“The pot roast is a bit dry.” Max cut another piece, smeared it in gravy, and added it to the piece he was already chewing.
“Actually,” Michelle paused to wipe some gravy from her mouth, “that’s the way this roast is supposed to be — a bit dry.” His wife chewed some more. “I like it. I think it’s perfect.” Her eyes strayed from Max to the untouched plate of food in front of their son’s chair. “Look, even Billy likes it. Don’t you, Billy?”
Max rolled his eyes and stabbed at some carrots.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes, of course.” More stabbing.
She smiled at the reassurance and Max suffered through the rest of the meal, gulping down iced tea to prevent himself from choking on the dry meat. He listened to his wife drone on about the latest PTA doings and neighborhood gossip, with only the occasional break as she paused to correct Billy on his table manners. Max wanted to talk about his day, to tell his wife about the ups and downs of his own affairs, but he knew he wouldn’t get very far and if he did, he’d be the only one listening.
After dinner, Max excused himself to his study to write while his wife caught up on her reality shows; their usual routine since the accident. On occasion she would try to interest him in her favorite shows, but no matter how hard he tried, he just didn’t care who Liz was going to choose or how many pounds Bob had lost. He suspected she felt the same about his writing.
Toward the end of the evening his wife creaked open the study door, poked her head in, and told Max that Billy was done with his homework and ready for bed. “You want to wish him a good night and help me tuck him in?”
Max looked up at his wife and just shook his head.
Michelle frowned and turned to close the door.
Max rose from his desk, “wait.” He walked around the desk toward his wife. “We need to talk.”
She narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips, and took a few steps back, guarding the exit like a lioness guarding her cubs. “No, we don’t. I’m fine. I know it and — ”
“But it’s been — ”
“I’m fine.” She grabbed the door handle and slammed it shut.
Saturday morning came and Max rose at eight o’clock, as usual. He showered, fixed himself some coffee, and got dressed. Before leaving, he gave his wife a gentle kiss, just as he had every Saturday morning for the past fifteen months.
Out on the road, Max’s thoughts turned to Michelle. He didn’t know why she was acting the way she was; why she couldn’t see the reality of their situation. He had tried counseling, medication — anything he could think of, but nothing worked.
He stopped for flowers and finished the trip to the cemetery. After parking, he grabbed the flowers and walked to the headstone. Tears filled his eyes as he put the flowers on his son’s grave. Images of Billy’s life and death flashed before his eyes as he thought about what was, and what could have been.
When he got home, he went into the bedroom and laid next to his wife.
“Did you have a good workout?”
“Yeah, it was good.”
“Good, I’m glad you’re going to the gym.” Michelle turned toward him. “Don’t forget Billy has a game today. He really misses you not being there and he’s having a really good year.” She looked at him pleadingly. “Please, it would mean so much to him.”
Max sighed. Week after week this same question came up and week after week he made an excuse not to go. He pictured his wife at the game, cheering on a son who had died more than a year ago. What did the other parents think? Empathy engulfed him and for a moment he experienced the loneliness she must be feeling, loneliness over the loss of her son, and loneliness over the loss of her husband. He knew he had retreated into his own solitude since Billy’s death and maybe losing both of them was more than she could handle. Maybe she didn’t want her son back; maybe it was her husband she wanted back.
He smiled at his wife of fifteen years. “Sure,” Max said, “I’ll go.”
Michelle bounded out of bed, smile on her face, and ran into their son’s room to tell him the good news; but instead of the expected, “Billy, guess what?” Max heard only a torrent of sobs.
He got up and hurried into the room to comfort his wife and together, for the first time as a couple, they mourned the loss of their son.
A. F. White has been writing professionally for twenty years now for companies like GMAC, Edward Jones, and AmerenUE. His work has appeared in Creative Training Techniques, St. Louis Suburban Journals, and Creative Catechist. He currently resides in the St. Louis area with his four children, a cat, a turtle, and numerous other creatures who have taken up residence in his home and yard.