Warning: Mature Themes
Are you going this year?” The woman says the words gently. She glances at her husband over her thick reading glasses.
He pauses while he dries the plate, hesitating. “Hm. I don’t know yet,” he says quietly.
“Let me know if you want to go. I’m happy to drive.”
He continues drying the dishes while his wife reads. Occasionally, she looks up from her book, measuring her husband. He’s been quiet lately. Worn. Sitting at the television every night, watching (but not really watching) the weekly date-night movie. Distant.
She knows it’s starting again. Like it does every year.
“I’m being off again, aren’t I?” The man says suddenly.
The woman raises her eyebrows in surprise at his quick recognition. “A little, yes. It’s okay. We’ll work through it. We always do.”
“Are you okay?
The man sighs, placing the plate and the dish towel on the counter. He leans over the sink, his head lowered. “No.”
“I know, sweetheart. I know.”
The woman slides her bookmark into the page of her book and sets it down on the table. She rises from the dining table chair and walks to the kitchen to stand behind him. She wraps her arms around his warm, familiar body, clasping her hands against his chest. She kisses his neck. “I know.”
“It feels worse this year.”
“You always know.”
She smiles. “I know.”
He laughs softly.
“I think we should go,” she says against his neck.
He sighs. “Yeah. Yeah, that would be good.”
She lingers just a moment longer, feeling his heartbeat against her own. She rests her forehead against the back of his head for a moment, leaning into him. He trembles. She hears him sniffle, moving his hand to his face, wiping at his nose and eyes.
She moves away, lowering her hand to entwine her fingers with her husband’s. He takes her hand gratefully, smiling, still wiping away the tears.
She leads him gently to through their house and into the garage. She helps him into the backseat before sliding into the driver’s side. The car is quiet as it pulls into their driveway.
The man looks around. “Huh. Would you look at that,” he says in wonder.
Snow blankets the ground, the trees, the roofs of houses. It leaks from the sky gently, like powder sprinkled on a cake. He looks out the window as the woman drives through the neighborhood, occasionally wiping away a tear. Houses upon houses of neighbors, friends, family. All quiet now. The snow silences all.
Finally, they arrive. The woman stops the car, and they sit there for a moment, in the silence, the snow still falling outside the windows, the interior growing ever so slightly colder as the minutes drag on.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes.” The man opens his door and steps on to the snowy path.
The man and woman link arms. They walk slowly, side by side, through the snow. The branches of the surrounding trees are so weighed down with snow that they appear as if they’re about to break under the pressure, dumping hills of snow upon the headstones that lie before them, dotted all across the ground for miles.
They look at the names etched on the slabs of stone in the ground. Names of all genders, of all ages, of all races, of all identities. The man’s trembling grows stronger with each passing name. The woman pats his arms encouragingly, sadly, helping him along the path. He leans on her; she is a grounding force when he wants to flitter away.
“This way,” she murmurs, tugging the man to a path that diverts to the right. They turn, passing more headstones.
“Here.” They stop.
The man releases a sob.
The ten gravestones are grouped together, forming a small circle. Flowers and letters and toys and other memorialized trinkets encircle the ground around the headstones, the snow turning everything white and cold. The names are still bright, black against the white marble. The man reads the plaque in front of them.
In Loving Memory
The Aspen Senior High School Ten
The man sighs, leaning against his wife heavily. She supports him; she stands firm for him.
“Look,” the woman says. She slowly leans away, ensuring that her husband stands steady, and unlinks her arm. She pulls something out of her coat pocket. “Here. For you.”
“Oh,” the man says, his voice breaking. She hands him the pen and paper.
“Say what you need to say. Like we do every year.”
He kneels down, his hands cold and shaking as he presses the pen to the paper. The words are messy, ink splattered haphazardly across the white sheet. But he writes nonetheless, taking deep breaths as he finishes, wobbling as he stands up. He hands the pen to his wife and, stepping forward slowly, he stoops down to lean the note against one of the headstones.
“Hey, Joe,” he murmurs, touching the headstone briefly where the name “Joe Anderson” is embedded. “Good to see you, man.”
He closes his eyes, remembering the day he heard the news. The day he got a cold, and stayed home with Momma, snuggled up tight in bed and playing video games and eating soup, as if he were a little kid again. The best day ever.
And then the worst.
The voices of a thousand news channels echoed in his head.
“Shooting at Aspen Senior High School…”
“Five dead… fifteen injured…”
“Nine… no, ten shot…”
The names had flashed across the screen. And, there, his best friend. Joe.
He wipes his eyes again. His wife grips his hand tightly.
“Ready?” She pulls him gently away from the small grave site.
“Let’s go,” he says, nodding.
They walk, arm-in-arm, away from the headstones and back toward the car.
“Oof," the woman says, wincing. She stops.
"What is it?" The man asks anxiously, glancing at her.
"Nothing," she rolls her eyes. "Just a twinge of morning sickness."
"Hey, Joe, cool it off," the man says, gently laying a hand on her stomach. "Take it easy on your momma."
The woman laughs, laying her hand over her husband's. After a moment, they continue forward, hand-in-hand, the snow falling gently all around them.