God will get you through it. I want to tell him those very words he told me six years ago but they feel like a heavy weight in my mouth.
The casket had been lowered into the ground more than half an hour ago and everyone has left by now.
“Joe.” I say, placing a hand on his shoulder. The man shudders at my touch. A man who has always been so strong is now so incredibly broken. The sight has my own heart breaking.
“Joseph.” I say his full name now as he continues to stare at the ground. “We should go.” I say. I’ve been to this same graveyard several times, the first time being six years prior, and he was with me then. He had pulled me away, even as my legs threatened to give way under me. The love of my life, a man that had a deep laughter that filled the air and caused you to laugh with him, a man with a heart for everyone and arms always open, even for those without a home, my late husband was buried here. And now, Joe’s wife is buried here as well.
“Joe.” I repeat but the man doesn’t move. “You can’t stay here.” I say and step beside him. His eyes are only focused on one place, and that’s at the fresh pile of dirt that was tamped down not too long ago. I give him a gentle shake, hoping to shake him from his stupor. I can’t quite pull him away the same way he had then because he’s a larger man. The officer is probably 6’3” and weighs over 300 easily. He’s a hefty man and very kind hearted. He’s beloved by everyone in our community, so when we all learned that his wife passed, we showed up for him today. I’ll be stopping by, along with some others to drop off food for him throughout the week and I’ll be checking in on him regularly as well.
“Come on.” I urge.
“Stop it, Grace.” He says, his voice firm but gentle. “I’d like to stay here with her.”
“You should not. You remember how you did not let me stay here?” And it’s a good thing. Staying here alone, in the early morning, in a graveyard is no good. “There’s no company here except the dead. You told me that last time.”
“The dead is good company.” He says and I blink before frowning.
“No they are not.”
“She’s good company, Grace.”
“Joe…” She’s dead I want to tell him but I know that won’t do any good. Nothing will do any good for him right now except someone just listening. I needed to get away last time-I didn’t know that then, but he did. But for him, he needs to grieve a little longer right here. So I stay with him. At one point, my older sister texts me, wondering where I am as my children, Ty and Nova, are at her place with their cousin Rose. I let her know that I’m not sure when I’ll get home. Thankfully Victoria is not going to work today and she’s understanding in such a situation as this. So she lets me know that it’s alright with her and the kids can stay over as well. I thank her, knowing I might be with Joe for a while.
We end up staying in the chilly graveyard for two hours and then Joe releases a drawn out breath that turns into another one. And that turns into an exasperated sound before becoming a snort that’s cut short by a sob. He hasn’t cried all day, nor yesterday or the day before. I don’t know if he’s cried at all during all of this. But now, it’s like a dam breaks free and tears flow. The sobs rack his body and I hand him a tissue from my purse, running my hand over his back. No words are said and we leave shortly after.
I drive him home and I let him know that I’ll come in and take care of him for a little while. He doesn’t say anything. We walk into the quaint house and as soon as we do, we’re enveloped by the scent of stale pastries. Upon going into his kitchen, I see baked goods sitting on his island, left open. I remember how his wife used to bake regularly and I can imagine he must have left it open in desperation to smell something that resembled what she used to make. It must have given him a hope that maybe she could seem close once more. But I can see by how everything was left untouched, and by the artificial scents of store bought goods, that it didn’t work out.
I walk out of his kitchen and into his living to see him standing in the middle of the open area, staring at a chair with an indent in the cushion. Sherry was a bit large and her body left that imprint. I think that’s where she had passed, in fact, from her heart attack. It was the same thing that took my husband. Memories come back but I don’t dwell on them like I used to. I’m thankful for the time I had with him and the children we had together before he passed; they kept me going.
A worry comes into my head as I recall Joe and Sherry didn’t have children. I can’t even imagine how it will be to now come home to silence. No one to say good morning to or good night, no one to come home to-it’s an empty house now without her. I remember when Lance had passed and I had to sleep with an empty space beside me. I used to hate his snoring but after that day, I yearned to hear it at least once more. At least a snore meant he was alive. But now I can’t even hear the very thing I took for granted and disliked. You truly don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
“How about you head upstairs and get changed? I will make something for you.” Back then, Joe had driven me home with my children who were too young to truly understand what was happening and he had helped carry Ty as I carried Nova, on automatic as he gently coaxed me inside my own home. I felt like a foreigner as I understood it was now a vastly different place without my love. He had told me to go wash up and Sherry had been called over as well. After I showered, the older woman helped me to wash my hair, as she was an experienced hairstylist. She had fixed it up after, taking her time to do twists for me. Even in such a state I was thankful for her.
My eyes brim with tears as Joe heads up and I find myself staring at the chair in just the same manner. She’s really gone. I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve in front of him earlier, but now I do. Tears stream down and I cover my mouth to muffle my cries. She’s really gone.
