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Sad Happy

James hadn’t seen the stuff in years, hadn’t wanted to either, he would have been happy if he’d never seen it again and yet here he was, miserably trudging up the driveway to his family’s vacation lodge.

It was the middle of winter in the Cooley Mountain Range. Snow was piled up in meter high drifts, forming massive walls of white all around him, he hated snow and was almost ecstatic when the wooden walls of the lodge came into view.

There weren’t any cars next to the house so James guessed that everyone else had parked in the garage. Which he couldn’t, literally, they hadn’t plowed the driveway before he arrived so he’d been forced to walk through the frozen confetti.

He stomped his boots on the porch to get rid of excess snow. Standing in front of the door his hand wavered over the doorknob for moment, James had to take a deep breath and remind himself that this wasn’t going to be a repeat situation, this time he already knew someone was dead.

He pushed inside, finding a cozy living room with a warm fire crackling in the fireplace. Warm rugs covered the hardwood floor, and soft couches, chairs and beanbags were spread around the room, everything in the room was directioned in a circular pattern, so no matter where you sat everyone could still see each other.

Which was also true at the moment, to James’s great misfortune. The room would have been nice normally, a warm atmosphere where you could just relax with a book and a cup of coco. Various people were sitting on and around all those couches and chairs.

They’d all looked up when he came in the door, their eyes dark and ringed in halfmoons of sleeplessness, their faces drawn and pale, almost alien like next to their starched black funeral clothes.

Every eye was bloodshot, every hand held tissues, and every mouth held smiles, the laughter was quiet and light, but filled with memories and melancholy.

James spotted everyone from his family even those that lived overseas, his grandparents, his three sisters, two brothers, various aunts, uncles, and cousins, and a few nieces and nephews sat on the floor coloring, some of them were too young to even understand that someone was missing, that someone was gone.

Sitting at the base of an empty cerulean blue arm chair was his dad. He had the biggest smile on his face, his eyes showed no sign of grief, and he was currently playing with James’s youngest niece Caroline, who’d been named after her grandmother; the only one not in the room.

James had picked up the phone two days ago, only to hear the sound of his youngest brother crying, telling him he needed to come home.

James’s had come to the lodge instead; he knew that it was where everybody would be. This had been his mom’s favorite place.

Despite the fact that most of them hadn’t seen him in almost seven years, no one said anything to him. He didn’t care, he went to his little brother first, one of the only people he still talked to. Putting an arm around his shoulder and pulling him into a much-needed hug, squeezing him even tighter when his brother Jeremy started crying.

His eight-year-old nephew Percy came over to them, he tugged at James’s sleeve, forest green eyes wide. Jeremy let him go, and Percy still holding his sleeve led James to the lodge’s big kitchen.

Crouching down in front of the little boy as he spoke.

“Hey buddy, what’s the matter?”

Percy seemed completely comfortable talking to him, despite that fact that he couldn’t possibly remember him, Percy had still been a baby the last time James saw him.

 “Grandpa Arthur misses Grandma Caroline.”

“I know, we all do.”

The little boy looked determined, “Grandma Caroline always made hot chocolate for me when I was sad, she’s not here and I need a grownup’s help to boil the water, and you’re the only one not crying.”

James’s ruffled Percy’s hair and stood up, “I think that’s a great idea Percy, but you’re going to have to show me where everything is, it’s been a while since I’ve been here.”

Percy smiled, showing off a few missing teeth before he started rushing around the kitchen pulling out everything they would need. The other kids came in at some point too, curious about the noise, doing their best to help.

When all the hot chocolate had been safely poured into mugs, James had the older kids carry them very slowly into the living room, he gave Percy one as well when they had given some to everybody.

 “Here you go buddy, Grandma Caroline would be proud of you for thinking of this.”

Percy grinned as he lunged forward to grab the marshmallow bag off the counter, then he was gone and out of sight before James could stop him.

Someone laughed behind him, turning James found his dad standing in the doorway holding a cup of coco.

“You used to do the same thing when your mother made hot chocolate, only you usually ended up with a few sore fingers.”

“Oh yeah, I remember, mom actually whacked my hand with a rolling pin once, and told me that if tried one more time she’d never give me coco again.”

They shared a fond smile over the memory, both of them more than happy to reminisce about the past than confront the now, but

James’s needed to; he knew what if felt like to lose the person you wanted to spend forever with and he knew what it did to someone when left unspoken.

“Honestly, dad, how are you doing?”

The older man smiled gently and small wrinkles lined the corners of his eyes. “I miss her, so, so much, but I’m not grieving, she and I lived good long lives, full of everything we ever wanted, she passed peacefully in her sleep, and that’s how the both of us wanted to go, and I know she was happy.”

He ran a hand through his silver hair chuckling, “Sides, I know I’ll be with her soon enough and she’d probably smack me if I wasted time missing her instead of keeping on living.”

James’s stared at his dad, feeling tears finally fall down his face, “I miss her. You, her, and Jeremy were, are the only ones I have left.”

Arthur placed a hand on his son’s shoulder, it felt nice, James hadn’t been son, or child, or kid in a very long time, not since before he’d lost everything.

