December…how does it manage to sneak up on me every year? I’m sure lots of you are done your Christmas shopping. I haven’t started. I work better on a deadline. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
This month’s picture flash fiction is an interesting one. I had hope the story would be super short. I’d intended for it to be super short. It’s pretty much the opposite. Not super long, but… definitely not short. Anyway, here’s the photo and the resulting story.
Grace stood next to the table, staring down at the place settings. They weren’t anything special. A knife. A fork. She’d included a small sprig of evergreen and tied it with a bow. But it wasn’t special. Special didn’t exist. It had been put on hold. Placed in limbo until Kurt walked back through the door. Until he came home. Alive. Whole.
Whole. She wasn’t sure that existed anymore, either. Not for him. Them. He’d been deployed for over two years, the brief furloughs barely long enough to get reacquainted, again. To reconnect. It was more a mashing of bodies and souls in a whirlwind that left her feeling twice as empty once he’d returned to his unit.
How the military thought a few days would be enough to keep their marriage alive baffled her. Not that she’d give up. She hadn’t made her vows lightly. She’d known marrying a soldier had risks. Sacrifices. She just hadn’t counted on feeling so…
Lost? Alone? Angry?
She glanced at the shiny silver-plated cutlery. Twelve days. That’s how long she’d been waiting for him to come home. For good this time. Or at least, for longer. Twelve days. Like that annoying Christmas song. Only she’d gotten the same present each day—silence.
His team had been hit. There were massive casualties. She’d spent endless hours trying to get an update. To see if her world had been reduced to a casket and a folded flag.
Nothing. Not one damn word.
Be patient, they’d told her.
That word didn’t exist, either. Patient was waiting in line to return a gift. Patient was knowing she couldn’t take the pregnancy test until she’d missed her period. This…
This was torture. Cruel and unusual.
So she’d taken what little control she could. She’d gone to work, come home, made dinner then set the table. Every night with the same wrapped up silverware. The only thing in the house remotely Christmas oriented. Because without Kurt…
The doorbell rang.
She turned, hands fisted at her sides, stomach threatening to heave at any second. She wasn’t expecting anyone. Which could only mean one thing.
Good news didn’t come with a bell or a ringtone. It walked through the door. It welcomed her into strong arms with a long, slow kiss. A doorbell meant pain. Sadness. Meant her world was crumbling around her, and all she had were those stupid ribbon-wrapped place-settings.
It rang, again, the tone lingering on inside her head long after it had cut off.
She walked toward the door, feet shuffling. No need to rush. Whether she ran there or crawled, she’d get the same answer.
I’m sorry for your loss. He gave his life valiantly. He’s a hero.
She didn’t care because it wouldn’t bring him back. Make her whole.
Her hand shook as she reached for the doorknob. It felt cold. Heavy. And she wasn’t sure she’d be able to turn it without someone else helping her. Taking some of the weight off. She clamped her fingers around the smooth surface then willed her hand to turn. Face what had been hanging over her the past twelve days.
A man stood on the porch, hat clasped between his hands. He looked old. Tired. Though she doubted he any older than she was. His grey gaze met hers and held. He clenched his jaw, breaking eye contact as he stared at the wooden planks beneath his feet.
This was it. The moment where hope vanished like the morning mist. There one second, then gone, with nothing but lingering drops as proof it had existed.
He nodded. “Mrs. Harris? Mrs. Grace Harris?”
She nodded back. No use talking when nothing would come out. Her throat was frozen. Clamped shut. It was a miracle she was still conscious since she was positive she wasn’t breathing. Wasn’t doing anything but staring at the stranger about to destroy her life.
He swallowed. He looked nervous. “I’m Captain Grier. I know you’ve been waiting to hear news about your husband’s unit. I’m sorry it’s been so long in coming. It’s been…hard.”
Hard. He had no idea.
He waited to see if she’d say anything, but she didn’t. Just stared. Waiting.
He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I wanted to tell each family personally. That’s why it’s taken so long. I made the difficult visits, first. It’s never easy. Not for any of us.”
She frowned, trying to process his words. “You made the difficult visits, first?”
He startled, as if he hadn’t believed she could actually speak. She didn’t blame him. She hadn’t thought she’d be able to, either.
He wet his lips. “It only seems right that way. To give families closure as quickly as I can. But, there were so many. Spread out. It’s taken me this long to get around to you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand. I’ve been waiting twelve days. How is that giving me closure quickly?”
His brows furrowed. “Closure?”
“Where’s his body?”
“I’d like to see it. I need to see it.”
Captain Grier looked at her as if she’d spoken another language. Maybe she had. Everything was mixed up. Moving at a different speed. She just wasn’t sure if she was going faster or slower.
He put on his hat, giving her a smile. “His body should be here in about a minute, ma’am.”
It as her turn to stare at him.“You’re bringing his body here? To the house? But…”
She paused as another car pulled up. Big. Dark. The kind that brought death with it. It stopped beside the curb, the setting sun glinting off the windows. She shaded her eyes against the glare, watching as the car doors opened. Three men got out, faces hidden in the shadows from the backlit sunlight. They looked big, strong.
They’d have to be. Kurt was—had been a large man. Firm. Muscles that made women drool and other men jealous. Some thought he was too big. Jarhead, she’d heard him called. But it had made him seem invincible. Had helped her believe he’d come back.
They’d have trouble carrying him. Wasn’t there something about dead weight?
She swallowed, nearly choking, as the men headed for the door, their footsteps echoing around her. They weren’t carrying anyone. Hadn’t opened some other door to retrieve Kurt’s body. In fact, she doubted the car could carry a body. Not without it being strapped in.
Her stomach dropped. What if there wasn’t anything left of him? If she’d have to bury an empty coffin? Always wondering. Hoping they’d made a mistake. Live the rest of her life with a piece of a knife stuck in her heart, slowly bleeding her out.
The men climbed the four steps to the porch, obscuring everything but the dark color of their uniforms. The wide width of their shoulders. They saluted the captain in unison. One body with three arms. That’s what it looked like.
One of the men stepped forward, removing his hat like Grier had done. “Ma’am.”
She opened her mouth. Nothing came out. Not a breath. Not a whispered word. Just emptiness, like her heart. The rest of her life.
He glanced at the captain then continued. “We wanted to come here to tell you, we’re all alive because of Rachet…Lieutenant Harris.”
She couldn’t help the smile that lifted her lips at his nickname. Kurt could fix anything with a socket set and some spit.
The man’s face lightened a bit at her reaction. “We got hit. Bad. The three of us were trapped under rubble. There was gunfire and explosions sounding around us. But Rach—the Lt. He stood his ground. Dug us out then dragged us back to the LZ.”
Landing zone. God, she hated that she knew the terminology. Hated that it would haunt the last memories of her husband.
“Anyway, we begged the captain to let us accompany him home. Tell you, ourselves, how grateful we are. And that we’re sorry we made you worry. Made him late.”
She stared at them, hearing the words but not quite understanding them.
The men saluted her, this time, then parted. A shadow fell across her face and she looked up. Another man limbed through the ranks, a heavy scruff lining his jaw. Bruises colored his left cheek, a slash of white gauze covering part of his head. He looked lethal. Weather-beaten.
He moved forward out of the shadows, and her heart stopped. Just stopped, as if someone had flicked a switch.
Brown eyes gazed at her, his mouth curving into a smile. “I hope I didn’t miss dinner, tonight, sweetheart. I told the captain you didn’t like it when I missed dinner.”
That’s it for me. Please join the rest of the ladies by clicking on the links.