Fiction Sad

Time was meaningless in her sad sarcophagus of self-confinement.

Liv had no idea what day, month, or season it was when her mother, Lydia, arrived at her door without notice. Or maybe there was notice. Liv hadn’t checked or charged her phone in hours, or maybe weeks. 

After Jack’s accident, the calling of well-intentioned friends eventually sputtered silent. The check-ins and chin-ups chattered themselves out. The thoughts and prayers moved on to other tragedies.

But Liv was caught in the quicksand of devastation and burrowed deep under blankets of depression and despair. 

She quit her job.

She ignored her mother’s calls.

She isolated herself in the apartment.

She spent much of the year swallowed whole by woe, a wraith among maddening markers of memory, haunting the halls of their extinguished life. She took no notice of light or dark. She slept only when her body demanded. She ate and drank irregularly, food like sludge in her throat, water salted with tears and wine tasteless on her tongue.

From scattered frames of frozen time, Jack’s eyes were the only witness to her purposeless existence. They followed her from room to room, slouched and disheveled, greasy-haired and glassy-eyed.

Sometimes she tried to make conversation, pleading with the grin that never wavered, cringing at the radiator’s dismissive hissing response.

Sometimes she lay on the crumb-littered couch, hugging his pillow and gazing at the cigar scars on the carpet.

Sometimes she wrapped herself in his hoodie and sat at the crooked kitchen table, running a finger across the dents and rings of the meals she cooked and the dishes he washed.

No passage of hours or moments did anything to soothe the bizarre harmonies of her heartache.

She screamed.

She cried.

She cackled.

She hyperventilated.

And in-between the physical calamities of grief, she stared into the abyss and attempted to cage her thoughts.

She tried not to think of his warm hands cold in a casket, of his gold-flecked eyes rotting in their sockets, or of his booming laugh forever silenced six feet under.

She tried not to dwell on the meals they’d never eat and the milestones they’d never meet.

She tried not to conjure itineraries for trips they’d never take and faces of children they’d never create.

And yet, the sensations of sorrow amplified daily, feeding on the crumpled clothes from his laundry basket, on the mug still stained with streaks from his last coffee, and on the scratch on the wall from the day they moved in.

Then came an unremarkable day or dawn or evening when she realized she could only smell herself, unwashed and unloved. The clothes, the pillow, and the hoodie had all gone stale, prompting a previously undiscovered well of anguish to explode with grotesque enthusiasm. It was four days of sobbing, hair-wringing, and plate-smashing until she returned to her mostly listless life.

It was then that her mother knocked on the door, unruffled by travel and armed with cleaning supplies, fresh food, and a no-nonsense greeting. Outraged at the unsolicited offer of extermination, Liv slammed the door in her face.

An hour later, Lydia returned with empty hands and an apology that Liv pretended to hear.

“Oh my dear,” her mother said, finally given the opportunity to take in Liv’s shrunken frame, dank hair, and surrounding hovel. “I should have come sooner.”

For two days, Lydia sat with Liv in simple silence.

On the third day, she pulled the blinds up to welcome the weak winter sun, and Liv didn’t object.

On the fourth, she washed dishes, and Liv watched with dead eyes as Jack’s mug was doused in soap.

On the fifth, she flattened cardboard and bagged bottles, and Liv held the door open as she lugged them out.

On the sixth, Lydia found Liv sitting in Jack’s closet, slowly re-folding his clothes into piles.

And on the seventh day, Liv took a shower, ate a full breakfast, and opened a window to take in an icy breath.

“Let’s go for a walk.” Lydia didn’t pose it as a question, and Liv didn’t answer, but she let her mother guide her to the door, shrug on her coat, and tie her boots.

They walked all the way to the river, until Liv’s cheeks were flushed and her tattered heart was pounding. The fresh air was light in her lungs and the sun was warm on her face, but still her soul remained burdened by the suffocating weight of his absence.

At the waters’ edge, they sat on a bench, and Liv watched the world go by on bikes and blades and shoes, dragged by dogs and hindered by kids, huddled in pairs and flying solo. People who didn’t know Liv; people who would never know Jack.

“Mom,” her voice cracked. “It’s like…it’s like I can’t breathe anymore. I don’t know how without him.”

Lydia placed a hand on Liv’s arm. “I know. But you can. You will.”

