Blogging is becoming a concentrated effort, which makes it less frequent, simply because my head is full of too much stuff right now. I need to clear out some short stories, some articles. Probably, I need to finish The Nondescript. So I’ll blog when I blog, or I won’t, and I will feel not at all guilty about it. I haven’t maintained the every-day-blog-schedule since November anyway, and that’s fine by me.
Anyway, that’s not what I’m blogging about now. What I’m doing now is giving you a short story, because I have no pressing urge to sell it, and it was mostly an experiment in language.
I was talking to Lori, in an instant messaging window, and she went away to do something for a bit. I was restless. So, in the window, I wrote a short story. It’s not the first time I’ve done that. It probably won’t be the last (though probably, she wishes she wouldn’t come back to find that I’ve suddenly done a thousand-plus word story in an otherwise tidy window). At any rate, Lori noticed and commented on exactly what I was trying to achieve with the story (I tried to achieve two things: one with language, and one with point of view and how the story works for different readers).
(Ironically, the image that inspired the story didn’t make it into the story. The point where it would have appeared is where the story ends. And that’s good. It would have been a very, very different story, and not benefitted from it.)
The story is below the line. Enjoy.
My husband, Philip, he never liked cuddling much. Not even when we were both younger, and I was prettier, it was just never something that he did. It bothered me in the early days of our marriage, but there was no changing him. Eventually, I just sort of forgot about it. It was a minor thing, and when I look back, I think it was the silliest thing of all to get upset about.
After all, it’s not like he was cold, or distant. Far from it, he was a loving man. He adored both our children, even Michael, who was difficult from birth ’till he moved out and started a rock band, and Philip always loved me too. We never fought, not grievously. Minor fights, and sometimes they vanished and were not thought of again as easily as changing topics in a conversation.
I always went to bed earlier than he did. I guess that’s important, I should tell you that. I used to go to bed around ten o’ clock, just because I got up earlier. So I was tired sooner. He would stay up an hour or so later, watch television, or read a book, or sometimes just look at the world outside the window. And like clockwork, he’d slide into bed behind me at eleven-thirty, after he got undressed and brushed his teeth, or whatever he felt the need to do at night. He started going to bed a little earlier, as we got older, but he was moving slower too…so it stayed the same. Eleven-thirty, he’d slide beneath the covers behind me.
And he’d kiss me gently on the back of the neck, very softly, trying not to wake me up. Although I’ll tell you now: he was not a graceful man and the sheer act of him getting into bed usually woke me up. It was like the man first had to take all the bowling balls out of his pockets and put drop them on the bed, or something.
So he’d kiss me, and then he’d get settled — more bowling balls — and then he’d lie there, facing my back, and he’d rest his arm on my pillow and rest his hand against my back, just below the neck. For Philip, it was cuddling. It was a reassuring contact, and we never talked about it, though we both grew to need it. I slept while he was out in the rest of the house watching TV, but I didn’t really restfully sleep ’til he’d come in and put a hand on my back.
We’d been married fifty-four years when…
That is to say…
I’m sorry. I thought this bit would be easier to put down, I guess, but it’s.
Well. Fifty-four years. He was seventy-one, and we took him to the doctor for the usual checkup and the usual checkup turned up a tumor, and the doctors looked closer at it and it wasn’t benign like we were praying and.
I got six more months with him. That’s a lot more than some people get. It was six months of love and quiet and no tears, and I thank God every day for every bit of that time.
I didn’t cry at the funeral, because there were a lot of people around, and same at the reception, and it was so busy, and Michael didn’t stay after the funeral because he had work to do, but Rachel, our daughter, she stayed for awhile to make sure I was okay, and I had to be strong then too. Well, I guess I didn’t have to, but I’m her mother, and she was hurting, and I was there for her, because that’s what I had to do.
So it was five weeks. It was thirty-five days into my life without him. The house was big and empty and full of creaking boards and motionless air and nothing, nothing, nothing, with no one to talk but me. And I still didn’t cry, because it seemed such an impossible thing to do in such a big, empty house. It had been home for so many years, but now it was just empty space.
What happened, or what seemed to happen, except I’m pretty sure it did happen now, was that after day thirty-five…well, I expect you’ll think this is foolish, but I turned on the TV and I set a timer so that it would turn itself off at eleven, and I left it droning the local news in the living room, and I went upstairs to bed. I curled up on my side of the bed and I closed my eyes and if I was really careful, I could just lie there and imagine that nothing at all had changed.
I really, really wanted to be asleep when the TV clicked off. But I wasn’t. I was wide awake, and I couldn’t stop listening to the steady drone in the background. My eyes were shut, my mind was empty, but I was awake and the idea of sleep was impossible.
At ten-forty, the TV clicked off. I know, because I looked at the clock, it seemed such an impossibly short time. And then I closed my eyes again and listened to all the nothing in the house. Now and then, some wood settled here and there, small creaks and groans.
Time went by and I lay, still as I could, silent as I could, and it seemed for a little bit that maybe I wasn’t even breathing. It was like floating in a pool, I guess, I don’t know if that means anything. Like being so still and so weightless that you’re just floating on the surface of a pool of still water, maybe underground or something. I don’t know how to describe it. But it was still and calm and peaceful and I felt, for just a moment, as if everything was going to be okay. It was like a weight lifted off my heart and my chest, something so unspeakably heavy and so constantly present that I didn’t know it was there ’til it was gone.
I guess half an hour passed, because the bed shifted, probably because my legs were sore and I moved them without thinking about it.
And after a few minutes, very very gently, there was the pressure of an arm on the pillow behind my head.
And there was the warmth and gentle feeling of a hand, on my back. Just below my neck.
ADDENDUM: And I also offer you a Harlan Ellison short story, one of my favorites, and one which I encourage you to read, especially if you have never read — or liked — Ellison before. As with any writer, the fiction should stand on its own merits. This does. Admirably. Although a wiser man than me would not include it in this post, since now it’s competing with my little story.