This story is by Elaine Mead and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The clock on the bedside table is blinking at her. The large numbers flashing. On and off. It takes a few seconds before the alarm that accompanies them reaches her ears. Her arm heavy, she reaches over and hits the off switch. Silence once more.
She doesn’t know how long she’s been awake for, sitting on the edge of the bed like this. She takes a deep breath, stands and walks over to the ensuite. Her reflection is ghastly. Wide bloodshot eyes gaze back at her from a ghostly face. Sleep deprived or from her tears? Probably both.
She splashes her face a few times with cold water and heads back into the bedroom.
Her husband’s form on the bed hasn’t moved.
She walks over and crouches next to him. His eyes stayed closed. She reaches out to brush the hair from his forehead but stops herself. The sounds of the rest of the house are reaching her. Small footsteps are emerging from their rooms and heading her way. She takes a deep, shaky breath and heads out into the hall.
She catches the youngest just as she closes the bedroom door.
“He’s not well, let’s let him sleep for a bit. Come one, you know the drill. We’ve got to be out of this house by 8am! Shoo!”
She turns her son around and play marches him towards the stairs. She knocks loudly on the door of her eldest as they go past.
“Don’t make me knock twice! Up and out! We are leaving this house at 8am!”
In the kitchen her middle child, her daughter, is already setting out breakfast bowls and cereal on the table. She places her youngest at his seat and then walks over and embraces her daughter.
“What are you doing?” Her daughter squirms at the unusual affection for this time in the day. Her mother normally runs their mornings like a drill sergeant.
“I just wanted to hug you. Is that so awful?”
“OK. Weirdo.” her daughter grins at her and then settles down to eat her breakfast.
Her eldest slumps down at the table, wiping sleep from his eyes.
“Not well. Come on, eat please, I want you all back upstairs getting washed and dressed in less than 10 minutes.”
Her children sit around the table, eating their cereal, drinking their juice, teasing each other. It’s a perfectly normal morning. She stands at the counter and watches them. She turns her back to make coffee and hide the tears that have started to sting her eyes once more.
She slips quietly back into the main bedroom. Still her husband hasn’t moved. She thinks about what to say. What could she possibly say? She grabs a change of clothes and leaves once more, shutting the door quietly behind her.
In the main bathroom, her youngest is standing on his booster box over the sink, squirting toothpaste over the taps while the eldest looks on, toothbrush hanging between his lips.
“Boys! Please! Finish brushing your teeth and go put your clothes on!”
Her eldest regards the clothes in her hands. “Why aren’t you getting dressed in your room?”
She looks down at the bundle in her arms. “I told you. Dad’s not well, I’m just going to get dressed in here. But I need you both out – come on, go!”
She picks up the youngest and shoos him towards the door. He turns back, “Did dad make a bad smell in your bathroom again? Is that why you’re using ours?”
He giggles loudly and runs off down the hall back to his room. Her eldest goes to leave too but she grabs his wrist and pulls him back for hug.
“What’s wrong with you this morning?” he asks.
“Can’t a mother show her kids some affection?”
“Well yeah, but you’re normally such a banshee in the mornings – yelling at us to get out on time” he pulls away and looks at her.
She mock rolls her eyes at him, “This is what I get for being a loving supportive mother is it?”
He grins and it’s his dad’s smile.
“Go. Get out. Get dressed. We gotta leave in less than half an hour!”
He shakes his head and walks out. She locks the door behind him and sinks to the floor. She can’t stop the tears this time.
She stands in the hallway by the front door and looks at her watch. Her youngest is sitting on the bottom of the stairs playing with a toy car. Her other two are nowhere to be seen.
“Guys!” she yells up the stairs, “I need you down here now!”
Doors open and slam, and one after the other they appear at the top of the stairs.
“Quiet! Dad’s not well” her youngest bellows up at them.
Her daughter makes her way down, nudging the youngest with her foot as she goes past. “Yeah nice one, I’m sure that really helped.”
“Ok! Let’s check – shoes, coats, lunches?” she goes through the particulars that each child needs for the day. She is not making any trips back to school because one of them has forgotten that science text book they suddenly remembered they can’t get through the day without.
They all point or show her the required proof.
“Great – then let’s go!” she opens the front door and the children march out one after the other.
She waits her turn in the queue and then pulls over into the drop off zone.
Amongst the unclicking of seatbelts, chatter and gathering of things she suddenly panics. She swings round to look at her beautiful children, in this normal morning moment. She panics it will be the last one for a long time.
“Wait, just a minute!”
They all stop and look at her expectantly. Her daughter has one foot out of the car.
“I just want you to know. I love you all very much.”
Her eldest rolls his eyes. Her daughter laughs, “we love you too mum! Stop being weird.”
They carry on making their exit from the car. Just as he moves over to the door, her youngest stops and leans over to the front seat, planting a sloppy kiss on her cheek.
“Love you mum.”
Then they’re all gone. Just another normal day ahead for them.
She watches as they walk off, branching off to join their own friends in front of the school. A ranger walks up and taps her window, indicating she needs to move on and let other parents in.
She nods and pulls back into the road.
She decided to drive around, just for a little while, to try and gather her thoughts. But she knew she was only delaying the inevitable.
She pulls back up into the driveway in front of the house and takes it all in from the outside. Everything looks so normal, just as it always has been and always should be.
Only she knows the truth. It won’t be normal for much longer.
She pulls her mobile phone from her bag and takes a deep breath. Dials three numbers in quick succession. The line rings four times before a calm female voice picks up the line.
“Emergency services, how can I help you?”
“I need an ambulance.”
“Ok, what’s happened?”
“My husband died last night.”