BY CLAIRE L. SMITH
She awoke with a daily sinking, sluggish headache pinning her head against her pillow. The right side of the mattress remained physically empty with a subtle dip that suggested constant use during a time. She imagined her once-husband was leisurely occupying another woman’s bed the same morning, kissing and hugging his new partner as he had once done with her until the incident, and he eventually began to give up on his wife. With a throaty groan, she rolled from the bed, stumbling about her bedroom to find the itchy dressing robe that her once-husband would always let her wear and had purposefully left behind, only taking their grieving son with him.
She never made herself breakfast anymore, just a cup of intentionally spiked coffee to sip whilst she wandered about the empty house, ignoring the constant reminders of time’s passing. The table set for four with a thick, neat layer of dust coating each plate, along with every other capable surface in the house. The rubbish bin by the kitchen counter was full, mostly of one-day-old wine bottles squishing the much older trash down. The front door was jammed with newspapers, bills and letters of condolence dating back to…
Actually, she wasn’t completely sure anymore, she thought it was a months’ worth before she could bring herself to throw most of it out or did she think that last month?
After finishing her coffee, she placed her reused mug back beside the sink and began her rituals. She approached Pete’s door and knocked only once since that was all he ever needed to get up in the morning. She moved on down the hallway to Marie’s door.
"Time to get up, darling," she whispered, her voice hesitant but gentle.
She then returned to the kitchen, collecting the same newspaper she had been placing by her once-husband’s plate for the past seven years with the same date beneath the title. She then stood by the table, waiting for someone, anyone to appear from their rooms and come down the hallway to embrace her. She stood for exactly half an hour until it was time to leave.
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Even though she was certain she had drunken too much the night before, she still slid into her car, waiting briefly before turning the key and pulling out of the driveway. She drove with such caution, at least fifteen kilometers below the speed limit and triple checking every turn, sign and light. No one else had her caution, the world was so impatient that it wouldn’t wait for her. She had been left behind.
She arrived in the exact same parking spot, turning around to back the two empty back seats.
"Goodbye," she whispered, biting her lips as she had promised herself last month that she wouldn’t cry her eyes’ worth of tears in the car every morning.
She turned to face the wheel again and watched the market play out before her with picky old women, self-proclaimed experts of sales negotiation and other everyday customers eyeing the stores. The block was once filled with children and parents calling out farewells and forcing embarrassing smooches on rosy cheeks. Now, it was full of stalls and the football field had been paved over. Marie, a passionate soccer player, would’ve been heartbroken.
She then drove to work—sitting in the car with three cans of beer, a salami sandwich from the nearby deli and an iPad, for the next seven hours until it was time to return again. After pulling in and out of that same school carpark, she made her way home, twenty kilometres under the speed limit and taking a ten-minute detour to avoid that red light down the main highway.
That night, she sat in her spot at the end of the dinner table, her fifteenth glass of wine half-full in her hand as she scanned the three empty seats beside and across from her. She again thought of her once-husband’s fiancé and the wedding she had not been invited to. And of Pete and his newly earned degree which he received at the ceremony that she could not bring herself to attend. It was only Marie who had remained unchanged, who hadn’t grown any taller or any wiser— all because her mother couldn’t wait for the light to turn green.
Claire L. Smith is an Australian author, poet, screenwriter and artist. Her creative work has been featured in Mookychick, Anti-Heroin Chic and Moonchild Magazine. Her essays promoting gender equality has been featured in Business Woman Media, Mookychick, NerdVanaTV and A Woman's Thing. She is also an official contributor to Outlet Magazine. A full list of her work can be found at: https://smithlclaire.wixsite.com/author