“Sometimes...I don’t want to,” Liv whispered.

They watched a gang of fat-bikes disappear into the trees. A dog walker scolded her charges for tangling their leashes. Delighted squeals clanged from the playground behind them.

“What would Jack say right now?” Lydia asked.

Liv bristled. “He’s not here. It doesn't matter.”

“Of course he is, and of course it does.”

Liv contemplated the tumbling current and distant shore. She knew exactly what Jack would say.

He would be appalled at how far she had spiraled. He would tease her for being sentimental. He would tell her to stop moping and start living. He would remind her that he no longer lived in the apartment, and that it was time for her to go.

A week later, Liv and Lydia had everything packed up. Save for a few keepsakes, most of Jack’s belongings were donated. The walls were blank and the furniture was gone, but still he lingered, fragments trapped in a million marks like the scrape on the wall and the burns on the rug.

So, Liv found the first available contractor who would rip out the carpet, replace the cupboards and paint the walls before she put the place up for sale.

He is the first man to enter the apartment since Jack.

Liv drops the keys into his hand after a moment of slight hesitation.

“Don’t worry Mrs. Jacobs.” He smiles and jangles the key ring, unaware that his use of the married honorific has ripped yet another hole in her chest. “I’ll take care of everything. It’ll be like brand new when you come back.”

Liv will return only once, to ensure she hasn’t left any part of Jack behind.

March 07, 2021 07:01

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


Zelda C. Thorne
09:08 Mar 07, 2021

Beautifully written. Very realistic and poignant with some great details. The coffee cup that she left dirty. The moment when she realises his smell is gone. The dialogue with the mother also felt very real. Brilliant. Typo - "Six feed under"


Christina Marie
15:52 Mar 07, 2021

Good catch! Thanks so much for reading, Rachel!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
H L McQuaid
11:34 Mar 07, 2021

Hi Christina. You did an excellent job of showing her grief, and there some lovely turns of phrase: "She tried not to conjure itineraries for trips they’d never take and faces of children they’d never create." and "At the waters’ edge, they sat on a bench, and Liv watched the world go by on bikes and blades and shoes, dragged by dogs and hindered by kids, huddled in pairs and flying solo." And that the last line was beautiful. Only one small suggestion. Wondering whether this might clearer: "Sometimes she tried to make conversation, pl...


Christina Marie
15:53 Mar 07, 2021

Thanks Heather! I agree - have made that change :) thanks so much for your feedback!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Courtney C
23:45 Mar 13, 2021

This was so sad, in an emotional, how do you go on living after your partner dies unexpectedly way. Beautifully written, and emotionally gutting. Great work.


Christina Marie
00:03 Mar 14, 2021

Thanks Courtney :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Ryan LmColli
16:57 Apr 08, 2021

This is such a compelling story, raw, powerful, and real. Clear as glass but still sharp and stingy. You have an amazing talent for writing, especially when it comes to the emotion. The emotion is just so perfect with the words, and it flows through your mind like a surging river. I can tell this has a lot of effort into it, and I love your writing! Beautiful piece :)


Christina Marie
21:02 Apr 08, 2021

Thank you so much for the kind words!


Ryan LmColli
21:08 Apr 08, 2021

Follow me pls and those kind words is what I do.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Valerie Matti
23:26 Mar 26, 2021

Really enjoyed this story was really able to understand how the character was experiencing loss.


Show 0 replies
Kate Winchester
15:49 Mar 20, 2021

Wow. This was sad, but beautifully written. The reader can feel Liv's pain. You do a great job at evoking emotion.


Christina Marie
18:03 Mar 26, 2021

Thanks Kate! Appreciate the kind words.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Claire Lindsey
03:33 Mar 09, 2021

I’m always amazed at how intensely you capture emotion in your writing. It’s a truly challenging feat, but it comes so naturally to you. The grief in this story is tangible, practically dripping from the page. My only minor critique is that I wish we had a small hint as to how Jack died. Really I just found myself wanting to know if his death was completely unexpected or if he had been sick, for a bit more context. Incredible work as always, Christina!


Christina Marie
13:32 Mar 09, 2021

Thank you! I can see what you mean. I honestly never gave his death much thought. It was probably quite sudden since he left the coffee cup behind. I'll look for a place to work it in!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.