They sat in the same room, but they lived a hundred miles apart. The woman was in her rocking chair, which slowly creaked back and forth. Her fingers moved busily as her knitting needles made steady clicking sounds. The man, sitting in his recliner, held an open newspaper, and every once in a while a turning page made a crinkly sound. In the fireplace, small flames sparked, lending the room a homey feeling that would have otherwise been absent.
The man stared at his paper through thick glasses, but his eyes were vacant, not taking in any of the words. He seemed to be remembering a distant place in another time. His eyes moistened, and, folding the paper, he tossed it on the floor. He leaned forward, running a hand over his thinning gray hair.
Then, straightening up, he turned to the woman.
“I went to his grave today.”
The movement of the rocking chair paused for a moment, but then quickly resumed.
“Left some flowers there,” the man continued. “Sunflowers—real pretty ones. Thought he’d like them.”
Still no response. “Saw a little boy flying a kite in the park on my way back. Reminded me of that red-striped kite he used to have. . . . Never could get that thing to fly. Always got stuck in a tree. . . . Wonder what we ever did with it.”
He hesitated. “Thought about stopping by to see Julie and the kids.” The woman’s shoulders stiffened. “Couldn’t bring myself to do it, though. Don’t reckon the little ones would remember me now anyway.”
The man turned a little in his seat and cautiously glanced at the woman. “Do—do you ever wonder what might’ve happened if we’d kept in touch?” His eyes grew dreamy. “We could’ve had us some grandkids. I can just see it—me teaching the boys how to play catch in the yard, and you baking those famous chocolate chip cookies of yours, making the house smell like it did when . . . when we still had Timmy.”
A decisive clack came from the knitting needles. The woman’s hands tightened their grip, and the veins stood out.
“And Julie . . . .” He shook his head. “Well, we always said she was like the daughter we never had. Why did we do it, Mags?” he asked, looking at the woman again. “Why’d we let them go?”
The woman slammed her knitting into her lap and turned on the man. Her eyes burned a fiery blue, making her look like a vengeful goddess, but she said nothing.
“I know, I know, you’re angry at me. And at her. I was angry, too. If she hadn’t convinced him to go on that boating trip . . . well . . . you know. . . . But it wasn’t her fault that there was a storm . . . or that she survived and he didn’t. She couldn’t have known, Mags. She couldn’t have.”
Deliberately, the woman turned away, but her eyes still burned. She picked up her knitting, and the clacking began again. Her shoulders slowly relaxed, and her breathing resumed its natural pace. The angry goddess had departed, but left in her place was a silent, emotionless stone.
The man gazed into the fire. “When I was at the grave today, I started remembering the fun times, the ones before the accident. We’d go to church every Sunday. Had those great potluck dinners once a month. Remember those, Mags? And then there were those chess matches with Bill. Never could beat him, but I loved playing all the same. Can’t even remember the last time I saw Bill now.”
He paused a little before continuing. “There were those music gatherings we’d have, too. Bill on his cello, Dave on the guitar, me on the banjo, and you, Martha, and Jenny all singin’. We’d always end up telling jokes at the end of the evening, and my sides would ache from laughing. You all said I had a contagious laugh—remember that? But now, well, I don’t remember the last time I laughed.”
He let out a long sigh. “I . . . I remember how you used to make my lunch for me every day. You’d put it in a little brown sack—a tuna salad sandwich, Granny Smith apple, and chocolate chip cookie. Always the same. I never liked you changing it. And then . . . I remembered something else, too. When it was just you and me and we’d go out under the stars and the full moon . . . and we’d dance. Remember how we used to dance?”
The needles had stopped clacking, and he glanced over at her. She was staring into space, as though she was remembering, too. The man turned away and rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. “Anyway, I remembered all that, and I realized . . . we had a really good life, Maggie. And it wasn’t all because of Tim. We had eighteen wonderful years together before he even came along. He was just the icing on our cake. So why did we give up the entire cake because we lost the icing?”
He looked back at her again. A single tear ran down her cheek. Staring at her, he pushed himself out of his chair, took two steps, and lowered himself to his knees in front of her. “Maggie. Mags, look at me.” She turned away, but he grasped her hands in his and leaned forward, trying to see into her eyes. “I want our life back. I want us back.” The woman remained stiff, not responding. “God help me, Maggie. I lost my son. I don’t want to lose my wife, too.”
There was a long pause. Then the rocking chair creaked forward as the woman stood, her knitting tumbling off her lap to the floor. Her hands slid out of the man’s grasp as she turned and shuffled slowly away, out of the living room and into the bedroom. The man watched her go and dropped his head into his hands. For a minute, he was silent. Then his shoulders began to shake, and long, shuddering sobs added their sound to that of the crackling fire.
Orange rays of sunshine were just beginning to filter into the kitchen when the man entered the next morning. He crossed the room and peered out the window of the back door onto the covered porch. The woman sat at the picnic table, facing away from him, with her face lifted to the rising sun. The man’s hand hovered, hesitating over the door knob. Then his shoulders slumped, and he turned to walk back across the kitchen. He started to open the fridge and then stopped, staring at an object on the counter.
A brown sack sat there with his name written on it.
Trembling, he reached out and opened it. He bent and took a deep whiff of its contents. “Tuna,” he whispered.
His eyes glistened with tears as he turned back toward the sunlit porch, but a rusty, joyous sound broke from his lips—laughter.