Friday, July 12, 2013
Helium.com Flash Fiction---Ghosts That Force Us Home
(Author's note: This the first attempt at flash fiction in a very long time. Found a great website called Helium.com that offers a multitude of avenues for wannabe writers like yours truly to express themselves. The one problem is that their flash fiction prompts strictly limit stories to only 400 words. I was able to accomplish that nearly impossible task but I wanted to flesh out my characters explaining the reasons behind their behaviors. Not happy with the results but what the heck? The prompt was "The Lost Love Letter and here is the link to the 400 word version.)
My wife, Sarah, and I had spent nearly week cleaning out the home of her recently deceased parents when I found the old steamer trunk inside the closet of an unused bedroom. Made of cardboard it must have spent years forgotten in that musty closet because it fell apart the second I tried to pick it up. That is when I found the letter scattered amongst the collection of knickknacks that fell out the bottom to scatter on the floor. Given the nature of the items it was easy to assume they had belonged to my mother-in-law, Lisa Cunningham.
My belief was confirmed when I picked up the letter and saw it was addressed to her in what was obviously a man’s handwriting. At first I just presumed the sender was my father-in-law since the year on the postmark was 1969 but instead of the letter originating from West Germany, where he was stationed at the time, it listed Atlanta, Georgia. With my curiosity piqued, I looked closer at the handwriting, and while I could not say for certain it did not look my father-in-law’s.
That was the moment when I should have dumped everything into the trashcan I had been dragging around tossing the other refuse my late in-laws had left us to clean up. But something just didn’t add up about the letter and before I really thought about it I grabbed a nearby chair and began reading. In four short handwriting pages I learned more about my deceased in-laws than I ever wanted to know.
Written by a man named Frank, I learned that both he and my mother-in-law had been lovers long before she had ever married her husband, Ben. He lamented the fact that bad decisions on both their parts condemned any chance they had to spend their lives together. Frank also freely acknowledged the fact that he was the real father of all Lisa’s children. However, he summed everything up by explaining that while Lisa was the love of his life and that he dreamed of running off with her, his duty to his own wife came first.
Dumbfounded by the revelations, I slumped back into the chair with my mind churning over what I had just learned. I realized if my wife found this letter it would destroy her. Not only was Sarah dealing with the loss of her parents who she idealized but her health had gone downhill since the birth of our child the year before. That night during the drive home, I realized what I had to do.
After pulling into the driveway we both stumbled into our house and collapsed on opposite ends of the couch. “Daniel,” Sarah began, “you think your parents would mind if we let the baby stay with them until the morning?”
I looked over at my wife and for the first time in a long while realized the load she was carrying. Sarah’s two siblings had moved away years ago leaving her the sole duty of caring for their mom and dad. The demands Lisa and Ben put on Sarah created a great deal of friction in our marriage. Both had suffered from various physical and mental ailments requiring almost constant care for five years which Sarah had gladly provided. With the demands Lisa and Ben put on her and my job on me, our time as husband and wife was few and far between during those years but somehow, after long since giving up, she became pregnant with our child.
Sarah’s siblings actually offered to take over the care of their parents when they found out she was pregnant but she was adamantly against the idea since it would have required they be moved across the country and put in a rest home. Only when her water broke did Sarah finally let a hired nurse take care of her parents. This was almost more than I could stand, I still deeply cared for my wife but I greatly resented the burdens she so willingly accepted to the point it endangered her and the baby.
“Yeah,” I said looking at the exhausted woman across from me,” mom and dad will be perfectly fine keeping the baby tonight. Why don’t you head upstairs and go to bed, I’ll be here for a little while, I want to finish reading the last couple of chapters in my book.”
Without another word Sarah dutifully marched up the stairs, about a minute later I heard her in our bathroom brushing her teeth, after that it was utter silence. I pulled the old letter out of my back pocket and reread it over and over again feeling Frank’s ghostly presence stoically staring at me from across the room.
When I was sure Sarah was fast asleep I went out the back door but not before grabbing my cell phone. The night was moonless letting the stars above shine brightly but somehow the usual comfort they provided was totally absent. Combine that with the lack of any breeze and it created an oppressive mood weighing me down almost like Frank was again standing close by making sure I did my duty.
The cell phone seemed alien in my hand as I looked at it, I chalked that up to the part of me that screamed I had played the part of the understanding husband for long enough and that I now deserved my life back. But yet I dialed the number and cringed when Donna answered it only after the second ring.
“Daniel,” she said eagerly, “I was getting worried. Will we see each other tomorrow night?”