Day 99 – The Way Home

This might be day 99, but this is the 100th story.

 

What can I say? It’s been scarily easy so far. There have been off days and okay days. There have been stories inspired by random events on the street, by friend suggestions and even the odd plot by Chris Sands when I was so desperate for an idea that I could not refuse (see the story about an extra toe?!). In one hundred stories, I can say quite truthfully that I do not think I have improved at all. I might be more open to ideas, but I am still at the same level I was when I started this and I can’t deny that this is very disappointing. I still have two dimensional characters and nothing that I come up with is very interesting or different. I expecting my mind to be flooding with ideas – such that my every day life would be consumed by it. It’s not. My vocabulary is pathetic, but hopefully the thesaurus my brother bought me for Christmas will improve that.

Anyway, here’s today’s story. Sorry about the length. I got a bit carried away.

 

Word count: 3061

 

The kettle boiled as he spread the butter over the crisp warm toast, marmalade on the side. He stirred up a black coffee, two sugars, in her favourite cup and saucer and placed it in the centre of the wooden tray. It was accompanied by the toast, a pastry and a single red rose in an ornate little vase. Sam smiled to himself – he knew she would like that.

It was early morning – far earlier than he would normally be up. The birds were singing high in the and Sam was filled with a comforting joy that spring was well on its way. Though the buds on the trees had not yet exploded with green, the skies looked brighter with each day and the dregs of winter’s heavy snow were finally melting away.

“Daddy, daddy, daddy!” a five year old girl came screaming into his leg.

“Aren’t you up a little early?” Sam asked his daughter.

Maria was adorable. Curly blond hair and a face that would no one could deny anything to. She was up earlier than usual, too, as she had apparently taken on her mother’s genes for long lies ins. This was something that Natasha was eternally grateful.

“I heard you up, so, I came up too,” she rocked back and forth on the spot, tilting her head slightly.

Sam knew – though he wasn’t quite sure how – that she had clocked the sticky, sugary pastry with icing on top on the tray. At least half a foot over her head, there was no way she could have seen it from where she stood. Sam felt his arm being twisted by her gaze. There was one left in the cupboard.

“Go on then,” he caved, handing her the final pastry.

Maria ran off back to her room in delight.

“Thank you, daddy,” he reminded her.

“Thank you daddy!” she yelled back, thundering up the stairs.

Sam grinned, though he feared that she might have woken Natasha. As he picked up the tray, he looked out the patio window and stared at the shed for a moment. Something twinged deep inside him, but he ignored it and carried on up the stairs with the breakfast.

She was lying in bed. Although Maria had clearly woken her, she still looked peaceful tucked up in her favourite pyjamas.

“Good morning, ooo is that for me?” she sat up immediately and stretched wide with her arms. “You do spoil me, don’t you!”

“Anything for you,” he said, placing the tray on her lap and kissing her on the forehead.

“What time is it?” she asked, tucking in immediately.

“Early.”

“What time are you going into work today?”

“Soon, I think. Some tests need to be run.”

“Are you not tucking in?”

“No, no… I’m not hungry… besides it’s for you,” he said, selecting a shirt and trousers from the wardrobe. He wanted today to be normal so he chose the white shirt and black trousers. He wanted everything to be ordinary. He brushed his teeth in the en-suite whilst she munched her toast.

“What’s your plan today?” he seemed to have asked that question too often lately.

“I don’t know, maybe I’ll do a bit of shopping after I’ve dropped Maria off at school.”

“Please don’t,” he tried to say casually.

“Why not? Don’t you want me spending all your money on sexy lingerie?”

He could see her cheeky smile in the mirror.

“Yeah… It’s my hard earned money, I should dictate how it gets spent,” he quipped.

Natasha slid the tray off her lap and slipped out of the quilt and walked seductively towards him.

“But you do love what I buy….”

His heart sank… he needed to get to work, “I – I – I have to get to work,” he said quickly, avoiding her eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just really need to get to work.. there’s a meeting on.”

“I thought you said you were testing?”

Sam hated lying to her. “I do – but a meeting first. I just remembered.”

He grabbed his keys and wallet faster than if he had been running away from a bomb, leaving his wife perplexedly isolated in their bedroom.

It was now just before eight in the morning. Sam was parked outside his work, wiping the tears from his face. He needed to be strong. He had done this before – he had done it every day for as long as he could remember. There were days it bothered him and there were days it did not. He just needed to fight through the initial few hours and it would be all right again. There was a knock on the window. Sam looked out and saw the close up outline of his boss’s stomach. He wound the window down and a strong breeze blew in. His moustached boss bent down low to speak through the window.

“You’re keen, I’ve not got any promotions!” he joked.

Sam strained to laugh.

“You alright?” his boss asked.

“Yeah I’m fine, Jim, just a tough morning.”

“Argument with the missus?”

