(A fiction piece written for the GBE2 blog prompt)
Harry cracked a smile as his second attempt at pouring a glass of cranberry juice yielded more in the glass and less on the counter than the first one. Damn Alma and her love of things proper. He would have just as soon used a tumbler to have his morning juice in. In fact, could have done so for the last three months since she passed, but he’d stayed with the damn little ones, continuing their morning tradition of juice and meds before setting the table for breakfast.
Back in the day he could have filled a shot glass from three feet with her favorite bourbon as he whipped her up a batch of Whisky Sours or made himself a Manhattan. But that was then. And this was today, hopefully his last. If he could pull it off. He didn’t need accuracy now; just the strength to make it happen.
94 days now he’d sat down to breakfast alone. It was enough. He’d shopped and cooked for one, gone to church each week and tried to find a balance of space in the pew without her. Each night, told himself to crawl into their bed, but instead, settled into his recliner, her worn green terry robe all the cover he needed. All this with his back, growing more painful by the day, as he popped Extra Strength Tylenol like M&M’s instead of his Valium.
He stacked the caps of three amber pill bottles on the table and dumped the light blue pills into a pile, the cutouts in the middle resembling hearts to him more than a V for Valium. Fitting…as today he wasn’t looking for back pain relief, but the release from the pain in his heart of spending one more day without her. 270 little cut out blue hearts. How many would it take? How many little blue hearts to equal her one?
His index finger drew two pills from the group, one for each of them, beginning a separate pile. That was a start. The “dynamic duo” she always called them, and nearly every day managed to work the reference in, reinforcing their connection with those two little words. Two more pills followed, one each for the twins lost in childbirth, the only chance God granted them at being parents. It was a dark time for them. For years, each carrying the shadow of the boy and girl, lost hopes and dreams their only common ground. And yet, they made it through, with six decades passing of celebrated anniversaries. Harry moved 6 more pills to the pile. Certainly over a maximum daily dose for him. Enough? Of course not…
Her lucky number? 23. He had a ways to go. His finger pulled more pills over – four letters he’d written her before they were married, saved in the folds of the Psalms in her Bible. Seven more pills to the pile, one for every year she stayed and supported him as he slipped into the grip of alcoholism – and one more for the grace she carried herself with through it all. Damn, she’d saved his life by staying and had made each day worth living sober for since.
The drunk driver that killed her pled guilty and would be sentenced next month. Harry didn’t need to be there. The courts would determine the punishment and he’d been assured it would be the maximum sentence with the level of his blood alcohol and his prior DUI convictions. He wondered if the driver had an Alma in his life that would stand by him though this. He thought of his own “rock bottom” - losing his job, Alma picking up second shifts in addition to her day job to save the house, and the worst time, the one and only time he’d struck her. She’d found the nerve at that moment to place the ultimatum of her or the bottle at his feet. The resolve in her eyes told him she would only give him the choice once. He moved another pill from the large pile; one more for his choice.
That made 23. Surely that little pile couldn’t do it? How many more would it take? Were there enough to cover the life they’d shared? The picnics at sunset on the river, the walks after dinner, and the paintings he loved, five in all that she had done during her adult education nights in ’73? How to bundle the nights of lovemaking, the tender snuggles at dawn and the naps that had led to lazy afternoons of passion?
Tears fell, as the years flashed through his mind of dinner parties, vacations and hiking excursions. Holidays, birthdays and days they called in sick to work together and watched black and white movies in their pajamas all day. They’d practically rebuilt the house with the renovations they’d done, learning as they went. They’d been a good working team, a secret pride they’d carried in their relationship that they didn’t often see in friends and family around them.
Oh, they fought, both stubborn as mules sometimes, but not counting the seven years of his alcoholism (most of which he didn’t remember), it never lasted long and through everything, they never disrespected each other. Retirement was their reward, life at a pace they could savor. Every evening the nightly news with discussion and a running game of backgammon after lunch that had lasted for two years, three months and 1 day, the last game being just one hour before the accident.
He picked up a handful of pills from the big pile and slowly trickled them from his palm over the little pile. He knew there weren’t enough. There’d never be enough to overpower what they had.
“I don’t need to find enough strength to escape the memories Alma”, he said out load. “I need to find just enough...to make it through one more day without you. And I know, I know, then tomorrow morning I have to do it all over again”.
He leaned back in the chair and winced at the back spasm. He dried his eyes, picked up two of the Valium and tossed them back with the cranberry juice. It had been a long morning and a nap was in order before he went to the grocery store.
As head headed for the bedroom, he picked up her terry green robe off the back of his recliner. He gently eased his body onto the bed, pulled her robe over him, and laid his head on her pillow, hoping for a dream of the dynamic duo.