This story is by Linda L Moore and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sunny stared at the pond mindlessly as the sweet taste of pale yellow raspberries softened on her tongue and hoped her husband would die today.
She desired life’s simple pleasures like the taste of fresh golden raspberries warmed by the sun. The bushes were discovered on her aunt’s property in the woods of northern Wisconsin when she inherited the place. What luxury she found here among the scent of pine, songs of the robins, warblers and thrushes, soothing sounds of the trickling stream over river rocks.
Friends rarely stopped to visit; mostly they were playing in the cold glacier lakes on their pontoons or jet skis this time of year. In the fall they’d go back to their mansions in posh suburbs of northern Illinois. Sometimes, though, she could call on one or two of them to have lunch at the local farm to table Garden Café. Occasionally, if she went with a pint of fresh berries, they’d give her a free meal. They especially loved to feature her golden raspberries on their breakfast specials.
Sunny found Tucker’s body yesterday afternoon. Now, he was lying in a hospital bed up in Wausau. It was typical for Tucker to skip breakfast and drink ten or more Miller Lites before lunch. On this Saturday a dangerous combination brewed: an alcoholic, a chain saw and a 20-foot ladder.
How many times had she watched as he perched perilously on one foot to reach branches using that chain saw? He’d give her a smirk of a smile then yell “Hey Babe, see it’s nothing, what are you worried about?”
And she’d say, “Tucker, hurry up and die already, so I can get on with my life.” OK she didn’t say that out loud, but what she did say was, “Someday all of this will catch up with you.” She wished him gone.
It was a lonely place, pride. Sunny couldn’t bear the embarrassment of a divorce – splitting finances, furniture, flatware and whatever. Someone once suggested she should “pull an Annie Wilkes and drive the riding lawn mower over him” if she hated him that much. What she hated more, was admitting she lived behind a façade of bitter anger and self imposed isolation.
Their friends stopped inviting them for cook-outs because Tucker would call them “fucking rednecks” if they disagreed with his politics. Tucker’s erratic behavior no longer suited his own friends, and they abandoned him years ago. Sunny’s friends no longer included her because her conversations always came back to Tucker. In one moment praising him for polishing out the scratch on her Lexus, in the next saying how the “asshole cut the cherry tree down for no reason!”
How many years had she shoved away the nagging voice in her head that kept asking why she believed her choices were limited? What would make an intelligent woman think it okay for her husband to treat their friends with disdain? And rather than deal with the uncertainties and frustrations of divorce, Sunny chose the seemingly easier yet undesirably longer route of waiting until his alcoholism killed him.
Lies, she thought. I live a lie. She’d feel bile in her throat when she’d look at him, so drunk at times he could barely control his bladder, often peeing himself. Shorts wet at the crotch, standing outside the kitchen window with that lazy loose smile staring at her, she’d flip him the bird. He’d say “Fuck you,” belch loudly flip her the bird back. In a strange way, the finger gesture was akin to a term of endearment.
She hadn’t waited for him to trim the aspen when she left yesterday, too many projects started and unfinished. Sunny picked two pints of raspberries for the Garden Café, as she did every Saturday morning when in season. She left without saying goodbye, disgusted and frustrated.
# # #
It wasn’t unusual for Tucker to pass out near one of his yard projects. But when Sunny saw the ladder wedged between the trees and part of a branch dangling across the ladder, and still heard the chain saw, and didn’t see Tucker, to her surprise she actually became worried.
Alert to the whoosh of wind in the pines, but no other sounds of nature, she walked slowly toward him, hugging her purse to her chest as if to calm her now trembling body. Tucker, motionless, mangled. His neck twisted, his shin bone exposed through the flesh of his right leg and a pool of blood where his left hand should have been.
Her legs quaking, she moved closer to the grotesque and sickening scene. Still clutching her purse, Sunny shuddered. She had stepped on something unfamiliar and soft. She swallowed hard, slowly lifting her foot to glimpse Tucker’s severed hand, his wedding band still visible through bloodied scratches and dirt.
She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry or call 911. That would be the thing to do – call 911. But her emotional well was empty, despite what she saw, and she was disgusted with his drunkenness and disregard for safety all these years. She reached for her phone, and in the seconds between picking up and dialing “9-” she stopped, thought about it and put down the phone. What if he was still alive?
Minutes ticked by as she became lost in reverie of the freedom of a new life as it bloomed on her horizon.
These woods were her sanctuary, the cabin isolated not even seeable from the dead end dirt road that curved through the aspen and Ponderosa pines – nature the only witness to crimes.
# # #
The nurse, last night at General Hospital, suggested she go home. They would call her if Tucker’s condition changed. Critical, there was nothing anyone could do.
It’s Sunday and the warmth of today’s sunrise feels hopeful as the glitter of sunlight creates a diamond like path across the pond. Sunny’s eyes move unconsciously to her wedding ring. As it comes into focus, she bites back tears when her gaze catches a glint of sunlight through the amethyst and emerald gemstones. Tucker had it designed; engraved with a floral motif of flower buds with stems and leaves. Back then, he paid attention to what mattered to her and her love of nature inspired him. She remembered their spontaneous laughter when they both thought of the perfect inscription at the same time – a phrase from a beloved cult classic movie.
Suddenly startled out of her memory, Sunny nearly chokes on the raspberries when her cell phone rings. Waiting shifts to hope. An area code she recognizes. The nurse says, she’s sorry, Tucker didn’t make it.
Tucker who once could make her giggle when he told stupid jokes; who would wrap his muscular arms around her, nuzzle her neck and moan softly when they made love; whose rough hands caressed her curves. Only a few sweet memories remained rooted in her heart from this prickly marriage.
Sunny closed her eyes and let it all go with one long scream that started deep in her belly and roared through her chest making her throat raw. She hung her head and sobbed.
A long forgotten feeling of lightness free from entanglement and fears, washed over her. “It’s over,” she thought. “It’s really over.”
She removed her wedding ring and read the inscription.
As you wish