This story is by Kimberly Lambeck and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Her iridescent, dull green eyes on the telly, momentarily and occasionally, cast their focus to the crumpled paper that now lies where she volleyed it earlier that afternoon. How dare he contact her, she ruminated, and in such a clandestine way! She had let her guard down and he scored. His voice in her head had long been sequestered, but presently it is taking captive her attention as the 6 o’clock newscaster reports on the anniversary of the sinkhole that claimed many lives two years before.
She is reminded – once she focuses – that the rescuers were unable to uncover 144 souls from the rubble; mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends, not to mention the pets, each and everyone entombed in the ruins that once encased them in comfort.
She once again ponders the enormity of the situation. At the late hour of occurrence, most were asleep in their bed, and then asunder, buried alive by rubble. The gravity of the event causes her to revisit how fleeting and precarious is this life. She watches the past footage abstractedly, yet agonizingly, as the last vestiges of the families’ hope languishes. She knows the ones left behind needed to be excavated from their grief, a blur of a process no less enduring.
Her eyes glisten as the broadcasting station mercifully goes to a commercial break while her mind ponders the salutation in the unwelcome letter. “One last stab Bell,” it began. That’s as far as she got. Upon seeing her shortened name, a pet name only a few were allowed to utter in her presence, she ravaged the rectangular paper, balled, and hurled it across the room as if it had life. Now she is wondering what else her estranged husband wrote. Despite their three-year-long absence, Bellamy kept up with him through friends and acquaintances and the occasional write-up in the Arts and Culture section of the newspaper.
Bellamy had read that Merrit’s talent had finally captured the attention of art purveyors in Sandstone County who collectively refer to his unencumbered mixed-media approach as avant-garde. They note particularly that his pieces suggest a reigning over tragedy, albeit in a fluid, or as they put it, “embalming and/or amniotic state.” It has not been confirmed, but there is talk of the county leaders commissioning him to do a memoir for the victims of the sinkhole catastrophe, according to the article’s author.
She also had a short blurb about his work being recently showcased at a silent auction to benefit children who lost one or both parents to Covid-19. As she read the article, she couldn’t help but recall the way Merrit would clench his teeth as he worked, making more prominent his Cherokee-fashioned cheekbones. She allowed herself to remember his whole face, the faint whiskers around his lips and chin. His eyes, Pacific deep blue and misty, as if reflecting a continuous state of despair.
Unraveling her lanky limbs from the couch, Bellamy makes a beeline for the sleek bar, one that the artist in her fashioned out of a crib destined for the landfill. She scaled it down and fashioned a cabinet at its base. Reaching for a bottle of Merlot, she glances at the mirror above. This mirror Merritt repurposed from shattered glass scavenged from a deconstruction site. A train derailed just outside Sandstone County leaving in its wake 128 survivors, but 63 perished on the same journey. Eventually, it was determined that the cause was the conductor’s slow response time due to his imbibing.
In the center of his creation was an old-fashioned hand mirror, the frame he removed and bent like a present bow and used for the top edge. Protruding as rays around the perimeter were pieces of the ravished glass once cast as a train window. She could not part with this piece as it spoke of incidents unraveling, yet somehow remaining constant, its passengers discovering and beseeching. It was with retching clarity that she now stared longingly at her gaunt face, its angles nearly as deep as the mirror’s edges. This time she saw that there was momentum forged in the piece as she thought about the inspiration for Merrit’s art. She recalled the story of a couple who were honeymooning when their train derailed, their journeys beginning and abruptly ending together. In the faint etching of the center mirror, their respective trains continue on to other horizons.
It was as if the subtlety of its message had been lost on her up to this point, for a long time now her visage has been obscured. She made the decision to remove the gauze from her memory and remember the events clearly. Her flight just landed in Reno. She would be meeting with a prospective client who was interested in her line of purses. Merrit called and said simply, “Come home Bell.”
“Mer…,” she began, astonished.
“Just get on the next flight and come home.”
“Tell me what’s wrong!”
“Bell, don’t make me say something like this on the phone.” All the way home she thought of scenario after scenario of doom; her parents perishing in a fiery car crash, one of her in-laws diagnosed with cancer, or Merrit himself in trouble.
Upon her arrival at the apartment, she noticed Merrit was not in the main living room. She began to panic when she saw two authority figures sitting at her kitchen table working on what appeared to be a report. One rose and approached her apologizing for her loss. Merrit heard this as he was coming out of the spare bedroom. He grabbed her forcefully by the arm and into their bedroom before anything else could be said.
“LOSS MERRIT?” Bellamy enunciates each syllable.
He broke at her incredulous look, but he stayed the course outlining the details, many of them extraneous. “I was listening to an 80s mix on Cd, the stew was simmering on the stove; it’s burnt because…” he took a breath and then stammered, “Morrie was splashing playing with his rubber duck…I heard the phone. I left it near the stove, thinking it might be you. I realized quickly that I should return and then I saw him motionless face down. I called 911 on speaker as I lifted him out of the tub and began CPR. I could not get him to breathe. The paramedics worked for a long time,” he trailed off, finishing with an anguished and desperate, “Oh Bell, I am so sorry!”
Bereft, devoid of voice, Bellamy retreated to the porch. It was there she would begin to piece together her nightmare. Her mind reeled. Her body was like play-dough. Who the hell called, she wondered, blaming him or her for Lil Morrie’s death. Where will they bury him? What shall she put on him for his final resting dress. His dino PJs, she decided. He loved them so much and he should be comfortable. Where was he now? She must go to him. Merrit, she whispered hoarsely, upon coming back into the bedroom, “Take me to him.” Sober from the memory, she could bear to think of no more.
She retrieved the letter, unwrinkled it, his words echoing in her mind “One last stab,” he had said, furthermore, no more would he try to reach her; he could and would not continue to apologize for he has moved on in spirit. The finality of his words exacerbated her, yet they resounded strangely comforting as well. She finally would have peace from it all, though the truth is she never moved on from the event, only moved inwardly. She read each abated word convulsing with sobs unrestrained and animalistic. Through her blurred vision, she could barely make out the closing remarks. No matter, she knew what she needed to do. She grabbed the phone off the mantle, dropped cross-legged to the ground, and dialed, pushing her ginger locks of hair behind her left ear.
Uncustomarily, he answers in one ring, “Happy belated anniversary,” Merrit booms, and then with more subtlety, sentiment-laced, “Bell.”
On the verge of retreating, caution signs looming, Bellamy pauses, long seconds filled with breath restrained amidst a heart-racing haphazardly; and then, careening forth from her exhale, one word – “Hello