Grace knew it was inevitable. The second her husband returned home from his deployment, his eyes tired and voice dull, it was clear it was only a matter of time. Joshua spoke then, but his words scarcely reached her. She processed just enough to know it had all gone wrong. “So many gone… Nothing left for me here or there… I barely pulled through… No one would have cared if I’d been one of them.”
Back then, the way he spoke scared her into staying up for hours each night, pulling countless subjects from the ether to distract him. She would only stop fighting once he seemed calm enough to sleep, calm enough that she could trust him not to slit his wrists the second she closed her eyes. She dragged him to therapists, but waiting lists were long, and he never wanted to make a second appointment. The psychiatrists were useless, too. There was no way to medicate away thoughts, no pill for survivor’s guilt. She helped him find a civilian job and nurtured a bond with their son Anthony, but she knew it could never be enough, not when every reason she found for him to carry on lost its power a week later. In the end, she was a life support machine, but she wasn’t a cure.
Grace found her only lasting argument in Anthony. Both she and Joshua knew that Anthony would be devastated by the death of his father. No matter how desperate he was, Joshua wouldn’t risk hurting his son. Still, with every passing year that argument held less weight. Grace knew that before long, Joshua would realize that death, even the death of a father, was a blow that a teenager could survive. There was nothing she could do except make sure that there was always a full bottle of sleeping pills on the counter. At least then it would be easy and relatively painless.
When Grace realized what was ahead, she began to plan on the nights when she lay awake. She plotted out contingencies while riding the subway and waiting in the doctor’s office, going over them for years until the unthinkable become mundane. She knew who to call and what to say, each interaction carefully scripted out until they were like the poems she’d learned in school—memorized, but never truly felt. Indeed, though once her stomach sank with guilt whenever she imagined Joshua’s funeral, after a decade and a half of worries it become a fact, a possibility that would eventually come to fruition. She had already written his eulogy.
Grace came to live with the knowledge that sooner or later she would get up and Joshua would be dead. Then, she would wake Anthony and tell him before calling Joshua’s sister, 911, and the funeral home. She always set her alarm early to make sure that it was not the day that her son needed to be comforted, Joshua’s sister needed to be told, emergency services needed to know the situation and the address, and fifteen years of worry would be concluded in a single moment. As long as Joshua survived the morning, she could put the anxiety and fear aside, only letting it return in the moments she escaped to her balcony, leaning over the edge with a cigarette and wondering when it would all fall apart. She tried to hide her habit from her son, but the smoke blossomed up to fill the air around her, lingering on her clothes and in her hair. Everyone she met was confronted with the stinging scent of tobacco.
But despite her plans, it didn’t happen in the morning. Instead, it was the afternoon as she returned from the grocery store. The apartment was dark, but light streamed out from under the bathroom door, and she knew everything had been ruined even before she opened it and found the tub full of blood. She tried to text Anthony, to keep him from coming home and seeing it all, but nothing could fix the errors caused by her shaking hands. She was supposed to contact his sister, too, but she realized that without her noticing, tears had streamed down her cheeks and stolen her voice. In the end, she curled up in a chair in the room next door, clutching her landline and waiting for her hands to stop shaking long enough for her to call 911.
When Grace was ready at last, her script was long gone. She stuttered out all she could between ragged breaths. “My husband — dead — 3 Park Avenue, apartment 31A — suicide—” The operator began to respond, but she could barely hear him over the sound of her own gasping, and his questions were too difficult to answer. Grace couldn’t talk about her husband’s age or occupation or even explain how he had killed himself, not when everything was just a reminder of how everything had gone incredibly wrong. Instead, she hung up the phone and began to cry.
It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. That was why she planned: so that she could take care of the details quickly and focus on moving on. But all she could see was Joshua’s body in the bathtub, his blood staining the tiles red as a permanent reminder. It didn’t matter how many times she told herself she couldn’t keep him alive forever, that it would end in suicide no matter what she did. She hadn’t accounted for the deep crimson, or the spilling blood, or the impossible vacancy in Joshua’s eyes. It was too much, too fast, and so her plans had crumbled. All she had left to do was weep.
Margaret Madole is a student from Connecticut. Her work can be found in Hobart, *82 Review, and Parallax Online. When not writing, she participates in copious amounts of theater and dance.