Goodbye, Continued

Goodbye, Continued (October 2019, Week 3, Day 7)

“It’s time to go”


“Neri, please.”


Paul looked around, hoping someone else would appear who could reason with his wife. Everyone had left, either to give them privacy or to distance themselves from the pain. There was no one within sight, and he knew they wouldn’t have had any more success. This wasn’t something anyone should have practice in, or have “tricks” for at the ready.

“Neri, we have to leave.”


“I promise to bring you back in the morning. We’ll come back, first thing. They open the gates at 6 am.”

Neri looked at Paul with eyes full of anger. He waited, refusing to shrivel under her gaze. The two of them stayed locked in silence as the wind picked up around them. Paul shifted into a crouch and stretched out his gloved hand, offering it to Neri. It wasn’t until the predicted raindrops started to fall around them that Neri accepted his offer and placed her naked hand in his.

“Thank you. I promise – we’ll come back as early tomorrow as you want as long as it’s after they open the gates.”

As they walked down the winding path to the car, Paul fished in his mind for the details of the last conversation he’d had with Neri where she’d said something more than “no.” If he’d known it to be an important one he would have paid more attention. They had been sitting at their kitchen table. He could, oddly enough, remember their plates and what was on them better than he could recall the content of their conversation. She’d had the garish orange plate that she loved and he hated, and it was piled high with hummus and vegetables. His plate had been one of their everyday china pieces from their public wedding, and he’d had an array of cheeses, meats, and fruits. The food didn’t matter, and Paul had tried time and again to push it out of the foreground to get at the conversation they’d been having. 

He tripped to a halt when Neri stopped. “What?”

She didn’t answer, but this time she didn’t need to. They had found their way back to the car while he’d been thinking about dishes and food. 

“Right. Sorry.” Paul unlocked the door and went around to the driver’s side. Neri yanked her door open, threw herself into the car, and slammed the door behind her. With sagging shoulders Paul followed her into the car, silently sliding into the driver’s seat without looking back up the path they’d just followed.

Driving out of the cemetery after dark required his high-beams and all of his attention. Paul didn’t bother putting music on and kept his hands at ten and two. She’d used to be the one who drove whenever they were together. Having her in the passenger seat of her own car just added to the wrongness that surrounded them. He snuck a glance at her once they got to the driveway. Her anger filled the car and, likely, the entire cemetery. That little glimmer that allowed her to take his hand was gone.

Paul missed her. He missed their conversations and how deep they often got. He missed having her reach out to touch him voluntarily. He missed her smile. It had been two weeks since his world had any normal in it though it felt like a lifetime.

The drive home was mercifully short and uneventful. Paul had barely put the car into park when Neri was unbuckled and pushing the door open. He didn’t follow her inside right away. After making sure everything was off that was supposed to be, Paul unfolded himself from behind the wheel. Neri was already back inside, and he was in no real hurry to join her. 


“Will you come downstairs?”


“The pastor is here. He just wants to check on us.”


“It might help to talk with him.”


The hallway was dark with only a sliver of light coming out from under the closed bedroom door. Paul hadn’t been inside since returning from the hospital. Neri spent all of her time in there, alone, only emerging to go to the cemetery. Paul slept in the guest bedroom and spent his time downstairs, doing his best to give Neri the distance she seemed to crave. 

Paul grabbed his hair at the temples and let out a silent sigh before attempting to smooth down his hair on his way downstairs. She was the religious one. She was the one active in the church. She was the one everyone was concerned about. She was the faultless one.

The house had been full of people coming to pay their respects, and Paul knew they were almost all disappointed that he was the one receiving them. All the questions about Neri, how she was doing, what she needed, how they could help her. He didn’t know how to satisfy their curiosity any more than he knew how to get his wife to unlock. 

When his friends came by things weren’t much better. The looks of pity, the questions not asked, the forced small talk. All of it pointed a glaring spotlight on how everything was his fault, as if he needed anyone else to point that out to him.

Paul waded through it all, alone, taking the solitude on as another part of his penance. He couldn’t undo the past, he understood that. He longed for the ability to do something to fix the present. Maybe the pastor would know, and maybe he’d be willing to share.


“It’s time for lunch.”


“Will you come down to the kitchen?”


“I could sit with you.”


“Neri, you need to eat.”


Paul stroked the bedroom door with all the care he wanted to give to her. “I’m going to go put something together. Maybe you’ll change your mind.”

Paul was careful to look at the floor as he passed the empty room between their bedroom and the stairs. Talking to his wife through a closed door day after day was painful enough. Adding the sharp twist of pain that came from seeing the stillness in that room was more than he could handle. 

Memories were everywhere. He went to the refrigerator and paused to take in everything help up on it by their magnet collection. Nothing had changed. The same field trip flyer hung there, and the invitation to the birthday party. The outside world was plugging forward while their home felt frozen in time. 

Inside the fridge was a different story. Paul opened the door and was assaulted by the change. Before, there would have been a variety of foods laying in wait for Neri. She would turn them  into delicious meals that the three of them would have eaten together around the dining room table. Now, there were stacks of tupperware holding meals for two that had been dropped off by friends too uncomfortable with grief to stay longer than the hand-off required.

Paul took the top container off the stack without checking the contents. Food barely had taste, anyway, so there was no point in deliberating over which plastic box would serve up lunch or dinner. 

Paul had gotten good at setting up plates to serve up the gifted food. He had figured out how long different things took in the microwave and how to stagger the reheating so he could end up with everything at an editable temperature at the same time. He’d gotten good at eating alone after having brought food up to Neri. 


“I need to go.”


Paul rested his forehead against their bedroom door. “Neri, I have to.”


“Fran is here. You’re not alone.”

Paul pulled his head back at the thud of a shoe on the other side of the door. He gripped the doorknob until Fran’s hand on his shoulder helped the flush of anger ebb away. She was the only person who could have offered to come over that Paul could accept. She’d taken care of so many people and exuded calm and relief, both of which he desperately needed. With Fran’s hand on him, Paul said, “I’ll be back later. I love you,” before walking away.

He had to keep going. One of them had to, anyway. 

Shrugging into his coat in the mud room, Paul let, “it’s not like I want to go,” out into the room. Fran clucked and adjusted Paul’s collar. “Of course you don’t. She knows that.”

“I’m not sure she does.”

“Well, I know that so that will have to do for now.”

Paul gave Fran a rueful smile. “Thanks for being here for her.”

“I’m here for the both of you. Now go, do what you need to do and get back here.”

“It should only be a couple of hours. I’m not back on officially until next week.”

“You do what you need to do and I’ll be here with her.”

3 thoughts on “Goodbye, Continued”

  1. I hate to ask you to spend more time in this sad place, but this one does get my vote for the final. Summer would be a second, and really all three want to be finished…

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