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Fiction Sad Romance

It isn’t so much what I find in the photo, as it is what I don’t. My wife is gone. 

Everything else was exactly as I remembered it: in the background was that limestone fountain, carved into the shape of a lion, bellowing out a plumage of glistening droplets drenched in golden streaks of light from above; the clouded sky stretched over us like a worn canvas, one where light filters through thin layers in meek, irregular bars; around us was no one. Just my wife and I. We were, after all, at a neighborhood pond on a Tuesday afternoon. We hadn’t planned to end up at the pond with the lion-shaped fountain — it was just one of those things you stumble across after your wife asks, “Let’s go for a walk,” and you respond with “Sure, love”, and the pair of you end up lost in conversation as you cross the street into the opposite neighborhood which you’ve only seen but where you’ve never been, and then all of a sudden here in the middle of bland suburbia there is this majestic, wonderful fountain, and you think, “What are the odds something like this is here?”, and so you pull your wife close, close enough to feel the definition in her shoulder and smell the lavender in her body lotion and feel the fuzz from her cheek against your freshly shaven jaw, and you smile in unison as you raise your camera up and snap a picture — it was one of those things. 

Yet, when I look at the photo, my wife is gone. 

I shake the photo as though the sound of laminate warping in the air will make her appear again. Yet gone she remains. There, seated on my porch, I drop the photo and it see-saws down to the coffee table as I rub my hand across my mouth in disbelief. I feel panic begin to bubble in the hollow of my chest, so I stand from my wicker patio chair which groans and wrings its weaving like I wring my hands as I pace the deck, my footsteps weighted, sinking into the worn wood like wet sand. The mismatch between my lugubrious feet and frantic hands stirs the panic in my chest so that now it’s a simmering froth, and I’m about to boil over when I realize: the pictures on the mantle. I saw her there this morning, she’s there, in the pictures on the mantle. My feet lighten and I practically skate into the den, banging my knee on a lacquered end-table on my way to check the mantle. 

The mantle, long and sturdy, with vanilla paint chipping at the corners and creases, carries frames and dust. I start with the leftmost frame, our wedding photo. The corner of my mouth twitches when I see that again, it was only I who stood there, beaming, satisfied in my lonesome tuxedo. I held no one, only my fist raised in triumph as around me twined the verdant green garlands, up and over and around the wedding arch, popping here, there, everywhere with creamy white and tarty fuschia hydrangeas. But I remember the way her dress matched the white of the hydrangeas, and how I then thought of her body and soul as beautiful and full as the greenery of the garland, and the fuschia, the fuschia was her words! 

Next, my eyes well with tears and flit to the photo of our beachside honeymoon in St. Lucia. It was evening then, and the moon decanted light upon the flickering waves while off to the left, out of frame, ebbed the amber glow of a sandy bonfire. I looked a contradiction, half-bathed in the warmth of firelight, while behind me the moon-frosted waves froze in defiance of the heat and radiance of that fire; our love. For all the arguments between lighting that night, the greater contradiction is found in the recognition that, yet again, my wife is not there. In her place, merely empty space, cold as the ocean spray, my arm angled slightly away from my side with my hand resting in the open air. I could’ve been holding a hand; or my arm could’ve been following the inertia of my weight as I shifted to my right leg in the sand, smiling with a slanted grin that slumped under the influence of one too many rum runners. 

Now the tears brim over, as I move to the next piece on the mantle. It wraps into itself, a yellow-gold circlet embroidered with delicate gray diamond inlays, which lead like stone-carved steps up to the summit of a holy pyramid, at the top of which stands a grand emerald like a temple, its facets gleaming with the warmth of life and sacrifice, which stream seamlessly back down the opposite steps and into the yellow-gold curvature of promised eternity. I pick her wedding ring out from the dust, and behold it in my palm like something sacred. I feel the weight of a promise. See the shine of her emerald irises. Remember how the stone sidled its way back toward the dark creases of her olive finger, her delicate, manicured fingertips pressing against my shaky palm. Then, something in me shifts, and I clutch the ring as I turn to ascend the stairs of my house. 

Upstairs a soft, tremulous light pours across the bleary hall. I press into the haze and grasp the brass knob of our bedroom. I open the door. Our bed remains the way I left it this morning: my side tousled with the movements of the night, and hers — hers is pristine. I turn and leave the room. 

Back at the mantle I return the ring to the clear circle amidst the dust. I look over and see her. She’s there, laughing and holding my hand in St. Lucia, her mahogany hair falling in ringlets over one shoulder, her other hand bracing my shoulder and pushing me onto my right leg. She’s there, smiling tearfully and flowering with lace beneath the wedding garland, her arm outstretched and hand held high, fingers entwining with mine. I stride solemnly back to the patio, taking care to avoid the end table. I collapse in my seat as I retrieve the photo from the coffee table where I first let it go. She’s there, staring into the camera, the strength of her smile pushing wrinkles into her eyes. I set the photo down gently.

May 05, 2022 16:57

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