The Freshest Start of All.

Submitted into Contest #126 in response to: Write a story about someone seeking a fresh start after a difficult year.... view prompt


Drama Inspirational Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

I had moved to Mirror Lake, like every other newbie in town, to get a fresh start and breathe some country air away from the smog and mad rush of the city. I was going to move a bit earlier but had to postpone my plans due to the death of my beloved wife, Gisselle. Gisselle was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and she died in my arms only three months after the doctor delivered the shocking news. 

  It was Gisselle’s idea to relocate to Mirror lake, her lush femininity longing for a homecoming into the abundance and fecundity of nature. She told a story, a happy one, of being a young girl and visiting Mirror Lake with her parents. She said it was the most content she had seen them for a long time and they didn’t fight once in the two weeks they stayed there. They hugged and kissed, she said, and even danced slow, drunken rambles to the crooning ballads of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. 

  As Gisselle grew she developed a love of movement and dance, her lithe, athletic body born to leap and twirl and prance about a stage. Unfortunately, a serious knee injury robbed her of a career as a dancer but this did not stop her from celebrating, whenever the opportunity arose, the sheer joy she found in whatever form of movement her body allowed for. 

  Then, when she learned she had only months to live…well, it was like a dark shroud fell across her heart and she wouldn’t hear of moving away from the cities resources of home and family. I felt so sad for her (and myself); we would never live in the little wooden shack we purchased with the big old verandah overlooking Mirror Lake. Instead of opting for alternate medicines, fresh organic food, walks in nature, meditation and prayer, Gisselle was diverted by her families insistence on traditional medicine and secular wisdom which, to my horror, included chemotherapy as well as a host of other invasive procedures and life style choices.  

  But Gisselle had wanted to go to Mirror lake to live and not to die. She dreamed of long, summer nights watching the sun go down behind the nest of trees on our property; listening to the nightly chorus of kookaburras, magpies and twittering wrens so clear and sweet as they rejoiced in the day’s fiery passing. In partnership with her b.f.f. Claire, she was going to start her own hair salon business and work her own hours from home. She was going to take pottery and art classes, she was…

  It was going to be her fresh start. She was going to breathe and sing and bake and dance and make love and drink wine and slowly merge with the soft, pastel sunlight of dawn and dusk. Instead she faded away from me in a slow, mesmerising burn made more poignant because of her fragile, ephemeral grip on life. She became hollow and effulgent and possessed of a vivid sensitivity which saw her halt mid sentence to listen to something far beyond the walls, or so she could peer up towards the ceiling at what she would later describe as ‘The Most Beautiful Light’ she had ever seen. 

  As I attended to her daily needs of eating, toileting, medication and bathing, I was privileged to behold many strange, luminous moments where her attention dramatically shifted as if to another plane or dimension. If it were not for our daily, grounding interactions centred around her care, I think she may have simply let go much sooner and sort of floated up and out of her body and earthly life. I think she hung on to be with me, to feel my touch and hear my voice and engage for just a little while longer-despite her obvious pain-with those she loved and cared for.  

 Every day was a new chance to express our love and it was a happy coincidence her needs dictated our flesh be so often pressed together in damp, sensual proximity-we caressed and stroked each other as I bathed her; we hugged and kissed as I lifted her up from her wheelchair or toilet; we argued, slapped and pinched each other as I combed her hair and applied her lipstick…and many was the time when we slow danced, her skeletal feet shuffling softly upon mine, when the pain became too much and only love was a strong enough balm to soothe the bright, steady fire of it.

  I am sure many of you know how it goes from here: the slow, painful end game as the flesh and options for treatment diminish and yet at the last, the absolute privilege of being a lantern to their fading; holding their hand, or stroking their face as they gently lean into the light, their eyes flickering up towards the angelic surge as that last, quiet ahhhh seeps from their lips accompanied by a wild gust of wind or a dog’s mournful, lamenting howl. 

  That’s not all I want to remember. 

  And there is a lot more I want to forget…

  Like when it was over and she was zipped up into a green, plastic bag and wheeled out on a stretcher leaving me to sob alone amidst wet sheets, warm bloody bandages and a deepening, dusky quiet. When the ambulance and nurse had gone, I busied myself cleaning up and at one point I paused over the soft dent in her pillow, her perfume lingering like a homeless ghost, before ripping the case off with an angry flourish. It was too early to feel the relief which would blow in like a cool sea breeze with its swirling, desiccated leaves of guilt and shame. Then I would be glad she was gone and would not have to endure, for one more minute, the unselfishness of her dying. 

  She was like the principal actor in a film or play who is always deflecting attention from themselves with generous referral to the other cast members and crew, saying how much she relies upon their steady, unheralded support. I wanted to sit her up on her bed and bring my face to hers and shout, ‘Darling, it’s you who is dying, not us...YOU!’ 

  The thing with caring for a dying loved one is it will either transport you up and beyond the realms of your selfishness, or it will reaffirm ones embedded sadness and summon forth a kind of existential neediness which negates all attempts at keeping it light and breezy for the one who is dying. I am ashamed now to report she held me in her arms as much (probably more) as I held her in mine. Even at the end when her body had collapsed into a jangling Mrs Bones and her eyes grew huge and bright and the light streaming from their shrunken sockets flooded the room; well, she weakly held my hand as she lay there and gifted me with a pearlescent string of tired smiles worth more in their valiant expression than all of my self conscious grimaces put together.   

