Mourning Doveby Terri McCormick

Competition: Short Story Challenge 2015, Final Round

Genre: Open   Subject: A dying wish   Character: A janitor

Original Illustration by Yevgenia Nayberg

I didn’t shave my legs or armpits today in honour of Seth.

I left the region between my legs hairy too. He always liked me "primitive", and, honestly, I couldn't be bothered. The last thing I need to be wasting time on is trimming my pubes. Besides, my hard-done-by husband, Ben, doesn't even go down there anymore, never mind a dead ex-boyfriend.

Instead, I could sit through multiple episodes of Six Feet Under on HBO or watch the birds eat all the seeds I toss out. Boreal and black-capped chickadees dot my back deck daily. Sometimes a few red-breasted nuthatches appear, along with sparrows and blue jays. The male hairy woodpecker has been known to grace my suet feeder as well. I often say to Ben, "Now that's one big pecker!" and he always rolls his eyes and refuses to laugh, although I think he may have smirked the first time I said it.

I consider the birds my free entertainment. I sit, cradling a cup of hot tea faintly flavored with a few drops of milk and a dusting of sugar, and I watch their robotic heads moving from left to right and their tiny, thin beaks cracking and pecking their way to survival. Lately, mourning doves have appeared, all grey and brown and plump. They plop down like a spoonful of mashed potatoes on a plate and we just stare at each other.

I didn't know he was gone until I heard it through the shitty grapevine that is my neglected Facebook account. I don't really have physical contact with flesh and blood friends anymore. Many have moved away; others are busy with children, soccer games, dinners out and, oh yeah, happiness. I get the occasional call and offer to pick up some groceries. “Amy, I am going out anyway, it's no big deal," one acquaintance lies. I suppose I should accept the help and stop being such a reclusive bitch. Since Ben works long hours at the office they figure it's a nice thing to do since he's got a nutcase wife and all; however, I always say thanks but no thanks. There is a lovely little store that sells local meats and vegetables, and they deliver. Besides, I ain't dead yet.

But Seth is.

"What do you mean he died?" I wrote in the comment section under the Facebook post “RIP Seth Goodwin.” I had decided to log on after a particularly slow day with little bird action, and what gloriously fucked-up luck it was to find that the only person my heart kept pumping for was as dead as the fly one of my cats ate the other day. All these people were saying he was a great guy and blah, blah, blah. I hadn't been able to find him on-line at all and believe me, I tried. I'd lost touch with my boy whose tousled, dark bangs hung in my face as he lay on top of me in the back of his father's Jeep, the same gentle young man who begged me to leave Ben and start a life together somewhere else, the quiet man who met me in Room 45 of the Border Motor Lodge one afternoon so many years ago and told me he just couldn't do this anymore.

A woman we both went to high school with, and who I remember to have had horribly crooked teeth, in-boxed me after my comment. "Isn't it just awful? I can't believe it either. He was so cute and funny and you two were so close. His mother is bringing the body home to be cremated and there will be a small service with just family or at least that's what I heard. Car accident. Awful!"

Oh shut up. You said “awful” twice. And then in her next message: "I hear he was still single and a janitor at a school."

Seth was single and … a janitor? I know this sounds awful (shit, now I'm doing it), but that did soften the blow a little. If he were a doctor or a lawyer I could really pine about the good-looking, successful guy that ran screaming from my life and married a big-titted blond. But if I can be disgustingly honest, a janitor just doesn't go with the fantasy, the love story, the imaginary life we shared in my dreams. It turns out he didn't go off and do better and marry up; he was simply pecking away at seeds, just like me. Maybe if I had run off with him he wouldn't have ended up cleaning crap-stained toilets and puke off the gym floor. I did this. Seth Goodwin died a janitor because of me.

A black crow lands on the red Adirondack chair on the lawn as I walk to the car. With my hairy legs, pits and bush, I am heading to the funeral home when it swoops by my head of grey-peppered brown curls. I didn't try to tame the locks all that much because Seth liked my hair that way. "Amy, such a wild woman," he would whisper so softly into my ear after sex. His presence now covers me like a warm hospital blanket; heavy and a little awkward. I stop in my tracks and dig in my purse for a pill. I refuse to feel the suffocation today, the invisible hands around my neck stopping me again from taking a step forward.

I arrive 45 minutes early as planned. It is quiet and creepy with no one around, and my eyes immediately focus on the copper urn that sits on the low-lighted table surrounded by death flowers and cards. I walk closer to it and hear myself murmur, "You in there?" I stare at the eight-by-ten framed photo nearby of a man who had taken up so much of my thoughts; my wonder. I knew those eyes, brown and beautiful, but like me, his hair became touched with grey in recent years. I bet he was a really good janitor. I ache inside and out. My bones feel like they are disintegrating under my skin and the familiar weakness and panic begin to poke through. It’s the same feeling that caused me to stop working, to not want to have children, to hide away at home for the last five years. The decisions I had made in my life had led me here to stand in front of this urn.

The true voice inside me had told me when I first met him to go with my gut. But I wanted more. Stupidly, I thought there was better. And now, I stand here, regretful, fiddling with the ring given to me by a man who I'm not in love with, staring at an urn that contains the dust and bone of what could have been. Like the chickadee, my head pivots and I squint through tears and swallow sobs as they attempt to escape. Without reason or thought, I grab the urn and begin to unscrew the threaded lid. Sticking my hand inside I scoop up what I can and dump it into my purse. I bet I would have made an awesome janitor's wife.

The kettle boils and I smile. My birds are enjoying the peanuts, sunflower seeds and cracked corn spread outside. It's a simple task, that of making tea. But today, along with milk and sugar, I add a third item to the mix. Seth. He is gritty and it's much like drinking sand water if you don't count the chunks. But it fills me up; warms me and I don't feel so alone. I have felt alone for a long time now.

Ben is at work and the house is still. All the laundry has been done and there are enough groceries ordered for two weeks. I make sure the cats have been amply petted and rubbed and their bowls topped up should someone forget to fill them in the hustle of the next few days. I multi-task, holding the full pill bottle in one hand; my cup with the other, slowly sipping and watching as the mourning doves peck tirelessly and feverishly. Their journey continues. And then I stand up, take one last gulp of my tea, and let out a sigh of relief that mine will soon be over.




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Terri McCormick is a playwright and columnist who one day hopes to publish a compilation of her short stories. She writes from her farm in Nova Scotia, Canada.







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