Sam nodded.

“It’s okay for you young folks… these are the best arguments of your lives… it’s when you get to mine and Patsy’s age that you should be wearing that sad mug! C’mon, I’ll make us a brew and we can chat about it.”

 

They were sat in the break room. Jim was being his usual lovely self. He was a great boss to work for, but Sam still found it a little weird that he was making him tea. Jim, though down to earth, was not the sort of man to have an emotional chat of earl grey and biscuits.

“There you go,” he said, handing Sam his mug whilst he took a sip of his own.

Sam cupped his hand over the top of the mug and warmed his hand.

“So what’s up?”

“Oh, it’s just…” Sam tried to think of an argument that they might have had, “She thinks I’m not paying her enough attention.”

“Enough attention? Oh. Hmm. I’m sorry to say that never goes away. If they don’t want a new kitchen, they want new carpets, or children, or a new garden furniture set… and if you’ve given them all that, they want more attention.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t be daft!” Jim joked and punched him lightly in the arm. “Now listen, cheer up or I’ll have to fire you. I can’t have one of my top researchers dwelling on internal affairs when there’s cancers to cure!”

“Thank you,” Sam sipped his tea awkwardly.

“Now get your lab coat on and write that report I need for eleven. I know you’ve not started it.”

“How do you?”

“Magic, my friend, magic… that and we’ve worked together now for five years. Eleven!”

 

Sam was now at his desk, but not a single word of his report had been started. His desk was cluttered with Maria’s drawings and photographs of the three of them together. Every now and then an important document would surface and Sam would file it away, providing he had a file for that type of file. Sam was as disorganised as they could come. Starting reports a few hours before they were due was something he had picked up in his first year of university. Between the constant partying and chilling out, looking back he did not quite know how he had passed with a first class degree, let alone gone on to do a phd.

It was already ten in the morning. Sam was just staring at the little clock on his computer desktop. His colleagues were buzzing around, printing and making calls. Occasionally they would ask Sam a question, but they largely ignored his presence. Sam was quite enjoying that, though it was perhaps not the most ideal situation. All morning he had been staring at the clock, watching the time tick away like the tide going out. There was nothing that he could do to stop it. It would keep on ticking. Sam could not grasp it and catch it; he could not bottle it and save it for a rainy day. It was gone before he would ever to be able to realise it was there. Despite the deadline being in a little over twenty minutes, Sam had no intention of starting the report. It was not important. Sam came here to get a rest from his life – he did not ever come here to work any more.

“Have you got it, Sam?” Jim stepped up behind him, snapping Sam out of his depressive self-reflective day dream.

Sam knew that Jim had already seen his empty desktop. There were no tables, spreadsheets or word documents open.

“Sam, what are you playing at?”

Jim walked around to speak directly to Sam’s face. Sam remained silent, unable to come up with a sufficient answer.

“Sam, this just isn’t good enough. I know you’ve had an argument with Natasha, but we’ve all got problems. I need this report.”

“Then get it from someone else, I won’t be able to give it to you.” Sam was angry. Jim was stealing his time. It was now almost three minutes past. A gut wrenching feeling strangled his insides. He felt like he was going to be sick.

“Sam, can you come into my office?”

The entire office was staring at them – at him. They had stopped their chatting and their presentations; they had ceased reading their articles and typing up their notes. Every single eye was watching him with worried intensity.

“Leave me alone,” Sam said.

“Right, get into my office now. We’re going to have a long chat.”

Sam’s mobile began to ring. It singed to hear it bleep. Every time he heard it. Already he could feel his world crumbling down to meet the rubble of his heart.

“Don’t answer that, in my office – now.”

Sam ignored Jim and picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is this Mister Hodge?”

“Speaking.”

“I’m calling from Community General Hospital. Your wife was brought in a little while ago….”

 

“…. she was involved in a road traffic accident. We did everything we could…”

Sam was at the hospital. Natasha’s parents were by his side. He had run from his work to the hospital. But it was too late. Behind him, Natasha’s parents descended into a torrent of grief. Sam repeated the doctor’s words inside his head, playing it back like a record in his mind.

“Can I see her?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’ll have to wait, won’t I?”

The doctor nodded. “I’ll come and collect you when she is ready.”

Sam fell back into the chair behind him. Natasha’s parents were tightly holding each other. Sam could barely look at them. He needed Maria right now. He needed to hold his daughter, but he could not bare the thought of looking at her either. All he would see would be Natasha’s eyes; Natasha’s nose and Natasha’s cheeky smile.

“Sam…” Natasha’s mother welcomed him into her arms, “Sam…”

Her touch tempted tears to the edge. He battled them. Crying would make it real. Crying would make her dead. How could she be dead when she was so alive this morning? Why had he just not stayed at home with her? Why had he not just taken her away with him somewhere? Sam knew only too well the answers to all those questions.

