by Cyndi Pauwels
CP at Large
(Story originally published in Mock Turtle, Fall 2010)
In the beginning the silence was a welcome relief from the chaotic days and nights spent caring for an angry, ungrateful, invalid husband. He was so healthy and strong when they married. They were blissfully happy, cocooned in a world of their own. The future stretched before them, full of tantalizing possibilities, but then their brief fifteen months of idyllic existence were shattered by the war. When he was medically discharged for vague but debilitating symptoms after repeated deployments and finally returned for good to the tiny bungalow they shared, he was different, physically and emotionally. She spent his last months caring for the bitter, disillusioned man he’d become, never able to pierce the wall he built between them. He remained a sullen stranger in a familiar, yet older face.
Now he was truly gone. The last mourners, after seeking guilt-relieving assurance she would be fine, really, were gone, too. She tossed the wilting flowers, the inane cards, the uneaten casseroles. All the clothes he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – wear had already gone to Goodwill and slowly, over the last few painful weeks, every memento of their life together disappeared from the house, either by way of the trashman after a particularly trying day, or in the possession of a distraught friend or relative seeking a tangible connection to the man they once knew.
Finally she was alone, with the silence blanketing her, comforting her, shielding her from cold reality. All her dreams died with him – their unborn children, their travel plans, the meticulously designed corner bookstore they dreamed of opening. Her strength was gone too, her motivation to begin life over non-existent. The bank account was exhausted, spent on fruitless doctor visits and refused medication. The home they built and decorated together was double-mortgaged, granted on the prospect of his life insurance policy and military benefits. All she had left was the silence.
She turned off the phone and rebuffed efforts to check on her well-being until, gradually, even the best-intentioned gave up and left her alone.
The ticking clock intruded, so she unplugged it. Likewise the humming refrigerator, the noisy furnace, the clanking cistern pump. She guarded the silence jealously, even as it overpowered her.
And in the end, there was silence.