There are hundreds of things I should be doing right now, and not a single one of them is sitting on this deck, with snow up to my knees, and your sleeping bag draped over my shoulders. The sky, and the snow, and the lake, are all the same grey. Which is my favorite color, even though you say that it’s a shade, not a color. You would roll your eyes, while I argue it can be both. I like that flexibility, of being allowed to be more than one thing. If you were here, you’d make a joke about flexibility and how bendy I am, even though we both know we’d settled into a missionary in the dark kind of pattern. But there’s grace in flexibility, and we don’t get a lot of that around here.
The fridge is full of weird food. You’d like it. Family sized casseroles. A whole cake and two pies. Maybe I’m allowed to get fat now that I’m alone. It’s all rotting, but every time I go to dump it, I think about how twenty-five pounds of congealed lasagna is what my marriage is now. How when you slipped that ring on my finger ten years ago, and then pressed the back of my hand to your mouth, how I thought that was a promise.
Now, here I am eating week-old pie, straight from the pan, the filling separated, watery, and sour smelling. Wearing your sleeping bag over my pajamas that have become a second skin. Staring out across the grey, and thinking of all the things I wished I’d told you when I had the chance. That actually I loved your shower singing, and your morning breath, and how you could have cried in front of me.
If you were here, you’d tell me to do something about the pile of cards, too. They arrive in the mail everyday like papercuts. Meaningless thoughts and prayers. I wonder how many times I popped a card in the mail, or ordered a delivery of flowers, when I should have gone over, held a hand, shared a shoulder. When I allowed myself all the distance from the reality of pain that money can buy. There are a ton of posts on my Facebook wall, and very few knocks on our door. I should write back and tell them if they really cared they’d come clean this shit out of the fridge, or maybe do the laundry.
I think I’m going to have to throw out my good coat. When the constable called, he told me to dress warm. We took the snowmachines out to the beach and they asked me if the things left behind were yours. I looked at the pile and told them yes, but you were obviously trying to lighten your load, for safety, for heaven’s sakes. But then they showed me the phone they found in the snow. With the hundred missed calls from the hundred times I tried, and I threw up on myself.
We followed the trail onto the lake, and we saw how the tracks veered away from the safety of the white ice toward the grey. We got off our machines half way out because the ice was too weak to hold us riding. We walked out to a casket-sized spot where I could see the bubbles in the water below through the wafer-thin ice. I was just opening my mouth to tell them that these spots were everywhere in the north channel, all those currents moving fast around the islands, that it didn’t mean anything, everyone knew that, when they unfurled your sleeping bag.
I told them I couldn’t be sure it was yours; doesn’t everyone have that same Coleman bag around here?
“We found it right here,” he said, and handed it to me and it smelled so strongly of you, even in the cold, even through my scarf, and the vomit crusted down the front of my coat.
“This could have fallen off the back of his sled,” I said.
“This was on top of it,” he said, pulling your helmet from the bag.
When I fell to my knees on the ice, the constable was kind enough to wait until I’d stopped gagging to tell me: “Looks to me like he ran into trouble over at the line. He went this way to get to land quicker. Engine died. He was trying to fix it. Looks to me like the ice just didn’t hold out.”
I didn’t tell him what it looked like to me, that sleeping bag like a flag. Here. Here.
The phone is ringing inside. I pull your sleeping bag around my head and it still smells like you. Your naked body sweating in the heat of the campfire. Two weeks ago, I would have been horrified, today, it’s all I can do to not put it in my mouth.
The ringing begins again, and it’s not hope, but irritation that forces me out of the chair, and through the snow on numb, cement block feet. Inside, I reach for the receiver.
Immediately I can tell I’ve made a mistake. I hang up on the girl between car and warranty, but I’ve already seen the letter on the counter.
The letter that came the day after you didn’t come home.
The one with my name in your handwriting on the front.
The one that I can’t bring myself to open.
Of all the things I should be doing, I should read what you wrote me. Then I would know. But right now, it’s an accident, and the pills that you didn’t know I knew about, and all the injuries, and all the moods, are not anything more.
Right now, you didn’t choose to leave me. You didn’t break our promise. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So, I take the letter, and your lighter, and I go out to the deck and get in your sleeping bag, and I breathe deeply as I set the paper in the snow, and flick the stiff lighter until it catches, and I let the flame kiss your last words the way I wish I was touching you.
Meagan Lucas (@mgnlcs) is the author of the award winning novel, Songbirds and Stray Dogs (Main Street Rag Press, 2019). Meagan’s short work has been published in The Santa Fe Writers’ Project, Still: The Journal, MonkeyBicycle, and others. She is Pushcart nominated. A Canadian ex-pat, she now lives in Western North Carolina where she teaches Creative Writing and edits Reckon Review.