She still slept on her side of the bed.
It had been three months since John died, but she couldn’t stretch out into that space that he had left behind. Open. Empty.
Well, maybe “slept” isn’t the right word, anyway, as she barely slept. She lay in the bed, waiting for sleep to take her, but more often than not the birds started chirping first. And then she’d have to get up, get dressed, get breakfast for the six children he had left her with. She’d get them off to school, and then sit in the kitchen, smoking, looking at his face in the painting on the wall.
But tonight was different.
She must have slept. She’d woken up with a gasp, blinking. Woken up by… what?
Had one of the children left a window open? The second oldest had been sneaking out at night, through the window. He thought she didn’t know, but of course she did. She knew everything that went on in that house.
With a huff, she put on her robe, the maroon one he’d given her for their 20th anniversary, and found her slippers. She opened her door and peered down the hall to see if any lights were on. Their fourth child, their only daughter, had been staying up late reading under her blankets, despite being told NUMEROUS times it would ruin her eyes.
No lights. No draught either.
She turned to go back to her bed, knowing she had gotten as much sleep as she would get that night, when something caught her eye.
It was a flicker. A flicker? But that wasn’t where the mirror was. It must have just been the lights of a passing car.
She turned to her room again, but this time she felt another cold current pass by her, lifting her hair just slightly.
Tightening the belt of her robe, she walked slowly down the hall. The shadows seemed to gather into a more solid darkness toward the end of the corridor. What was this? Had somebody moved John’s painting? She was seeing things.
She stopped. She could swear she heard John whispering her name.
“John?” the question formed inside her mind. Her neck tingled, cold and hot all at once.
“John?” she managed, in the quietest of whispers.
Knees buckling, she reached out to the wall for balance and slowly slid to the floor. That was John’s pet name for her.
“John?” she said again, demanding an answer. “Dammit, John, am I seeing things?”
“Marigold. I love you. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. I wanted to say goodbye.”
And with that, the shadows were just shadows again.
She sat on the floor an hour, maybe three, maybe four. When the birds began chirping, she stood up, walked to her room, locked her door, got into bed and slept.
When the children woke up, they wondered where their mother was.
Too confused to fight, the boys sat and drank orange juice while the girl made toast. It was Saturday, so they didn’t have to go to school, and it was spring. Subdued, they went outside, in the yard of the house their father built, surrounded by a dozen or more Douglas Fir trees, and wondered where their mother was.
Flash Fiction: Response to FlashNano prompt
Flashnano Day 9: Write a story inspired by a story of your grandparent.
Note: My cousin once told me that, while she lived with our grandmother right after graduating from college, she’d told her that she’d seen a ghost of our grandfather right after he died. He had been at the end of the hall, and he said goodbye to her. This put her at peace, and was perhaps part of the reason the family didn’t talk much–maybe not at all–about his death at the age of fifty. This story is based VERY LOOSELY on what I remember from my cousin’s story.