David was a planner. He liked being in control of life and never having to deal with unknowns. And it wasn’t just with his own life. There were plenty of times when he couldn’t help putting a hand into someone else’s business to steer them in the ‘right direction’.
But now he didn’t do it so much anymore - if at all. He had lost a taste for it, and this was noticeable in his mellow old age. Even his daughter Jasmine, who had rung to catch up with him, noted how much he was no longer actively taking interest.
“So do you think I should or not Dad?”
She had just told him that her long time boyfriend had recently asked her if they could move in together. She was now wondering why her father had not made some sort of comment or response yet.
Like most days and nights after too long, David became weary. Not that he ever grew tired of his children, but he knew something inside him was out of joint. So much so that life in the day was becoming something of a drag.
“If its what you want to do sweetheart, then I think you should.” He replied.
Jasmine was not deaf to her father’s tone. He was regularly descending into depressive moods and it worried her greatly. But she had to hear it from him first before she dared to interfere.
“Dad,” She paused, really hoping that what she was about to say wouldn’t close him off to her, “I really don’t think you’re ok. You’ve been so distant since Mum died. I just want to know if I can help you?”
David almost smiled. She was right, though he was determined to keep the reason for it completely to himself. Both his daughters and he were suffering from the loss of Linnea. He wanted to be strong for his girls.
“I’ll be fine sweetheart. I’m just...tired.” The old man murmured. His words spoke truth, but father and daughter had not the stomach to clear the air that was suffocating them. Jasmine wouldn’t press him further. He was still a stubborn mule after all these years and smacking her head against the walls he had put around himself would do little good.
“Ok. Well – um – get some rest. I’ll speak to you soon and Dad -” She stopped, feeling a tremor of emotion betray itself in her voice.
“I love you. So, so much. And, um, I just wanted you to know that. That’s all.”
David took the phone away from his ear and closed his eyes to stop the tears. He had never found the words to tell his daughter how much he loved his girls from every corner and hollow of his heart. Bringing the phone back to his ear, he forced a smile on his face and said, “Thank you sweetheart. Take care and good luck with your big move.”
“You too, Dad. Bye.” Jasmine sniffed in a way that David suspected to be her also trying to stop herself from crying. But before he could say anything more, the phone line went dead and the chance to comfort his little girl died in his mouth.
He placed the phone down on his desk and rubbed his face. It wasn’t long before it would be Linnea’s funeral. If this was what Jasmine and Azalea were like now, he dreaded what might possibly come when the day would dawn on them all.
David felt his temples throb. It was already ten o’clock in the morning and he had not been to visit her yet. Gathering his coat from the hook near the front door, he left his house to do his usual morning routine.
As he walked out the neighbourhood towards town, the sun was low in a cloudless sky and its light was making the morning frost sparkle. Few people were out walking in the streets. None spoke as they carried on with their day, not even stopping when David uttered a quiet ‘Good morning’.
The gate to the graveyard screeched as David opened it. The sound was like a welcoming call, for no others seemed to visit. No one apart from Death wandered willingly into the Hades on Earth, neither seen nor heard. Yet whenever David arrived, he felt almost welcomed. Because she was always waiting for him.
He found her as he did the day before and the days before that. Peaceful, undisturbed from the night.
He then changed the flowers from yesterday for some new ones he had picked up during his walk to the graveyard. There was a field not far from his house, where in a small patch grew some colourful flowers. Some of them were irises, blue and purple ones amongst the lilacs and harebells. She’d like those.
“Thank you for the handkerchief you gave me the other day.”
David turned around in surprise and saw the young girl he had found crying the other day stood behind him, a shy look on her face. He smiled.
“You’re most welcome...what is your name?”
He looked at her properly and in almost an instant she reminded him of her. The same eyes, the same face. But this young girl was far more serious and sorrowful, David could see. Iris walked towards him and stopped by his side, her attention now on the gravestone in front of her.
“Was she your family?”
“She was my wife.”
“Oh.” Iris blushed and looked down at her shoes.
“It’s alright. There is no shame in speaking of the dead or keeping silent about it.” David offered kindly, remembering that her loss was still raw and bless, she was only young.
“What’s the point in speaking of the dead if they can’t hear you?”
“I used to think that once,” He said, watching Iris furrow her eyebrows, “You see, when I married my first wife, I didn’t believe in a world beyond. I didn’t believe that there could be anything after death. Your life was your life and once it was gone, that was the end.”
“Is it not though?” Iris asked.
“We won’t know until we die, for the most part, I suppose. But a lot of things changed for me after I had to leave Linnea. A lot of things change when bad things happen.”
Iris nodded and scuffed her shoe into the dirt.
“How do you bear it?”
David thought for a moment and unbidden came a memory.
Thirty years ago
If David had meant to feel any anger or sadness when his wife and partner of fifteen years told him she wanted a divorce, those must have been buried somewhere deep. Only a heavy state of numbness had come from above and descended on him like a thick white fog.
“Linnea...” The words died before they reached his throat.
Linnea was no better. She had been determined to be as pragmatic as possible, for the sake of their two girls. But seeing her husband beginning to fall apart nearly drove her straight back into his arms. And maybe she would have, years ago. Her mind however could not shun away the endless days and nights where their marriage had become empty rooms, with not even an echo between them.
Even in this very moment when emotions and thoughts may have been loud enough to be heard, the silence had remained as it had done for years. Always the silence.
“Why?” David rasped, his hands now trembling in his lap.
Linnea bit her tongue. She knew that the dam was near bursting and if it had to be so, she wanted it away from their girls.
