SNHU Undergrad Prose Winner from the 2012 Issue
The Silence Without You
The hardest thing about a funeral is getting everyone to leave your house when it is all finished. Tell them you’ll let them know if there‘s anything you need. Tell them that they don’t need to stay the night. Tell them you don’t need help cleaning up. Tell them you’re fine.
Once everyone is gone, all that’s left is the silence. It is all around and on top of you. This gets deeper and thicker the longer you sit under it. It will crush you. The dishes in the sink are piled up almost to the window sill. Washing them is not something that needs to be done right now, but it is as good of a distraction as any. Your body tingles as you move through the motions and nothing feels familiar.
The plate in your hands is the one your wife picked out at that little gift shop in Branson when you were on vacation one year. It features one of those big-headed cartoon kids riding a horse. With head bowed and cowboy hat pulled over his eyes, he rides toward an orange sun. Around the rim is a caption written in a loopy cursive, Last Chance for Good Eats! For the first time you realize that he is riding toward a sunset. Scrub and stare until your aged fingers wrinkle more from the water.
The table is clear. The leftovers are put away in plastic containers in the refrigerator. Sweep the crumbs from the floor. The bristles of the broom swish across the hardwood floor. You are lost in the sound for seven minutes, according to your watch. The squeals from the furniture echo in the empty house as you move everything back to its proper place. Your wife would be impressed with your speed and attention to detail.
You wind the grandfather clock in the dining room. It’s only seven o’ clock.
It is not enough.
The mop makes wide arcs as it sloshes over the floor. The muscles in your arms and back are tense and you’re out of breath. A thirty-year-old piece of advice from a college track coach comes to mind: “Pace yourself, son.” The sun was high that day. The sweat ran down your naked torso. In the stands, your future wife gave you a thumbs up and a goofy smile. You decided at that moment to spend the rest of your life with her.
The mop slows and you stare at the wet trails it leaves behind. The silence returns. Cut through it by whistling the same tune she always hummed while doing housework. It helps for a while.
The clock on the microwave reads eight o’clock.
The house is as clean as you can make it, but the fumes from the chemicals make the room spin. Step out the back door into the cool night air. A breeze catches the sweat at the base of your back and sends a chill through your body. Look out at the flower garden the two of you had always talked about planting. Now, the garden seems bare in the moonless night. The limbs from her rose bushes reach into the shadows, waiting.
During the summer she would put on her floppy straw sun hat and spend hours tending to her flowers. She would till soil, add fertilizer, and prune where needed. You watched her from the kitchen window while you sipped coffee. When she stopped to wipe her forehead on her sleeve, you would bring her a fresh glass of cold lemonade and a cool washcloth. She would look up at you, hand over her eyes to shade against the sun, and give you a smile as you set the tray in front of her. That smile. You knew you were home.
Your wristwatch reads eight thirty.
Make your way up the stairs to start your nightly bathroom rituals. Do not hurry. In the bathroom you start the shower. You brush for the recommended two minutes. You look into your eyes until the mirror steams. Gag at the taste of the cinnamon floss she always insisted on buying. She had always told you how important dental hygiene was and how lucky you both were to still have all of your teeth. Toward the end, when she could barely lift her arms, you had brushed her teeth for her.
Stand under the flow of water until it is no longer hot. After drying yourself, wipe the steam from the mirror with your towel. There is a day’s worth of beard looking back at you. Run your fingers over the stubble and vow to shave in the morning. It is nine o’clock.
You had her special bed and all of her medical machines taken out within hours of the coroner leaving. The bedroom still smells like a hospital. Open both doors of the closet and let the towel drop from your waist. Bury your face in a handful of her dresses until her scent is all that you can think about. Select the pair of pajamas you always wear to bed.
Sit on the side of the empty king-size bed and wait. It takes a moment to realize that you’re staring at the empty water glass on the bed side table. You don’t think you are willing to walk to the bathroom again. The plastic tumbler that the nurse from the hospital left for your wife is sitting on her table. It is still mostly full. The water is days old, but you don’t care. It will have to do.
The room is dark now. The covers are pulled high to your chin against the cold night. Feel the thickness of the silence settle in around you. The green display from the clock beside the bed is the last thing you see as you close your eyes.
It is nine thirty.
There is nothing left to be done.