(This work of fiction contains sensitive content involving the death of a child.)
Mamie heard the high-pitched whistle of her country kettle as the water began to boil and gently pushed herself up from her careworn recliner. "Another cup, dear?" she asked, as she moved from the living room into the kitchen. Her husband sat at the kitchen table, arms resting comfortably next to his breakfast plate. Mamie smiled when she looked in his eyes; those deep, dark eyes that she had loved for years upon years. She passed by and gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead and carried on towards the stove. A flick of the wrist and the burner was off, so the water had a moment to cool. "I hear the neighbors are moving to a flat downtown this spring," Mamie mused, almost to herself. Her husband was not much of a talker, but she knew he didn't get out much anymore, and she imagined that he loved to hear the world from her perspective. He had gotten so much better at listening since he retired.
She continued, as she picked a pinch of leaves from the tea tin and placed them in their identical tea strainers. "They just can't stand to stay in the house anymore; not after what happened to little Thommy." She paused. Was this maybe a bit too heavy for a mid-morning conversation? No, she thought to herself, just focus on the new flat rather than the poor child, who had gone missing last Christmas. "John's got everything packed up, save for their bedroom and a few choice items in the kitchen. I told Clara I'd help with the rest of it once the ground thaws - I don't dare try to make it up their porch in my condition."
Mamie was getting a touch feeble in her old age. It was almost all she could do some mornings just to get up out of bed, let alone cook a meal for her husband and her to enjoy; but today was Christmas, and Christmas in her house called for fresh sausages, scrambled eggs, and a rich pudding whose recipe had been handed down from her mother, and her mother's mother before that. They never had any visitors, as most of their friends were the same age as they were, and they never got around to having children; when her husband was working, he always said he didn't have time to raise a family. Now, all they had was time, but nobody to share that time with except for each other. Mamie thought it was funny how life works like that, sometimes, and giggled under her breath. Then that young neighbor boy popped back into her mind, and her expression turned to one of concern. They would have to talk about it.
Letting out a deep sigh, Mamie lowered both her and her husband’s strainers into their respective butterscotch-colored teacups, and reached for the kettle. As she poured the steaming solution over first her leaves, then her husband’s, she started to speak again. “Dear,” she started, not quite sure how to continue, “we haven’t really talked about Thommy, but...”
She trailed off for a moment, but then steadied herself, took a quick breath, and resumed her rumination. “...but I think we should.” It was a shame for such a tragedy to occur on what was supposed to be the most joyous day of the year. The cloud that hung over the old couple had seemingly grown thicker over the past twelve months, and on this day in particular it was almost completely oppressive, but Mamie was convinced that the dissolution of the darkness could be precipitated by simple conversation. “You know John and Clara just loved that boy. I mean; they just loved him. After so many years of actually trying to have a child, to be blessed with such a vibrant, attentive child; well, it was a miracle.”
“Do you remember what happened that day?” Clara asked pensively. She took a sip from her teacup and set the other down on the table, just beyond his plate. Her husband remained silent, and Clara took that as her cue to press on. “Little Thommy came to our door to wish us a Merry Christmas. It was the strangest thing; when I first heard the knock on the door, my heart began to race like a pack of wild horses, wondering who could be behind that knock. I kept the chain lock connected, just in case, and cracked the door, and there stood little Thommy, smiling ear to ear. Oh, darling, when I tell you he was the epitome of pure joy...”
“Anyway, he handed me a box of tea. The very tea we’re drinking this morning, as a matter of fact. As he placed it in my hand, he offered up a ‘Merry Christmas’ to me, and then just kind of stood there.”
Mamie took another long sip of tea, and then her tone soured. “His parents were lucky to have had him. I began to think about all those years I asked you for children. You know I love you, dear, and I know you were busy with work, but it really hurt my heart that you didn’t think you had the time to raise a family. But ever since you retired, there’s been nothing but time for us. Suddenly, a thought occurred to me. A rather terrible thought: Thommy could be ours. I had to think fast. I asked him if his parents knew he was here. He told me no, he had come of his own volition. I told him to wait for just a moment, and closed the door.”
“That’s when I came in here, to you, with that blanket. Heaven knows what Thommy would have done if he came into our kitchen to find my years-dead husband propped up at the kitchen table. Oh, I’m so sorry I had to cover you up dear, I know you have a touch of claustrophobia, but what other choice did I have?” Mamie stared into his deep, dark eyes again; or rather, the deep, dark sockets where his eyes had been nearly a decade ago. Either way, it didn’t matter - she loved him just the same, if not more now than she ever did. She grabbed what remained of his slender, bony hand, gazed longingly into his skull, and continued. “Anyway, I reached under the sink for that little box of powder, shook out enough to kill a horse into the tea kettle, filled it with water, and put it on the burner. Then I went back to the door, to let little Thommy in. Oh, he was such a wonderful little lad.”
“He skipped into the house at my invitation, and I asked him if he’d like to have a cup of tea. I knew he wouldn’t leave his parents for us, so I had to be the one to take him from his parents. He must have had three or four cups of tea before he started to complain that he couldn’t remember why he came over. He sat right next to you the whole time, never knowing what was underneath the blanket. As his little eyelids began to droop, I ushered him to the sofa, suggesting he take a little nap before returning home. But dear,” Mamie brightened up, “he is home.” Mamie left the kitchen, and if her husband were still alive, he would have heard her struggling mightily, and then a loud thud on the living room floor. “His parents only ever asked me once if I knew where he was, and why wouldn’t they trust me when I said I hadn’t seen him? After all, it was just as traumatic for me as it was for them; to watch my little boy take his last breath...” Mamie herself struggled for breath as she dragged the year-old corpse from the living room into the kitchen. If she had plans to wake in the morning, she would surely feel the after-effects of this exertion. “My dear, meet Thommy,” she said, as she pulled the body up into the chair next to her husband, “our son.”
Mamie felt the moment was a bit anti-climactic. It had been ten years since her husband died at the breakfast table on that cold Christmas morning, and in some respects, it had been the best ten years of their relationship. He never ignored her, he never talked down to her, and maybe most of all, he never laid a finger on her in those full ten years. Just after he breathed his last, Mamie positioned him in the posture he ended up holding for a decade. Then just a few years later, John and Clara put a birth announcement in the local newspaper. This was the cloud that hung over Mamie and her husband’s relationship; but now, the clouds had parted. Mamie walked towards the stove, noted the emptied box of rat poison next to her country kettle and smiled sweetly. She put more leaves in her strainer, and poured out the remainder of the water into her butterscotch-colored teacup over the strainer.
She took her teacup to the table, and sat down next to her husband and child. Without hesitation, she downed the entire teacup in one sickening gulp; then daintily set the cup down on the table. Her family would now be together; forever. Breathing a sigh of relief, she looked at her husband. “Another cup, dear?”