THE OBIT • by JD Clapp

Margret sat alone at her kitchen table reading the obituaries, sipping Earl Gray from an antique bone china cup, decorated in someone else’s bespoke floral pattern of roses, violets and a ruby red stripe. She set the cup on its saucer and poured more tea from the matching pot, the tea set purchased at the church flea market on the day she first met him, the only public physical memento of twelve melancholy years living in the shadows. Despite the torrid end, the years of soul-numbing wondering since, she couldn’t bring herself to let the tea set go.

Tea and obituaries, her morning ritual, now the highlight of her dull days filled with ghosts of promises unrealized. Margret read them all, savored the words like chocolate truffles, little clues of some life well-lived, or one falling terribly short. She had it way worse than me! or, Serves him right! She would read so-and-so died and remember them fondly, or with disdain, or sometimes indifference.


Now in her 60s, like her morning routine, much of her life was regimented.

Each Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., her sister Madeline picked her up and they’d go shopping before heading to Red Lobster or Olive Garden for an early dinner. Where they shopped varied with where they ate. Dinner at Olive Garden meant a trip to the local mall which had the new J.C. Penny’s store and a large multi-screen movie theater. If endless cheddar biscuits were on tap, the sisters shopped at Odd-Lots or Walmart in the adjacent parking lots. Olive Garden nights also put them in his neighborhood, something that spiked Margret’s anxiety. Will I see him at the mall with her, his wife? What will I do if that happens? Would he even recognize me now? But, since Olive Garden was Madeline’s favorite, she did her best to push such thoughts away.

Madeline knew about the affair. She’d been appalled at her sister’s lack of scruples. “We were raised better than that,” she had argued the night Margret tearfully confided to her. Seeing this reaction, Margret had lied a few days later, telling her sister that the short fling was over, and a mistake she’d never make again. That was before it became serious, before they fell in love, before all the promises. Margret knew her sister would never forgive the twelve years it went on after the night she first told her.

Shortly after the handsome young waiter brought them their salad, bread sticks and wine, Margret saw them being led to an adjacent booth. Her heart skipped a beat. That has to be his oldest daughter… she has his blue eyes…that must be her husband, the boyfriend she dated through high school.

“Earth to Margret. Hello!” Madeline said.

“Sorry, I think I might have left the iron on.”

“Well, if you did, the house has burnt to the ground by now so you might as well enjoy your wine and dinner.”


After Madeline dropped her home, Margret went to her basement and got the box. She brought it to the kitchen table, then poured herself a glass of wine. She opened the box, took out the stack of letters and cards, then set them aside. She’d memorized them over the years since he ended it. When she read them, she was still surprised he’d been brazen enough to write them by hand, that he signed them “with my eternal love.” She could have ruined him with those letters. At first, she wondered if that’s what he wanted to happen so they could be together. She ultimately came to believe his cowardness and inability to hurt anyone was what finally did them in.

She looked through the photos. Them on business trips. Them on stolen getaways when his wife took the kids to her family’s farm in Maine. All the evidence was on the table, over a decade of her life, her prime years given to a man never truly available. Or did he steal those years? She never could land on an answer that sat well.

At the bottom of the box sat the small Cartier boxes. She opened the Tank watch and read the inscription, Maggie, My Love. There was the bracelet he’d given her the next year. Finally, there was ring she never wore. She never opened that box.


Three days later, on a crisp December morning, well into her morning routine, she read the honeysuckle words written about him, “God fearing, Christian… family man… pillar of Clarksburg.” She involuntarily spat her tea on the paper and dropped her cup, smashing it on the tile floor. Like the sharp broken shards, at her feet, these words hit shape and jagged, offering no clue of how he said he would leave Mrs. survived by, when such-and-such happened, but never did. She read the words again, inevitable words, words both true and as meaningless as his promises. And now she understood; she hated herself more for it than she’d ever hated him.


One week later, she sat in her car and watched the graveside ceremony in the distance. The snow piled on her windshield. Through the window she had left cracked, she felt the frigid wind bite her face, its shrill whistle the only sound. The wind reminded her this was real, it all had been real.

After the mourners left, and the grounds crew finished their cigarette break after filling the hole, Margret drove as close as she could to his grave. Her black dress shoes gave little traction on the fresh wet snow, and she took short steps with her knees close together to avoid falling. Her gray hair blew back from her face, now warm with wet streaks of grief. She stopped at the head of his grave, near the temporary marker. She looked into the elephant gray sky, blew out an strained and audible choked breath, then set the box next to the marker.

JD Clapp lives in San Diego, CA. His work has appeared in Cowboy Jamboree, Bristol Noir, and numerous others. In 2023, he was a Pushcart nominee in nonfiction, and had a fictional story selected as a finalist in the Hemingway Shorts, Short Story competition. He is a regular contributor to Poverty House.

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