“I can’t believe he’s really dead…”
“How’s she holding up?”
“Why don’t you go fix her a plate and I’ll bring her some w…”
I let the voices wash over me like a giant wave, roll my neck to work out the kinks and pretend I don’t feel the pitying stares or hear the remorseful comments that seem to float around me like annoying insects.
I have no idea who is bringing me what but I know I don’t want it. I get out of my chair by the fireplace, avoiding the beseeching eyes that I know are just trying to comfort me but are really just pissing me off. I beeline like a coward for the backyard, hoping a little fresh air will take the gigantic lump out of my throat.
Thankfully, no one has bled into the backyard. The day is grey and cold which is why I assume no one has taken the party outdoors.
The party. How sadistic.
I wrap my cardigan a little more tightly around me and head for the garden bench across the expanse of grass.
It’s a nice backyard, with lots of flowers that I took great pains not to kill. I even have a little patch of strawberries growing along the back fence. I haven’t picked any in over a week and I know they are just sitting there, rotting or being eaten by whatever little critters scuttle around here. I just can’t bring myself to care.
I ease down onto the bench, feeling like a frail 80 year old as opposed to my usual spritely 33. Everything aches, right down to my toenails. I guess a weeks worth of no sleep and bad diet will do that to a person.
Eric would be so disappointed. Always the man to fix the healthy dinner and drag my ass to the gym, he’d be appalled at what I’ve reduced myself to.
I push that little nugget of depressing thought to the side and instead focus on…something. Anything.
My eyes drift back to the house and I can see through the generous windows a sea of black dresses and grey suits. Now that I’m not sitting amongst it, the low murmur of voices is oddly comforting. I hear someone laugh and a flicker of anger ignites in my chest. We’re supposed to be in morning, you asshole. Stop laughing. The thought is so absurd I can’t help but let a sarcastic snort escape. Stop laughing. No matter what catastrophe occurs, people will always find a reason to laugh. But will I?
I’m pondering this very thought when the backdoor opens and my best friend Megan emerges. She’s carrying two glasses of red wine and I remember instantly why I love this girl so much.
She marches over to me like a soldier on a mission, sits down practically on my lap, hands me a glass and then takes a generous gulp from her own. She says nothing. She doesn’t need to. We watch the grey day turn to a darker grey night.
Everyone has left except for Megan and her husband James. Megan is putting the thousandth casserole into my already casserole-ridden freezer while James stands at the sink, dutifully washing dishes and nursing a beer. I can only assume he’s had a few since it looks like he’s swaying a little from side to side. Or maybe that’s me. I’m sitting on the counter, still holding my glass of wine that has miraculously never emptied since Megan brought it out to me a few hours ago. I feel pretty drunk, which is a welcome sensation. My feet swing back and forth like a child’s and I stare out the window, not really seeing anything.
“How are you doing on that wine there, Sal? Need a refill?” James talks to me from over his shoulder. Maybe he isn’t that drunk because I understood everything he just said and James is notorious for being the drunken slur-master of our group.
I glance at my half-empty glass and shrug. I realize he can’t see me so I say, “I’m fine.”
“Bullshit you’re fine. But how are you on wine?”
And that’s why I’ve been friends with these two since middle school. They know all my bullshit just like I know theirs.
“If I have any more wine I won’t be able to get up tomorrow,” I say, then consider my words. “So yeah, I’ll take a little more.”
Megan shoots me a sardonic look and I see James’s shoulders shake with a suppressed laugh. Even in the midst of tragedy and despair I can still make them laugh. And, God bless her, Megan stops her casserole assemblage to fill up my glass almost to the rim.
“You do know we’re staying over tonight, right?” She says with a quirk of her eyebrow. “Someone’s gotta hold your head over the toilet.” I frown at her and take a delicate sip, making a point that I won’t need assistance. If anyone can hold their booze it’s me.
“You don’t need to do that.” Even to my ears my voice sounds odd, like I’ve swallowed a vat of rocks or something.
Megan snorts and says, “I know we don’t need to. We want to. There’s no reason you need to be alone tonight.”
To my disgust, my eyes fill with tears. Alone tonight. I will be alone every night for a very long time. The thought is all-consuming and those freaking tears start to track down my face. Megan makes a move to comfort me but I wave her away.
“I’m okay, really. It’s just a lot to take in. I mean…” I pause, wondering if I even want to go down this road. “I mean, a week ago I had a husband. A husband that adored me. He adored me since we were twelve years old, for crying out loud. And now…now I have this.” I make a gesture with my hand to my surroundings. “I have all this crap. All this crap that reminds me of Eric. I get to come home every day to an empty house that smells like him.” I pause and take in a deep breath. “Did you know we were trying to have a baby? He had this wild idea that we should have sex in every room because maybe it would increase our chances. So now every room in the god-forsaken house is tainted.” A hysterical snort-laugh escapes me before I can stop it. “How sad is that?” I guess I did want to go down that road.
James is leaning against the counter with his muscular arms crossed over his broad chest, so reminding me of Eric that I close my eyes and try to shake out the image. He doesn’t say anything, but just looks at me with sympathy in his deep brown eyes. Eric had blue eyes.
Megan’s beautiful face is drawn and tense, like she’s trying desperately not to cry. She takes a shuddering breath and says, “What can we do?”
I shake my head, completely at a lose for words. I don’t even know what I can do, much less them.
“You know,” James pauses to sip his beer and lets out a ludicrous belch before he continues with, “Eric would have hated this.” He gestures with his bottle to the mass amounts of food yet to be stored in my limited amount of storage. “All of this…When was the last time you saw that guy eat carbs?”
His delivery is so deadpan and yet so honest I can’t help but crack a smile. It’s true, of course. Eric was your quintessential health nut.
“And why do they always insist on bringing casseroles anyways? Because you can freeze it? Because it’s comfort food? It’s stupid is what it is. The last thing you need is to eat your feelings. Although you could use to put on a few pounds, Sal. You’ve shrunk into a little barbie doll.” James walks over to me and squeezes my thigh as if proving a point.
I swat his hand away but his train-of-thought speech has the desired effect. My eyes have dried up and I can’t help but smile at his thoughtfulness. Megan saunters over as well, wraps her arm around my waist and literally lifts me off the counter. Damn. Maybe I have lost too much weight.
“I think it’s time we take this to the living room for a Seinfeld marathon and a few more bottles of wine. What do you think?” She gestures to the food and says, “I’ll pack all this shit away later…or maybe just throw it away.” She winks at me and I feel my smile broaden just a bit. I’m pinned between James and Megan and I couldn’t have found a better place to be if I was looking for it.