  I tried though, I really did. I cried and cried my head resting gently on her chest as she stroked my hair and made strange, inspired noises; noises that seeped up from the ground of her being and blew, bubbled, hissed and fizzed from the thin fissure of her mouth-utterances barely audible which sounded like water streaming off a small, pebbled drop; or wind tinkling through a dry nest of dancing trees. But for the great clouds of sadness brooding dark and thundery within my chest, I could have given something beautiful back to her; perhaps the mesmeric drift of a gently spinning windmill, or the hum of a full moon over a shimmering, cobalt sea.

  But all I could give her were tears and she drank them like the holiest of waters, blessing me with a communion that drew me into a breathless worship and surrender, enabling me to die bit by bit beside her; her courage a brilliant lamp which we held forward and aloft, using it as a beacon to give shape and texture to an uncertain path ahead.   

  Soon after Gisselle passed I packed up and moved to the cabin in the woods. Before leaving I sold most of our stuff online and even held a garage sale where I lorded over proceedings from my recliner chair, lifting my glass in frequent, raucous toasts to her charm and generosity of spirit. It degenerated in the end to an ‘everything must go sale’ and people blocked the road with noisy, double parked cars as they scurried with barely concealed greed towards where I sat like Nero laughing and arguing and spilling booze and selling things progressively cheaper the drunker I became. 

  The move was not a happy occasion: I felt driven to flee from this place with so many memories of her valiant, desperate struggle amidst cloistered, darkened rooms and the atmosphere of doom and trial that pervaded them. However, in the end Gisselle proved to be true of wing and gracefully moving in an arc of ascension while I perched caged and immobile, shitting white flecks down onto the floor of my sadness and grief. 

  No, the move was not a happy occasion, nor was it smooth or without its crawling, inching desperations. I stumbled and fumbled along with friends doing their best- and I was grateful to them with their assurances of time healing all wounds and their anecdotes about people seeing Angels or flying through tunnels of light as surgeons thumped away at their lifeless chests. It was, in the end, a matter of negotiating the daily grind with the molasses thick sadness slumped across my heart. It was a dark, grim baggage of grief which made all the little activities of life unbearably tiring and cumbersome. Every item packed away, every phone call, every trip to the shops, every decision or action big or small was outflanked and fired upon by a black-coated army of aching loss and despair. 

  I was as with her then as I was when she was alive. I smelt her, I felt her, I talked to her; I loved her with all my heart and soul and having to watch her die was easily the hardest thing I was ever called to do. I slept in to eleven each morning then drank the afternoon away, often waking up in startled little fits, my hand reaching across the bed or couch in search of the warm, soft rolls of her flesh and bone. 

  But as time went by my life in the shack became stale with drinking and grieving and I longed for something new which could infuse my daily routine with purpose and lift me out from under a barely tolerable existence. I started to look for something to keep my mind from returning ad nauseam to Gisselle and the dreadful blackness which tarred my heart with depression and thoughts of suicide. With this small movement of will I had opened the door just enough to allow some air and a thin stream of light into the dull, musty room of my woe and it dawned on me I had the chance of starting fresh in a wonderful, vibrant place surrounded by trees and wildlife and water and interesting people...and there was no better combination to bring one back from the nether regions of heart break and despair.

  So, being a lover of coffee and the cafe’ scene in general, I stumbled out of my pyjamas like Charlie Chaplin on xanax, put on some jeans, tee shirt and shoes before heading for the nearest cafe in down town Mirror Lake. I headed out the door and smiled up at the tangerine sun resting lightly upon my face. I looked towards where the lake was sparkling in the mild, noonday light, my whole being blooming out and upwards as I drank in the beauty and calm quietude of the gums and reed banks growing near the waters edge. A few ibis lurched forward goofy-kneed as they lowered their long, white necks down into the water and sifted up microscopic food with their grey, crescent shaped bills. 

  I never made it to the cafe, not for a while at least, as I opted to sit by the water's edge and gaze across the vast, shimmering lake so resplendent with the buzz, flap, cry and splash of interconnected and interdependent life. Everything was so a-buzz with life, and this prompted me to scan the lake looking for a tiny reflection of her on its breezy, rippling waters. 'Perhaps' I mused hopefully, 'her spirit would gift me with a sign to let me know she was okay and happy and enjoying the freshest start of all.'

  Just then a little blue wren landed softly on my knee, arched its back and began swaying its fan shaped tail, so blue and beautiful, back and forth as it did a little jig just for me, all the while making a series of the most delightful, delighted trills and clicks. 

  I burst out laughing and the little bird took fright and flew away. I was then startled into rapt wonder as I looked up to behold hundreds of birds flying above the lake in a synchronic frenzy of twirls, swoops, tight turns and sudden dips. The birds swarmed up and coalesced into a huge, hanging ball which collapsed with an exhilarating plummet into a swirling, rolling dust cloud that stretched and rolled and twisted like a small tornado as it performed an intricate ballet that finally came together in quiet preparation, before exploding into the blue sky like the birds were part of a great and ecstatic fireworks display.   

  ‘Gisselle would have loved this’ I thought tearfully, amazed and so grateful for the generosity and mercy of life. Then I turned with rapt applause towards the swarming troupe of birds and said, with a sudden rush of tenderness, ‘Sweetheart, you always were so fond of dancing.’   


December 31, 2021 18:32

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Lisa Roberts
14:52 Jan 11, 2022

I think this is interesting. Just a comment, I would have liked a scene that you touched on about the garage sale. You could have written about all of her things and how hard they were to let go and each thing that was sold would have told us more about her. Just an idea to keep in mind when you write the next one.


05:21 Jan 12, 2022

Hi Lisa, thanks for your helpful comments and yes I see now the story would have benefited with a fleshing out of the female character and it would have also lifted the mood earlier in the piece. Appreciate your feedback. Cheers, Scoop.


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