She was so lovely. Even though we aren’t exactly neighbors, she had welcomed us to the city with pie when we moved in. I was suspicious at first, especially with the fact that I did not know her. I was worried that maybe it was poisoned or even cursed, but my late husband had taken it with a smile and let me know that it was his fellow officer’s wife. The couple had been to our house multiple times for dinner, and we had come to their own for brunch and dinner as well. We weren’t best of friends, but we were friends nonetheless and we looked out for one other. Sherry always shared with me recipes that she had discovered and tips for growing a garden, something that took me a great deal of time to even get to. But once I did, I saw what all the fuss was about. And when I grew my first plants, I brought it to her as a thank you. I admired Sherry and I wanted to be like her with her kind heart and grace. She was truly a God-fearing woman.
“And now she’s gone.” The words slip out of my mouth before another cry goes through me. I stifle them, not wanting him to hear. That’s what he had done for me as well.
I end up making a shepherd’s pie with the ingredients in the house that Sherry had stocked up on. She was always a woman ready for anything with the way she bought her supplies, and unbeknownst to her, she was also preparing for this very moment as well. The thought has me choking up again but I continue doing what I had put my hand to, cleaning up the counters and wiping down surfaces around the house as the food cools. I had wanted to make dessert but thought better of it, not knowing how Joe would react to that. Sherry had taught me how to make her own apple pie and she had told me how much her husband loved it, especially with her secret ingredient, a little bit of beer. She would always dump it in with the apple pie filling and let it simmer some and then thicken it up before putting it in the crust and baking it.
I hear floorboards creak and look up to see a solemn Joe coming downstairs, his eyes trained forward. He doesn’t say anything but he glances at me and sees me cleaning. He doesn’t smile but I see his features soften. Joe simply nods, his eyes brimming with unshed tears with a silent thank you. I nod as well. We head to the kitchen and I wash my hands before cutting him a slice of the shepherd’s pie and placing it on a clean plate I had washed and set out for him. He simply stares at it before I gesture for him to sit. He takes a seat tentatively as if afraid to do so.
“I thought this would help. I know you haven’t eaten real food for some time and-”
“Pie?” He simply asks, his voice hoarse. He had been upstairs for over an hour and I know he did some more crying up there.
“Ehn?” I ask, confused, my Nigerian accent coming out a little stronger than usual. He clears his throat, his eyes still on the food.
“Did…did you make pie too?” Confusion has me staring at him for a moment more and then I remember those stale pastries from earlier. One of them was an apple pie and it had expired days ago but he still kept it, and it was untouched.
I stand, gathering what I need and getting to work. He sits in silence, simply staring at his plate. I rinse granny smith apples and peel the skin before coring and slicing them. I’m thankful for Sherry having six of the apples in the fridge-the perfect amount. Not only that, she already had the dough chilling in plastic wrap in the fridge as well, both the top and bottom for the pie. I stare for a moment and wonder as to how uncanny it is. It really was as if she had known and left everything in such a way.
I take the dough from the fridge, rolling both out and placing the bottom one into a pan I find. The apples are then cooked with some lime juice, sugar, and the secret ingredient of beer before I thicken it with a flour water mixture. She always preferred flour to cornstarch so I make it just the same way. Normally, I let the filling cool as I roll the dough out during that time, but things are different today. Everything is put together and I use a knife to put slits into the dough before tossing it into the oven. Then I pull it back out just as quick, forgetting I hadn’t even preheated the oven.
I huff and a gruff laugh comes from the table. A smile finds its way on my face at the sound. I haven’t heard him laugh in a while. It’s really sad because Joe was always a man with a smile and a hearty laugh just like Lance. It’s probably why the two got along so well.
The oven beeps and I toss the pie in again, setting the timer and making sure it’s really working before taking a seat next to the man again. We sit in silence the entire time, but it’s a good silence. He takes hold of my hand at one point, finally giving me a smile, even if it’s a teary-eyed one. I squeeze his hand in response.
“I appreciate you, Grace.” He says softly.
“You’ve done the same for me, Joe.” I say and he nods once before releasing my hand, his gaze falling to his untouched Shepherd’s pie.
We wait and wait and soon, the oven beeps. I take the apple pie out and cut into it, not waiting at all before serving. I place it on a different plate and put it in front of him, moving the other food to the side. He simply stares at it and I’m almost afraid he won’t eat it, but then he picks up his fork and cuts a piece. He waits, blowing gently before eating and I watch as his expression changes.
I see that delight as he chews. I will never make it as good as his wife and I don’t plan on doing so either. Her pie always had a special touch and I always thought that there was another secret ingredient that she wasn’t telling me about. Maybe something deeper, something richer perhaps. Something older and wiser than me, possibly. I was guessing it was the experience of a true baker that always put her all into her food.
I can never make a pie as good as his late wife, but I tried my best this time and as he stares off, a faint smile on his lips and tears threatening to fall, I know this is as close as I’ll get. As long as it makes him happy, that’s more than enough for me.