with my family. 

I sit down next to Eric on the dewy grass. I pull him into a tight hug as he continues to tell his tale. “Mommy!” He gushed, “Say hi to Daddy!” 

It’s hard to look up but when I do my glassy eyes read over the smooth gray stone in front of me: 

Grant Tucker Norwood 

Loving Father and Husband 

1984-2018

With my tears flowing down my face, I whisper, “Hello, Grant.”



You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

4 likes 2 comments

09:07 Dec 23, 2019

Unexpected ending...well done.

Reply

Show 0 replies
19:02 Jan 02, 2020

I loved the twist at the end, and how you displayed so many emotions throughout. Great work!

Reply

Show 0 replies