This story is by Miriam Nicholson and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
No one likes being woken in the morning, especially by the phone.
“Honey, can you get that?” Georgia rolled over.
He didn’t respond, and hadn’t in over a year. “I’ll just let it go to voicemail,” she closed her eyes again.
“Hey sweetie, hope you are doing alright. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from you. I understand things are hard but I’m sure you can squeeze in a minute to see your mother. Call me when you get this, and happy anniversary!”
Georgia shot up from the bed. Anniversary? No… it couldn’t be. She flung the covers off and bolted to the calendar. There it was, June 18th. The words wedding anniversary were surrounded by a big circle and a few hearts in red sharpie.
“Shit, this is fine. This is fine.” she repeated to herself.
She looked over to her husband still in bed, smiling to hide her panic.
“Ready for breakfast?” She gently removed the covers.
She helped her husband into his wheelchair. “You must eat more Mark, you’re getting lighter every day,” Talking helped keep the sadness at bay.
Georgia wheeled her husband over to the kitchen table, noticing the dinner from last night on a plate, uneaten. She frowned and shooed a few flies away before heading to the sink. She put the dishes in the sink, and started playing the voicemails.
“Hey Georgia, I hate to keep bringing this up but I’m getting complaints about the smell coming out of your apartment. If it doesn’t get resolved soon I’ll have to start eviction proceedings. Call me back when you get this,”
Hank, always making a muck of things. He knows how hard it’s been.
Yellow and blue dishes were scattered across the white laminate countertops; empty frozen vegetable bags strewn about the overflowing trash can, along with a few boxes of corn dogs.
“Mom was right,” she said aloud. “You are a slob.” How had she let it get this bad? “I’ll have to add cleaning supplies to the list.”
She found a pen and paper on the kitchen table where Mark was sitting. “Hiding this from me I see?” She said with a laugh.
She uncapped the pen and began writing. “Eggs, milk, flour, spaghetti noodles, ground beef, cleaning supplies” she paced as she wrote, muttering each ingredient aloud. “Red carnation, what else?” she gripped her pen tightly before releasing it. “That must be everything.”
She walked over to the CD player and pushed play. ‘You are my sunshine’ played. This was their song, it always helped calm her nerves. She gazed lovingly at Mark and sang.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey,” Her voice was soft and sweet, harmonizing with Johnny Cash’s voice. “You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
As the song continued Georgia sighed. “That’s better, nothing like Johnny Cash to calm the nerves.” She stood and looked around the apartment. “Well, this is no way to spend an anniversary, let’s get this sorted.”
She quickly tidied the kitchen, humming along to the music. She glanced at her husband at the end of every chorus, hoping for some kind of reaction.
“Alright,” she put the last dish in.
It didn’t take long to get ready. She had slowly stopped caring about makeup and her appearance in general over the last year.
“I’ll be back soon my dear,” She kissed Mark on the forehead. “Got to get ready for tonight.”
The drive to the store took five minutes. She had stopped noticing the suburban houses and children at play. Only one thing mattered to her, Mark. She parked as close as she could with her green suburban her father gave her when she turned 16.
Georgia got out and rushed into the store. Everything had to be perfect. The food was easy to find, she’d gotten the same ingredients before, as it was his favorite meal. She looked over the cart and checked her list. “Just need a red carnation,” she headed to the floral department.
“Roses, mums, succulent, daisy,” she scoured the display, no carnations. “No! it won’t be perfect without.” She noticed her friend Nicole working the display and rushed over.
“Georgia! You’re out of the house!” Nicole’s smile was almost contagious. “How are things?”
“Fine. Great. Wonderful. So I need red carnations for tonight, you wouldn’t happen to have any?”
“Um ya, I think I have one more, just give me a mom—”
“Great! Just hurry, I’m in a bit of a rush,” Georgia picked at her nails, her eyes darting around the store.
“Okay, sure,” Nicole’s voice was drawn out as she looked over her friend, “are you sure you’re ok—”
“Yes, I’m peachy,” she tugged at a loose hair. “Just hurry—please?”
Nicole ran to the back to check, leaving Georgia nervously waiting behind. “Red carnations are his favorite, I need to have them.” Back and forth she paced, worried by the looks she was receiving. She could see it now, the picnic where he’d shown her his flower collection.
“And this one is my favorite, the red carnation.” Mark looked at it lovingly. “It radiates my deep love for you,”
They kissed and the memory faded.
“Georgia… Georgia!” Nicole said, shaking her from the trance.
“Hmm? Oh did you find it?”
“Unfortunately we seem to be out—”
“No!” Before either one could react, Georgia grabbed Nicole by the apron.
“I— I’m sorry we’re out.”
“No!” Georgia’s world seemed to be falling apart as she started to shake Nicole. “You must be mistaken, I need it,”
“I— I’m sorry, please let go of me,” but Georgia couldn’t hear her.
The perfect dinner was cracking and falling apart. “Nonono it has to be perfect.”
Just then she saw it, a red carnation in another lady’s cart. She bolted over full speed, ramming the lady to the ground. Georgia didn’t hear the chaos around her as she grabbed the flower. “Let’s go, my love.” She was stopped by a big burly man.
“Ma’am, you’re going to have to come with me,” and he tried to grab her.
Without thinking Georgia sprinted away with her cart of groceries towards the exit. She needed to get home. Alarms blared as she passed the front door, but she didn’t care.
The drive home was a blur. It wasn’t until she entered the house and opened the fridge that it hit her.
“Shit!” she fell against the wall in a daze. “what’s gotten into me, I’ll have to pay
them back,” she shook it off and pulled out the necessary dishes.
She prepared dinner like she had always done, routine taking over. Once the spaghetti was cooked, she got dressed in her best gown, put on her make-up and put her hair in a bun.
She got Mark in his suit and turned on the stereo. She set the table and dished out the meal. Pouring a glass of wine for herself and her husband, she helped him hold the glass.
“To another year my dear,” and she clicked the glasses.
Just then someone pounded on the door, “Enough is enough Georgia, I’m coming in,” it was Hank.
“No— you can’t!” the image of the perfect dinner cracked further. “Come back tomorrow!”
The door opened “I hate to do this Georgia but— oh my god,” he was accompanied by a police officer, both standing in shock.
“Have you never seen a dinner before?” Georgia said annoyed. “Come back tomorrow! It’s our anniversary.” The policeman only hesitated a moment before grabbing her.
“No!” The image broke, leaving a scene of horror in its place.
The table, once nice and new, faded into a moldy circle table, barely standing. The pristine tile floors filled with mold, the smell finally registering. The counters were in shambles, and the dishes were all broken.
“No!” Georgia tried to grab the image with her hands as it fell from her grasp.
She looked to her husband for reassurance—only to scream. In Mark’s seat sat his rotting corpse. It crawled with maggots, his black hair in whisps. His hands were skeletal, and the smell permeated the entire apartment.
“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law…” the policeman said as he cuffed her and started walking away.
“No…” was all she could manage as he pulled her away.
Their favorite song was all that remained of the image, the padded box, her stage. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey,” her voice, once beautiful, had become slow and chilling. “Please don’t take my sunshine away…”