James stared out the sliding glass doors that led to a deck, his dad followed his gaze, seeming to realize that James couldn’t take his eyes off the snow still piling up outside, he could see the lake from here too, frozen of course, but frosted a with a light layer of snow, and just as he remembered it.

“It still reminds you of him doesn’t it?” His dad asked gently.

James laughed harshly, “How could it not?” snatches of a memory played unbeckoned his mind, a child building a snowman, a purple winter jacket, two laughing figures.

“I’m going out.” He said abruptly, his dad nodded seeming to understand.

James’s threw on his snow gear, not even zipping his coat all the way before he was out the door. As he slogged through the waist high snow memories that he’d been shoving down for the last seven years, all came to the forefront of his mind.

His wife’s beautiful red hair in a braid down her back, her laugh, her smile, that ugly sweater she refused to get rid of, the headphones she’d bought him when they were dating, the pollen allergy she’d only discovered when he bought her flowers for Valentines Day, they ended up just eating pizza and watching Star Wars after that.

And, the day their car went off the road in the middle of winter so many years ago. He’d lived, she hadn’t, not a day went by when he didn’t miss his Nora. Back then he hadn’t truly felt like part of him was dead, not when he still had to take care of their son.


James had done everything he could to make sure that he was there for Jackson, that he didn’t become someone that drowned everything out in their grief, and for three years he succeeded.

Jackson was a happy child, with a smile too big for his face, and more curiosity than his little body could contain. The little boy had been a runner, always chasing something or climbing up things, always trying to figure out the world around him.

James had almost had a heart attack every time he’d found the toddler hanging off something tall, or when he got lost in the tall snowbanks, he’d loved playing in it. 

That was another thing he hadn’t thought about in years, Jackson had loved the snow, he was never able to get enough of it.

James stopped walking, lazy snow drifted down from a gray sky, his breathing was the only sound to be heard, as all the other noise was swallowed by the white insulating cold. 

He was at the edge of the lake, its glassy surface was too dull to reflect his face this year, too thick to show anything but ice and snow. Some years when it wasn’t as cold, and the ice wasn’t as thick, you could see straight to the bottom.

He tapped a toe against the ice and wondered if it had looked like that, the day his son died.

He’d left Jackson with the family; it was Christmas time and everyone was up for the holidays. James had left to go get something, whipped cream or firewood, he couldn’t remember.

He’d come back smiling and practically skipping, only to drop everything when he opened the door to find his family sobbing, and his son gone. He’d barely been away for two hours. 

They’d been playing outside and somehow lost track of the little boy, when they suddenly heard Jackson crying and the horrifying sound of ice cracking. None of them had gotten there in time to save him, only seeing the impossibly small boy as he was pulled under the freezing water, and failed to resurface.

James hadn’t stopped yelling for what seemed like hours that day, blaming everyone that been there.

‘You were all adults how you could you not be watching him!’

‘He was only three why weren’t you paying attention!’

‘This is all your faults!’

‘He didn’t deserve to die!

Only his dad who had been at work, Jeremy who would never let anything bad happen to anyone, and his mom who was crying as hard as he was, escaped his grief-stricken blame game.

He’d refused to talk to anyone that had been there, cutting off all communication. Spending years hating them for something they’d been just as powerless in as him.

He’d watched his nieces and nephews growing up through cards and pictures his mom sent him, hearing about them whenever

Jeremy called. He’d stopped asking his older brother to come back after the first year.

James had fallen too deep to ever want to come back. He could no longer bear the sight of the snow that his beloved wife and child, had loved so much. Packing only a duffle and leaving in the middle of the night, catching a flight to the first non-winter season place he could find.

He knew his dad had put everything from James and Nora’s house into storage, but it was years before he could bring himself to care about it.

James put one foot on the ice, and contemplated for just one single second, in one small thought, about putting his other foot on too, to take one step after another until he was miles in, finding a thin spot and just; letting himself fall.

He missed Nora.

He missed Jackson.

Without one he had a reason to live, but losing them both? It had, was, destroying him from the inside out.

But then he turned to the lodge, thinking of his brother still reeling from the death of their mom, his dad who had always been there for him, and inexplicably, little Percy’s bright gap tooth smile and admirable instance that hot coco would make everything better.

James turned away from the lake. No, joining his family wasn’t the answer. A quote Nora had liked for some reason came to him then, he hadn’t thought about it in years, but now he wondered if she’d known that he’d be here one day and need it.

Leave the dead

to the earth

they are not

for us.


James looked at the snow as he decided to start again, it would still hurt sometimes, and he would never be able to forget the family he’d lost, but he was going to give himself the chance to be happy too.

Everyone deserved that, and as he started making his way toward the lodge, two figures, a woman and child smiled, happy that he was finally moving on. The woman grasped the boy’s hand and they too turned, and slowly disappeared, fading with the sounds of laughter and happiness as a family that had finally regained its peace.

January 22, 2021 20:56

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1 comment

Elle Weaver
19:15 Jan 30, 2021

I've been making a point lately to try to scroll back to the end of the submissions to find little writers (like me), that don't get much love on their stories, and since I have a soft spot for sad stories, I picked yours as one of them. I liked the way that you interspersed information throughout the story slowly, I think that's so much more effective than an info dump, and it was so heart wrenching everything the main character had gone through, and that he still chose to step off the ice was moving.


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