The Dark Empty
Short Fiction ~ Susan Cardosi
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 13
The woman is eager to rise when the alarm sounds. She tip-toes across the hall to wake her son.
“Sweetie, it’s time to get up for school,” she whispers happily.
“But I’m busy dreaming,” he groggily retorts.
“Sorry, but I’ll make you a waffle.”
“Of course,” she promises.
He grunts his body to a vertical position and rubs his eyes. She considers what a handsome boy he is with his shiny, blonde hair starting to curl at the ends and the carefree happiness in those brown eyes. Both consolation and melancholy sharpen her breath for noticing today. He scoots off to the bathroom in his fraying superhero pajama pants that used to be too long. Is he taller today? she wonders, Is that possible? After he closes the door, she waits to hear the sound of the sink before continuing to the kitchen.
The waffle iron and batter fill the house with their familiar smells of morning, which usually speeds his preparation. The boy soon slides into his kitchen chair while stuffing his backpack with notebooks and folders. She sets the waffle topped with blueberries and syrup in front of him, “What’s on the agenda today?” Merely hoping to hear his voice for as long as possible.
“We’re dissecting earthworms,” with a slight tone of disgust. “You don’t think they feel it do you?” The question surprises her, something he has never considered during these breakfast encounters.
“No honey, they are specimens for science. They can’t feel the dissection.”
“I know that, I mean when they die to become specimens.” Her bottom lip quivers. There is a change in her son this morning, as though he is finally becoming aware of his world.
“What do you think?” she asks.
“I guess when all things die it must hurt a little, even an earthworm. Dad said he wasn’t in pain, you know, before it happened to him. That he would just fall asleep and not wake up, but...” So much to say. Her eyes begin to water as she looks at the clock, only a few minutes left with him today.
“I think about your dad a lot. I wish he was here with us right now.” Their eyes dart to the empty chair at the table.
“Me too.” He smiles at his mother and finishes his waffle. “I better hurry, the bus is coming,” acknowledging its brakes squealing around the intersection down the road.
She helps him with his backpack at the door, secretly smelling his head with a deep inhale, before he runs out across the thick, dandelion yard and slowly disappears into the ether of the in-between.
The bus driver rolls slowly past the house waving at the woman on the porch, just like every morning, as though it offers solace. The children stare, remembering the boy who went to school with them. He loved superheroes and designing paper airplanes. A few days after the funeral, the kids folded their own and showered her yard with airplanes from the windows of the school bus. The beauty of that moment kept her alive that day, and the next morning the loop began.
The accident that took her son was months ago, but young spirits often get stuck and need a guide. The woman feels her husband’s hands on her shoulders. His soft voice and breath in her hair, “He’s starting to understand. Soon enough, he will be able to see me and break the loop. Then…”
“You will guide him to his afterlife and both be gone, again.” She desperately wants to hold onto her blessedly cursed life.
“I know what you’re thinking, but you promised me. The universe will bring you to us one day. Please don’t force its hand. I kept you from living for too many years when I was sick, and now,” he gears up for the only argument they have left as his wife turns to face him.
“Stop,” she says calmly. “Have I ever broken a promise to you?” Shaking his head, he both wins and concedes. Missing his marriage and dreading the permanent goodbye, he takes in her scent and kisses her.
“Maybe I’ll name it Promise,” she says after a while hiding under the covers with him.
“Grief, loneliness, everything that whispers from the dark empty. Even when it claws at me to see if I can still bleed, or tries to pull me farther and farther inside until I’m lost. I’ll never escape it, so I’ll keep it next to me. Look,” she wriggles loose from their cocoon to reach for the shoebox of saved paper airplanes. Between everyday’s loop, she writes stories about her husband and their son inside each one. “Promise and I will fly these all over the world until I am with you again,” but when she turns back, her husband has disappeared.
With a sigh she grabs her pen.
Susan Cardosi is a fiction and essay writer living in Los Angeles. She was a bookstore manager and buyer for many years, and has since created content and written articles for museums, literacy advocacy groups, and Fostering Families Today. Susan is a foster and adoptive parent and youth advocate. She received a bachelor’s degree after studying communications, literature, and dance at Otterbein University. She is currently looking for a home for her paranormal romance novel and ghostly murmurs short story collection. Find her spouting opinions and recommending bazaar tales on Twitter @cardosi_susan.
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