“I will go away to my mother’s for a while. The girls will come with me. I’m...I’m sorry I couldn’t find a better time to discuss this fully.” She replied with a strained face.
In just those words alone, David was feeling everything he had built to stand upon, crumbling beneath him. It was wrong. It had to be wrong. He loved Linnea, he loved his daughters. But in the deep and dark chasm that had been torn into him, that love was the only torch he had left. And even that had been placed just above him where he couldn’t reach.
“Keep the girls here. I’ll go tonight.”
As David brushed past Linnea, she brought a hand to her mouth. He quietly left their bedroom to find his daughters. He went first to his eldest, Azalea, who was curled up asleep in her bed. On the wall just above her head hung a drawing she had made for her parents. Two butterflies bound together by a pink heart in between them.
David crept into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. He brushed Azalea’s hair from her forehead, then bending forward to kiss her there. He left the room to the one next door, where Jasmine laid sleeping also. Though as soon as her bedroom door had opened, she stirred and awoke.
“Daddy?” She called out to him as she rubbed her eyes.
As he had done with Azalea, David sat on the edge of Jasmine’s bed. He reached for her face and cupped her tiny chin in his hand.
“Hello, sweetheart. Sorry to wake you.” He whispered. Jasmine crawled from her pillow and gave him a cuddle.
“Can I have a bedtime story?”
David embraced his daughter tightly, allowing the sweet childhood scent of her hair to stem the prickling wetness in his eyes. He would miss reading his girls bedtime stories every night.
“Not now. Its time for bed.”
With one last kiss on her head, David tucked Jasmine into bed. Slowly she went back to sleep and the time for him to leave had been reached. He shut the door gently behind him and returned swiftly back to his own bedroom.
Linnea had still been standing in the middle of the room, wiping her blotched face.
“You don’t have to go tonight, David.” She croaked, wincing when her husband took a suitcase from a nearby cupboard and dropped it on the bed. He did not acknowledge her, but instead began to take some clothes out of the wardrobe. Linnea walked over to his side and put a tentative hand on his own. He stopped. He did not look at her.
“This is the best for both of us.” She said in a tremored whisper. David shook her hand off his.
“This shouldn’t be happening.” He muttered through gritted teeth.
“You can’t plan everything.”
“Like losing my wife and children in one night?”
"Don’t -” Linnea stopped before she raised her voice anymore, “Don’t do this. Please.”
David closed his eyes and sighed through his nose. Even then, he could not deny her. Linnea wiped her eyes furiously, trying to keep her cheeks dry.
“So this is it. There’s nothing left between us.” David stated, each word like coughing up iron nails.
Linnea began to shake, so sorry and yet so furious with him that it had taken all of her willpower not scream at him.
“It is because I love you that I have said it. Do you...do you really think we can continue - like this?”
There, the ultimatum had been placed.
And David very badly wanted to tell her that she had got it all wrong. They could work this out. They could try. But he had then seen what their marriage had become for Linnea. There she had been in front of him, as vulnerable and as broken as he had ever seen her. She could not do it any more, she did not want to.
The damning thing however was that he had seen glimpses of it before. He had seen when Linnea needed something else other than what they already had. Something different. Yet he had always tried to remain the same, believing that she would want the same man she had married all those years ago.
But was he the same man Linnea knew from the beginning?
He looked into her eyes and saw perhaps for not the first time that he was a shell. And he was ashamed. He had no bones, nor stomach, nor even a spark to take back his wife and make it all go away. But with bitter hindsight, how could a man like himself, who had spent years blind and lost, ever be able to be a husband?
Shaking his head, David walked over to his trembling wife and pulled her into his arms. He had loved her. He had thought it likely that he would never stop loving her. Linnea for her part did not resist, though she had felt like she was clinging to a lonely rock in the middle of a stormy sea.
“I can’t do this, David. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” She wept.
David did not understand then why they had reached that point. He doubted he ever would. But one thing was for certain, Linnea did not want him to fight for her. She had gone from him, she was never going to come back.
Without another word, he released her from his grip. He packed the remainder of the belongings he needed and left the room. Once he was out of the house and into his car, he began hitting the steering wheel. And with each smack that hit, a chilling quote from a poem he once read beat through the temples of his mind:
Hope had grown grey hairs. Hope had mourning on. Trenched with tears, carved with cares. Hope was twelve hours gone.
Finally, David turned to the young girl Iris with an answer.
“I didn’t bear with it, and nor will you. Not for a while. But the more you suppress the memory of those you loved and lost, the longer it takes. We all reach an end, but not truly. We live in the moments that our loved ones remember us by.”
For first time since their meeting, Iris smiled a little.
“I’ll try to remember that.”
She began to walk away, then stopped and turned back.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
David waved slightly as young Iris walked out of the graveyard, her hands stuffed in her pockets to keep them from the cold. He turned back to the grave of his beloved. Young Iris would be alright. It was tragedy that she was experiencing loss so young, but maybe time would be both her worst enemy and best ally. However long it would take for her to reconcile herself with what had happened, he prayed that she would find the strength she needed.
He looked down at his watch and saw that it was time to go. He had not spoken to Azalea yet.
He placed a gloved hand on the grave.
“Goodbye for now, love. I’ll come and see you tomorrow.” He said to his beloved, wishing he could find an excuse to stay longer.
On the walk back home, he thought perhaps he would arrange to drop by and see Azalea, her husband Seamus and his grandchild Rosie. David smiled at the thought of little Rosie.