This story is by Jaimee Pifer and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Rebecca turned over and glanced at the clock. Noon.
She pulled the blankets around herself and closed her eyes. It was the only way she could be with her husband. In dreams. Tears spilled from her eyes as she gazed at her husband’s empty spot on the bed. She could see him lying there clutching his chest, groaning in pain as he struggled for each breath.
I’m sorry, Roy. It’s my fault for not calling 911 faster.
She held up her hands that curled and she grimaced in pain.
Damn this arthritis. Hands that once performed heart surgeries.
She reached for a bottle of NSAIDS on her night table. Her hands trembled as she struggled to loosen the cap. She muttered, “These ridiculous caps.” Pain radiated from her fingertips up her arms. “I give up,” she yelled and threw the pill bottle onto the floor.
It clattered and rolled against the wall. Her stomach growled but Rebecca turned over and tried to sleep. Putting food into her mouth sickened her. The phone rang breaking the silence. Rebecca groaned and covered her ears with a pillow.
There was a ping and her daughter’s voice stabbed the air. “Hi, Mom. Hope you are okay. I’m coming to Kingston to stay with you for a few days. I’ll see you tomorrow. Love you.”
Rebecca sighed and sat up. She fumbled in the dark for her husband’s shirt. She pulled one of his shirts from the closet and snuggled in bed with it. Her daughter and son along with her grandchildren are the only ones left who call. The rest of her friends stopped contacting her when they moved on with their lives. All except for one. Rebecca breathed in her husband’s faded scent of old-fashioned cologne and freshly hewn pine. She stared at the ceiling drowning in a sea of loneliness wishing for Roy to be by her side.
An insistent pounding jarred Rebecca awake. She glanced at her alarm clock. How could it be morning already?
The knocking stopped and footsteps creaked through the house.
“Mom, it’s me. Are you home?”
Her daughter, Lily, moved about the house before coming up the stairs. The stairs creaked with each step. A light shone under Rebecca’s bedroom door. Lily knocked and opened the door.
“Mom.” Lily scrunched up her nose. Rebecca squinted against the light.
She croaked, “Hello, Lily.”
“Mom, what’s going on? All the curtains are drawn in the house and your refrigerator stinks.” Lily tsked. “It’s so dark in here. I can barely see your face. Let’s get some air and light in here.” She sauntered to the window; her foot kicked against something. Lily bent down and picked it up. She squinted. “Here’s your meds, Mom.”
She opened the lid and tapped a pill out in her mother’s hand. Rebecca popped the pill in her mouth and wrapped her hands around a glass of water. Lily eyed the smudged glass. “Mom, how long has that water been here?”
Rebecca rolled her eyes and retorted, “It’s fresh water.” She took a sip, and the water trickled down her parched throat.
Lily turned back to the window and opened the blinds. Light penetrated the room. Rebecca shaded her eyes and turned away.
“Pull the blinds down.”
Lily sighed. “Fine, but at least let’s prop the window open.”
Rebecca breathed in the fresh air, a welcome change.
Lily smiled, “I’m going make us some lunch. You must be starving. How about you shower and change your clothes.” Lily pulled out one of her mother’s favourite shirts and a pair of jeans. Rebecca shook her head, but Lily laid clean clothes on the bed and headed to the bathroom. She heard the shower run. “I’ll be back in a bit if you need help dressing.” She gave her mom a peck on the cheek and left the room.
Rebecca groaned and got up in stiff-like movements. She shuffled to the adjoining bathroom. Her reflection caught her attention. She stared at herself. Without her husband or career as a cardiologist to define her, who was she.
Rebecca stood in the downpour of warm water. Too tired to move. She turned it off and dragged herself back to her room. She got dressed in rigid movements and took tentative steps down the stairwell. The smell of homemade chicken noodle soup and fresh baked buns greeted Rebecca. Lily ladled out a bowl of soup and sat across from her.
“I’m concerned about you, Mom. Living like this is not good for you. I get it. We all hurt. We can’t go back to the way things were three months ago, but we have to go on without him. That’s what he would want.” Lily’s voice broke. “But I can’t see you like this, Mom. So depressed. You need help.”
Rebecca stared at the soup and didn’t touch a morsel.
“I’m going to set up an appointment with your family doctor to help you.”
Rebecca threw down her spoon. “You’ll do no such thing. I’m fine living on my own.”
Lily threw her hands in the air. “I’m trying to help you, Mom. There’s only so much I can do from living in Peterborough. If this keeps up, I’m going to have to send you to a nursing home. I don’t know what else to do. You scared off every personal support worker I sent your way.”
Rebecca glared at her daughter and snapped, “Get out!”
Lily’s chair screeched back. “Fine. I’ll give you some time to cool off.” The front door slammed, and Rebecca slumped back in her chair. “Oh, Roy. I wish you were here. You always knew what to say to stop the fighting.” She trudged back to bed.
A vacuum woke up Rebecca the next day. She scuffled to the top of the stairs and spotted her daughter cleaning the main floor. Rebecca sighed. What was Lily doing here? She could vacuum her own home. The thought was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Lily. It’s good to see you,” said Anna, Rebecca’s best friend.
“Come in, Anna.”
“How’s your mother doing?”
“Not well, none of us are.”
Anna placed a hand on her shoulder. “We all grieve in different ways.” She gave some pumpkin pie to Lily. “I brought over her favourite pie.”
A smile flitted across Rebecca’s face. My dear friend always looking out for me.
Lily and Anna turned at the squeak of the steps.
“Mom, I’m glad you’re up.” Lily came up the stairs and assisted her mom to the kitchen. “I’ll leave you two to catch up.”
“How are you doing, Becca?”
Rebecca gazed down at her cup of tea. “I miss him dearly. I want to be with him again. To hear him laugh and speak.”
Anna covered her hand over Rebecca’s. “I know, Rebecca. It’s never the same afterwards. You know how hard it was for me after my husband died. I ended up seeing a counsellor who really helped me.”
Rebecca took a shaky sip of her tea. “I don’t know about seeing a counsellor. My biggest fear is being sent to a nursing home. My daughter is adamant about this. Filling up my life with things to do. Doesn’t she understand?”
“It’s her way of showing her love to you. She has good intentions.” She took a bite out of the pumpkin pie. “But we’ll work together to make sure you don’t go into a nursing home.”
Rebecca sighed. “I guess it won’t hurt to speak to a counsellor. To sort all this out. It would be nice to talk to someone about my husband besides you. My daughter avoids the subject whenever I bring it up. All we do is fight.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Do you have a pen and paper?”
“Yes, over on the kitchen counter.”
Anna got up and scribbled something on the piece of paper. She handed it to Rebecca. “Here is the number of the counselling agency. Ask for Zola Windsor.”
Rebecca clasped Anna’s hand. “Thank you.”
Anna beckoned to the pie. “Do you want some?”
Rebecca eyed the pumpkin pie, but her stomach felt empty like a bottomless pit. What was wrong with her? She shook her head and energy seeped out of her. “I’m sorry, Anna. I’m not hungry.”
Anna got up and clasped Rebecca’s shoulder. “That’s okay. Just think about the counsellor.”
Rebecca nodded and Anna saw herself out. Rebecca darted her eyes between Anna’s note and a picture of her husband on the wall. “What should I do, Roy?”
She picked up the note. A red cardinal fluttered onto the windowsill. Rebecca gave a small gasp. Cardinals were her husband’s favourite bird. He always thought that a loved one was visiting him from beyond the grave. A smile fluttered across Rebecca’s face. She dialled the number. The last place she wants to be is a nursing home.