I wrote this quite a while ago and found it the other day. I did a little editing and, well, here you go.
It wasn’t that he was nostalgic. He was a 64-year-old farmer for God’s sake. No, not even for God’s sake, he was a farmer for no one’s sake but his own. His leathery hands didn’t exactly clasp in prayer on a regular basis, nor did they feed the hungry mouth of a baby or caress the soft skin of a woman much in his life. These hands were built for labor, and labor was all they knew how to do. They were satisfied to be cracked and blistered and strong. He’d done all that a man could do in his life--he’d worked hard for his bread and eaten that bread with whiskey and he was quite satisfied. Quite satisfied.
There was just…a quiet. Not a content end-of-the-day quiet that puts one to sleep with tired muscles and full belly. More of an empty quiet. One that was just void of all things. When he walked up his creaking porch steps in his muddy boots after a long day planting tomatoes and squash, when he shed his clothes and collapsed on the couch, it was so… silent. Deadly still. There was nothing else. When his work day ended he was truly finished. A life with no one to greet him seemed ideal when he was a boy in a house bursting with children. Even when he was a young adult, solitude was both preferred and, well, blissful. But now, in his old age, he noticed the quiet.
He was sprawled on the couch dusty and aching, beer in hand and shoes on the floor, listening to the silence. It was May 14, and as he sat and ached and drank he thought back to another May 14, decades ago. This was the day of his wedding. Can you imagine? Him, tux and tie and shiny black shoes, kissing cousins and in-laws and laughing about flower arrangements. He remembered his nervous pacing and sweaty hands. He smiled to himself at the absurdity of it all. At the time, however, he felt that this day was the most pivotal day of all his life. This was the day that would define his entire future.
He was wrong about May 14. He was defined by a different day.
It was outside in the yard, his wedding. He had pruned and shaped and weeded for weeks so that every flower, every petal was in place. And she. Strong and loud, laughing at sunshine and crying at babies, she was the last thing he thought he needed. She brought him wildflowers, and slept until noon every Sunday. She had freckled, rosy cheeks as soft as goose feathers, plump and dimpled as she laughed so hard her eyes disappeared. After all this time, he still remembered those cheeks. But the eyes, were they green? He saw them, envisioned them for a split second and then they were gone, hazy and colorless and all he could see were her perfect cheeks. He had loved her, but he couldn’t remember her eyes.
Their bliss was cut short, of course. Those cheeks became hollowed and papery as they grew whiter and whiter and whiter. But pale was the least of their worries. He thought back to those days of bed rest, spoon-feeding like an infant. Life had just begun. It was at the end of this beginning that those leathery, weathered hands clasped in prayer for the first and last time. Hours of every day, all through the tear-soaked nights. Rocking. Please God, not her. Please God, not her. Please God. Not her.
He could still feel the warmth of her breathing in his bed, still taste the first burnt dinner and feel the coarse lace of her white dress when she died. He smelled her honeysuckle hair amidst his wallpaper-glue living room even now. They didn’t have time to say hello before it was goodbye. There were still boxes of curtains, or bloomers, or something of hers, that he could never unpack alone, so they stayed in the same boxes. Moth-eaten, probably.
It was October 2. That was the pivotal day. The defining day. The day he buried his wife and all her loveliness and all his happiness. Every shovelful of dirt was a memory they never made. A moment they never had. He felt now, sinking into his couch and staring at nothing, holding his own hands that all the sound of his life was buried in that hole, and now there was only silence. Dead silence.