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Exercising the craft—November 2, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: A newlywed receives word that his or her spouse was killed in action. A few months later, the widowed protagonist starts receiving communications that could only be from his or her dearly departed spouse.

*****

Kylie drew her legs under her and wrapped her fingers around the mug. Her gaze drifted toward the window, but even as she scanned the street she didn’t see anything. After a moment the sofa cushions shifted as Suzanna joined her with her own mug of tea.

“How are you doing today, Ky?” Suzanna asked.

Offering a single-shoulder shrug, Kylie didn’t bother looking back at her friend. “Fine.”

“Good; good. Anything you want to talk about today?”

Kylie shook her head.

Somewhere in the back of her brain, where the rational, reasonable part of her lived, she knew she should be grateful that her friend came to sit with her every single day. She’d done so ever since Kylie got word of Daniel. Every day her therapist best friend came, offered her a mug of something hot, and sat with Kylie on this same sofa.

In the early days Suzanna had stayed for hours. For the last three or four weeks, she’d started going back to her “normal” life. That meant she only stayed an hour or so, unless Kylie was still in bed when she got there. Then all bets were off for Suzanna’s schedule.

One time—and it still made Kylie’s cheeks burn to remember it—Suzanna stayed for a grand total of 11 minutes after Kylie screamed at her. She didn’t even remember now all the things she screamed. She just remembered hurling words at her friend, hoping that if she hurt someone else enough it would lessen her own pain.

They sat and looked out the window together. From time to time, Suzanna would offer little tidbits from her own day: items she picked up at a sale or a funny line she heard on TV. She’d remind Kylie to drink her tea before it got cold.

She never talked about her own husband or the kids.

After both mugs were empty, Suzanna took them to the kitchen. Kylie’s ears strained for the sound of running water, her friend washing out the cups and placing them with quiet moves in the drainboard. Then Suzanna came back, sat next to Kylie again, but this time on the edge of the sofa.

It was time for her to go.

“I’m off to see my patients,” she said as she did every morning. “Can I get you anything before I head out?”

Kylie, eyes still searching the street in front of the house, shook her head again.

“Okay, well, Connie’s on deck for dinner today. She’ll be by later with food, so open the door when she comes.”

“’Kay.”

“And make something for yourself for lunch, Ky. You’re out of frozen dinners, and it’s good to eat something that isn’t processed.”

“’Kay.”

She had a dim impression of Suzanna leaning in for an awkward hug, their knees knocking, and then leaving. The cognizant part of her brain reached for the last few pieces of advice her friend had left with her—Lunch…no more frozen dinners? Where’s my phone? I need to order more from the store—but the rest of her stayed right there on the sofa.

Kylie knew, of course, that perching on the sofa didn’t mean Daniel would come back. Her brain reminded her every day. All it took was one look at the folded flag in its triangular case on the wall for her to nod her head and the logical part of her to say that, yes, he was gone.

Her heart, though…

Her heart kept telling her he was alive. That the remains in the coffin didn’t belong to him. It was all some terrible mistake. That flag should have gone to someone else. Every night, as she tried to fill the wide expanse of their king-sized bed by changing positions every few minutes, guilt gnawed at her. She’d hung a flag on her wall that belonged to some other soldier’s family. They needed it back so they could mourn the soldier they’d lost.

Because that was the only thing that made sense. It couldn’t belong to her. Daniel promised—he promised on their wedding day and in those heady first months after the ceremony—that nothing could keep him from her. He wouldn’t go back on his word.

The doorbell rang, and Kylie blinked several times. Her eyes refocused, and she saw a yellow van at the curb next to their driveway. “DHL” the logo read in red. Kylie frowned. What was a DHL?

The bell rang again, and a whisper of curiosity urged her to the door. She planted her feet on the floor and tried not to slip in her socks as she reached for the doorknob. As she pulled the door open, a young man in a uniform matching the van—That poor guy…— had begun trotting down the walk but turned back when he saw her.

“Hi, ma’am,” he said, pulling a small box out from under his arm. “Package for you. It needs a signature.”

A “Delivery attempted” sticker fluttered on the glass of the door, and she pulled it off. The delivery man handed her his device, and Kylie took the stylus and scribbled something on the keypad. The man didn’t even look at it as he handed her the box.

“Have a nice day,” he said, turning back to the van.

She murmured something in response and stared at the box. After a moment, she remembered to shut the door and went back to the sofa. A strange rectangular form attached to the top of the box read “Customs” in prim, practical letters.

Did Suzanna order something? But why would she send it here? And why would it need a customs form?

Muscle memory more than curiosity forced her fingers to pull at the tape. She used to love getting packages as a child. Her grandmother would send the family big boxes every year for Christmas, and she her siblings would fight every year about who got to open the box. As the youngest in her family, Kylie usually won out.

But her grandmother was gone now, just like Daniel.

Kylie continued struggling with the box; the tape refused to yield. A bubble of anger floated up her throat and burst forth with exclamations. Why did everything have to be so damn hard?

The box frustrated her. She fought an urge to throw it on the floor and stomp on it, just to make the point that a stupid box wasn’t going to get the best of her. Then she realized she wasn’t angry at the box; she was angry at whoever sent it. What right did they have to throw her whole day out of whack? She needed to stay on the sofa and watch out the window.

She sprang to her feet and went into the kitchen. Reaching into the knife block by the stove, she yanked out a blade and made quick work of the tape. It sliced in three easy cuts, and she dropped the knife back into the block. Another package, this one of bubble wrap, challenged her, and she pulled the knife out again and dug into the tape at its sides, ready to scream at whoever had sent it to her.

Instead, she sucked in a breath, which made it feel like her lungs had been turned inside out. There, in fully inflated bubbles, sat a watch. Not just any watch, though; it was the watch Daniel had shown her on their last video chat. The one he’d bought for her on one of his days off. The one that matched the watch he wore when a bomb obliterated him and their life together.

To be continued…

3 thoughts on “Exercising the craft—November 2, 2020

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