“Someone should get Maria…” Natasha’s dad attempted to take control of the situation. Sam understood why.

“Yes, we will need to phone the school. I want to be the one to tell her.”

“Of course,” her dad nodded.

“I’m .. I’m going to go check on the doctor…” Sam gently escaped from Lynn’s arms and disappeared around the corner. After a few metres he broke into a gentle run and before he knew it he had broken free of the antiseptic stench of death. Finally, in the cold, fresh air, he could breathe. But he did not stop there, he kept on running. He ran out of the car park and down the road. Car upon car passed him by and he thought of Natasha every time. Was it a big one, was it a little one? Was the driver drunk, was the driver young? Sam smashed those thoughts to the darkest part of his mind. He would now allow himself to dwell.

All the way home he ran. Throwing open the front door, he ran up the stairs and fell back into their bed. Her pyjamas lay sprawled on the duvet. He hugged them tightly. Suddenly, there was no holding back his tears.

“Why?!” he screamed at the empty room, “Why did you have to leave me?!”

This was their home, their bedroom. This was their world. Their daughter. Now it was just his home and his bedroom and his lonely world. But Maria was still their daughter. Would that be enough to cling on to?

Sam took their wedding photograph from the frame on the bedside table. She was so beautiful. Every moment of their marriage had been perfect. They’d had perfect rows and sublime arguments. There was not a single moment he regretted. Sam wished he could remember every single second of his life since the first time he had passed her in the street. The random romance that sparked from a chance encounter on the pavement, aided only by her manipulative decision to deliberately drop her shopping so that he would stop to help.

His mobile was ringing again. He knew exactly who it was. No doubt, someone had picked Maria up from school, but he would not answer. It was almost time, again. Detaching himself from the bed, he wandered downstairs to the kitchen and was gripped in agony at the sight of the mess she had left of the kitchen worktop before she had left that morning. There were plates piled high, bread not put away and debris crumbs sprinkled around it. There were cups and mugs left out too. She was never the best at using the same cup twice in a row. It was all a mess, but a happy mess. Sam would have killed to have her never clean again.

His phone bleeped, but this time it was not an incoming call. It was time. Sam unlocked the patio door and stepped out into his messy backyard. It was overgrown. Another project that Natasha wanted to get around to eventually. They had planned to have barbeques out here in the summer. Greasy burgers and delicious salads, corn on the cob and a sizzling summery heatwave.

Sam looked around him before opened the shed and was again met with further mess. It was dark and dingy in here. Spiders dangled from webs in every corner. It was only a small shed – a place merely to store all their additional rubbish they didn’t quite want to throw away. Sam started to shift boxes and tools, lawn-mowers and an assortment of gardening tools until he finally unearthed his most treasured possession. It was wrapped in a black plastic covering and designed to look as completely uninteresting and ignorable as the rest of the junk in this shed. But it to him, this was the most priceless thing on the entire planet. Carefully, he lifted it up and placed it on top of his work bench. Unceremoniously, he whipped off the covering and revealed the strangest looking contraption in the entire world.

It was metallic grey. It was a disc of some sorts with a section of the centre cut out and indented. Four arches from this dent curved up and met in the middle of the disc. Intricate markings were carved on the edges, a lettering and number system that only Sam knew. Sam had another four hours yet, but its power was now at full charge and he could not take much more of this. Some days were better than others, some days were worse. Today was bad. Today he had tried to avoid it by going to work – he had tried to forget for three tiny hours that what had happened was not going to happen. He wanted the bliss that he had felt before any of this had happened. He wanted to feel happy again, but could not break free.

Sam toggled a switch at the side and a bright blue light glowed at the centre of the disc, immediately below the archway. It rose steadily to the top, glowing like a firefly. Sam knew what would happen as soon as it touched the top of the archway. He prepared himself. He closed his eyes and counted the seconds left. It would not be long.

There was a sudden bang and he was pulled backwards by a huge exterior force. The next thing he saw was the top of the shed. It was dark. The strange contraption was now dormant on top of the workbench. Sam quickly got to his feet and covered it in plastic again and put it back where it belonged. He tidied up the shed as if he had never been there and snuck back into the house before anyone noticed where he had been. The lights were on. It was cosy and warm. The dishes were all done and Maria had already gone to bed. Sam took off his shoes and put them on the rack by the front door. He poured himself a glass of water from the tap, switched off all the lights and went upstairs.

“Well hello there, stranger,” Natasha greeted him in nothing but her underwear as he opened their bedroom door.

It took him a minute to remember where he was. This was no dream. There had been no mistake at the hospital. The time was ten minutes past eleven and in twelve hours time this gorgeous woman would be dead.

 

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~ by S.G. Mark on January 14, 2012.

One Response to “Day 99 – The Way Home”

  1. Heartwrenching!!

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