Carole stood on the corner of Oak and Maple Streets, her breath materializing as ghostly white puffs in front of her face. She stamped her feet and pulled her scarf more tightly around her neck in a futile effort to keep warm. It was achingly cold on the last night of this difficult year, as if 2021 was trying to prove a point. I’m not done with you yet! Let’s see how miserable I can make you in the few hours I have left!

She sipped from the chai latte clasped between her gloved hands, and felt grateful for the sweet, spicy warmth that slid from her throat to her belly. This was her daughter Lizzy’s favorite drink. Carole must have ordered it for her hundreds of times over the years. She used to watch her granddaughter, Brynn, every Friday while Lizzy went to work, and she can just picture the way Lizzy’s exhausted face would light up when she opened the door and saw the steaming cup in her mom’s hands. “My hero!” she would say, throwing her arms around Carole. “What would I do without you?” Of course, now it was Carole left wondering what to do without Lizzy. The absurdity of it still took her breath away sometimes.

The flowers that had been placed here after the accident were long gone. The streets were bustling like normal, no sign that a life had been lost here 365 days ago. A few early revelers jostled past Carole, sparkling with youth and excitement, their laughter bright as bells. They wore party hats and silly “2022” glasses; they had clearly started drinking long before darkness fell. Carole envied them their unbridled joy. Or, more accurately, she envied them on behalf of her daughter. Carole herself would rather be home watching a movie, bur Lizzy deserved to be out celebrating the new year in silly glasses, her laughter freezing in the wintry air.

She knew it was a little morbid to come here, but she felt the need to be close to Lizzy, to be in the exact spot where her daughter took her last breath. She figured she would stand here until she finished her latte and let the memories wash over her. Maybe it would become an annual thing. The grief counselor had said it helped to have rituals, that it would be part of her “healing process.” Carole didn’t believe this – she knew her heart would never heal - but she did like the idea of a ritual that honored Lizzy in some small way. So, here she was with a chai latte on the corner of Oak and Maple on New Year’s Eve, freezing and missing her girl.

Carole took another sip and glanced across the street, where a young man stood on the corner opposite her, looking up into the night sky. He wore a green beanie over a mop of brown curls, and even from a distance she could see he had a kind face. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t quite place him. A friend of Lizzy’s, perhaps? No, he looked about ten years too young to be in her social circle. So maybe just a random stranger she had passed on the street one day.

At that exact moment, Matthew lowered his gaze and noticed the older woman staring at him from across the street. She was all bundled up and sipping on something hot, but somehow she still looked cold. She gave him a small smile and raised a hand in greeting. Did he know her? He didn’t think so, but something about her seemed familiar. He smiled in return, and then politely glanced away. He didn’t want to start small talk with a stranger, even a cold, sweet-looking one. He had his own reasons for standing on the corner of Oak and Maple that night.

It had been a full year since the day his life changed forever. Sometimes he couldn’t believe it had actually happened. He had waited for so long, given up all hope, and then the call came. We have lungs for you. Thirty-two year old woman, car accident, brain-death. He could still remember the agony he felt as he thought, Oh no, followed immediately by Thank you, God. He still wasn’t used to those conflicting emotions, the horror and the gratitude, how they both swirled inside of him like a perfect storm.

Matthew closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, feeling the exquisite ache as the cold air hit his lungs. He would never tire of this feeling. He would never take her gift for granted. Thank you, Elizabeth, he thought, as he did every day. Thank you.

He only knew the name and age of his donor – the family hadn’t wanted any contact. Matthew was disappointed but understood. If it had been his loved one, he didn’t know if he could handle meeting the person who now carried their lungs inside his chest – the person who could breathe because his loved one had stopped breathing. It was too painful and complicated to think about. So, after researching articles about the accident, Matthew had come to this spot, on the anniversary of Elizabeth’s death and the start of his new life. He hadn’t been sure what he would do here - in fact, he felt a little silly just standing on the corner – but he didn't know what else to do. He just wanted to do something to honor Elizabeth, even in the smallest of ways. He once again raised his face to the sky, and let his heart and lungs swell with gratitude and life. Thank you.

Across the street, Carole was intrigued as she watched the young man lift his face and whisper something, as if in prayer. She wondered what had brought him here and what he was thinking about. She hoped he was happy, and that he had friends waiting for him somewhere. As he turned and began walking down the street, she once again had the strong sensation that she had met him before. Who knows? Maybe they knew each other in another life. She took the last sip of her drink, and then she too raised her face to the sky. Happy New Year, my Lizzy, she thought. Then she turned and headed for home, as the shouts and laughter of jubilant partygoers floated in the air.

January 01, 2022 00:20

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Erin Olig
16:08 Jan 11, 2022

Great story, very moving. I like how you brought Matthew's voice into the story..."He had his own reason for standing on the corner..." kept me captivated! I was glad for the hopeful ending which left such possibility.


Lindsey LeBlanc
02:57 Jan 12, 2022

Thank you so much Erin! I really appreciate you taking the time to read it & give such thoughtful feedback :)


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