THE EMPTY ROOM • by Larry Dyche

So kind, that Cadillac, slowed to give our girl her last ride.

Cemeteries are green and peaceful, belying the tears that are left in their grasses. The gathering was small, Cathy and I were newcomers to town. Our girl was to begin fourth grade in three weeks.

My dark suit still fit. Cathy wore grey and a dark blue jacket; but she didn’t seem to be there. I took her hand, but it was cold, limp. The breeze had blown dark hair across her face like a veil.

***

As we drove home, the back seat behind Cathy was empty. The trip seemed unreal, almost timeless, each of us huddled against our door. It was just after noon when we sat down at the table. Cathy had taken away our girl’s chair. We had coffee in silence. My seat faced the back yard, the swing set.

“You’re not working tomorrow?” I asked.

“Ralph said I could take a few days, but I don’t want anybody trying to do the books. I’ll go in a little late; I’m stopping at the police station to see if they have any more on that car.”

“Honey, those were out of state plates, he’s nowhere around. Try to take it easy.”

She looked at me, her jaws were clenched.

I poured us more coffee. But Cathy stood, without a word, and walked to the bedroom. Later, when I saw her lying down, she hadn’t taken off her shoes.

***

That night I couldn’t sleep. Cathy didn’t stir when I got up next morning, but I was sure she was awake. I went to work early, just as well get my tools arranged. The station was still dark when I got there.

Norm came in and hit the ceiling lights; four cars sat silently in varying states of disrepair.

When he saw me, Norm came over. “Hey, didn’t think I’d see you this soon. How’s Cathy?”

I paused a moment. “Went right back to work.”

He looked me over, brows knit, but didn’t say more.

“Appreciated the flowers,” I told him.

He nodded as he raised a Toyota on the lift. He went to work on changing the axle.

The morning dragged, just couldn’t get organized. The radio blared gospel songs. Working in the pit on a muffler, I kept thinking what the underside of a car does when it runs over a person.

***

When I got home, Cathy was coming out of the shower. She covered herself with the towel when I came in to kiss her.

“I did twelve miles today,” she announced. Her face was red, blotchy from the exertion.

“I’ll pick us up some dinner,” I offered.

“Mmm, I’m not hungry, go on and get something for yourself. I’m going to watch the news and go to bed.”

“Weren’t we going to watch a movie?”

“I’m tired.” She turned away.

I spent the evening in front of the TV but can’t remember a thing I saw.

***

Going up the stairs I heard Cathy’s half of a phone call.

“Nothing? You guys have nothing more?”

“So, who’s taking over the investigation now?”

“I want to talk to the Chief then.”

“Well, have him call me.” She slammed the receiver down.

Our girl’s room was the first at the top of the stairs. The closed door was usually open. When I looked in, Cathy still hadn’t made her bed. The blinds were halfway down and the overstuffed rabbit squatted in the chair, staring out dumbly.

Cathy had been sleeping in the next room because of my restlessness. Or maybe my sobbing.

***

Norm and I stopped for a beer after we finished the day. There’s a tavern around the corner.

He chewed on his unlit cigar. A mechanic’s nails are always black, no matter how you try to clean them.

“Are you all ready for Halloween?” he asked, sipping the foam off his pint.

“Nah.”

“Umm,” he frowned as if recognizing it wasn’t a great question. “It’s getting cold, we had to put on the heat last night.”

We were quiet, some Irish music playing.

“We’re doing some burgers Sunday; you and Cath want to come?”

“She hasn’t been feeling good, but thanks.”

When I got home, Cathy was out running. We’d been ordering out for dinner. I put the news on. She came in the back door and went straight to the shower. After dressing, she came in with the paper and sat.

“If you can’t clean those nails better, I’m not sitting at the table with you.”

I wasn’t sure if she was teasing. Iraq was all over the news and Obama saluting the caskets. We weren’t alone in burying children.

“Norm asked us to a barbeque Sunday. I didn’t think you’d feel like it.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know, we haven’t been too social lately.”

She didn’t answer.

“We ought to clean out her room,” I said, looking up the stairs. “Donate some of those clothes.”

Cathy still didn’t answer. “Shall I order a pizza?” she said.

***

Three weeks after the funeral, on a Sunday, we were having coffee in the front room. It had happened on a Sunday. News programs were on TV, but Cathy had the paper. I stared vacantly out the window. Somebody will want that swing set, I thought. Then I felt it begin, a shaking, my throat closed. I put my hands over my face and tried to choke it back, but I began to moan.

“Honey,” Cathy dropped her paper and sat down beside me. She pulled back my hands, exposing the shame men feel. “Honey,” she whispered.

“If you could help me, share this with me,” I said, choking.

Cathy put her head in my lap. “Caitlin,” she keened, the first time she spoke her name.

We held one another a long time. It may have been an hour.


Retired from academic medicine and publishing in medical journals, Larry Dyche is now trying short fiction. Living on Long Island with family.


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