Afterparty in Memoriam

Submitted into Contest #93 in response to: Write your story about two characters tidying up after a party.... view prompt


American Fiction Inspirational

I plucked the last of the hot pink streamers from the corner of our living room and I let it waver gracefully on the way down, coming to drape over the sofa, spent from the day’s work of gussying up our home for our daughter’s birthday. I stepped down heavily from the step ladder, feeling like I could identify a little bit with the exhausted streamer. Herding a gaggle of children through explosions of sprinkles and forts of birthday presents is no joke.

I looked over at my wife as I pulled the crepe paper from the couch. She was wearily scraping dried buttercream bits from the dining table with one hand and stacking empty cups with another. As I used both of my hands to wrangle this streamer, I marveled at her ability to multitask. I could do it if I wanted to, of course, but sometimes she was like a machine made to optimize her own movements. With a swing of her hand, one task would be done. On the backswing, another task.

Without stopping her work, she asked suddenly, “So, do you think she enjoyed it?”

I thought about it. “I guess so. Nobody cried, nobody died. I think that’s pretty much the best we could have hoped for today.” I gazed around the room at the rest of the decorations yet to be taken down. “Plus, we plastered her favorite things everywhere. I think half of our budget for this was spent on sparkles and unicorns, and I definitely saw her friends going nuts over all that as much as she was.”

“I think so, too,” she chuckled, depositing uneaten frosting scraps into one of the empty cups. “One of them asked if she could take one of those little table centerpieces home. The ones with the unicorns in tutus,” she added in mock dramatic flair, returning to chip away at the hardened sugar.

“What did Rielle say?”

“I could tell that she thought hard about it. It is a unicorn in a tutu, after all.” She paused her buttercream scraping. “But then she saw me watching, so I shrugged at her before she asked. I wanted to see what her choice would be.”


“She gave the centerpiece away,” she said with real pride this time, gesturing to the empty spot left by the decoration we would not have to clean up anymore. I grinned to myself as I stuffed the discarded streamers into the trash.

“She’s got a generous spirit already,” I agreed as I found a discarded fork sticking out from under the couch. It must have been flung during one of the many separate frenzies that happened that day.

“Yes—it’s wonderful to see.” I felt something change in her across the room and looked up. She had stopped clearing the dining table and just stared at one of the chairs. His chair. I could tell where her mind had gone. I set the trash bag down so as not to spook her and walked swiftly to her side. As I grabbed her hand, she blinked a few times, like an illusion had been lifted from her eyes. She blankly reached for the sticky stack of used punch cups, but I took that hand, too.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes. No. I tried to prepare for this so that Rielle could just have this day all about her. She’s been through as much as we have, and she’s still a little girl. Silas, she’s still so young…” She trailed off and glanced back at the chair. “I can still see him sitting there, for dinner. Pretending he’s not enjoying the smell of what I made enough to make him practically drool.” She laughed breathlessly, “He loved my cooking so much.” Her hands clenched a little more inside mine.

“I know, dear. He did.” Her head drooped as she dealt with the oncoming wave of memory. “I’m here, Lauren.” She had done so well at the party. Rielle never asked anything when she paused occasionally to hold her daughter a little more tightly or stared at the cake cutting utensils, which we only used for birthdays. She deserved a second to finally let this out.

“And now…” she paused, ready to say it out loud, “and now…we’ll never celebrate another birthday for him.” She finally hid her crumpling face into my shirt. “Never.”

“I know, honey. I’ve got you.” I wrapped my arms around her and let her sink into me. I had immediately lashed out when he was taken from us, but my anger subdued over time as acceptance set in. I still miss him, but I am more consistently at peace now. Her pain, I found out, was long and low and slow. We remembered our son for a few minutes, surrounded by the trappings of a sugar-fueled whirlwind of giggles, sparkles, and the childish glee created by being allowed to have all the pretty things all at once.

“Why did it have to be his car that…that…” she shook her head, trying to fathom the reasons why her son, our boy, had to be caught in that pile-up on the highway.

“Mom?” We looked back toward the hallway, startled that we had been found out. “Dad?” Rielle stood in at the doorway between the dining room and the dark hall, spotlit by the dining room light. Something was up. It wasn’t the usual, sleepy Rielle we might have expected to appear after being roused from sleep. She looked like she had been unhappily wide awake.

“Rielle! What’s wrong? Is everything ok?” Lauren started to walk toward her, her head tilted inquisitively and the tears swiftly disposed of. Swing and backswing completed in seconds.

“I heard you talking, and…” she looked from Lauren to me, and back at her mother. “Aren’t you happy after today?”

We paused. “From today? What do you mean?”

“From the party. Didn’t we have a good day?”

“Oh, honey, of course we did! We loved it.”

“Then why are you crying?”

Lauren stopped to consider her next move. I waited silently, walking back toward her to squeeze her hand. I saw her straighten up a bit more and then look Rielle in the eye to confess, “I miss him.”

“I know, Mom. Me too. That’s why I was on my best behavior today, because I wanted to make you smile, too. I know you like it when I’m happy and nice to others, so I did that even though I thought about how he’d have hogged all my cupcakes and he would’ve pretended to take some of my gifts even though everyone knows he wasn’t going to steal them…” At this, our little girl hid her face behind her hands. We rushed over to scoop her up. I carried her to the couch so we could continue together in a comfortable place.

“Rielle, I’m sorry. We wanted to give you a day to forget, too. You have been so, so, so brave. We love you with all of our hearts. I am happy to have you as our daughter.” She brushed some hair from Rielle’s face.

“Me, too, baby girl,” I agreed quietly as I cupped the top of her head in my hand and kissed her forehead. “You mean the world to us.” She sat between us, enfolded in both of our arms, holding Lauren’s hands and leaning against me as she let her tears fall.

Even as we continued to sniffle and sigh, Lauren asked, “So…what else do we miss about him? I miss watching him take care of you, Rielle.”

Rielle and I nodded, and I added, “I miss driving around with him and just talking or reviewing one of his basketball games.”

“I miss when he would share banana bread with me, even though it was his favorite.”

We fell asleep on the sofa like this, talking about all of the ways we missed him while unicorns graced the scraps of fluorescent crepe paper and confetti littering the house around us. We could get to that tomorrow.

May 14, 2021 14:26

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