Books and words and other things

Empty: a story

The air had the tang of coming rain.

The wind picked up Alice’s hair and whipped it against her face.

Alice gazed into the distance, over the mound before her. There had been no-one else, only her. It surprised her. She thought at least his boss would have come. For the look of it.

She wasn’t even sure why she had come. She owed him less than nothing. It had only ever been him who wanted to keep up appearances. She no longer cared. They had fooled no-one. And no-one had come.

So, Alice had stood through the entire service, listening politely to the minister tell of Arnold’s life. How kind. How goodhearted. Such a thoughtful man. How he had done his best to be fair and live a good life. And he had done none of it. He was as thoughtless as the next man.

But she listened patiently. Not gazing idly, but looking at him and listening intently, hearing every word. She was good at listening. At paying attention. It unnerved people and it made her strangely happy. It was a sort of hobby. A hobby she had used on him.

They hadn’t started that way. What they’d had was not love, but it had once been good. Almost pleasant. Life had been hard on both of them and they thought they could heal each other. Wrong. So very wrong.

She had thought about leaving, but she didn’t know where else she belonged. She knew other women who had done it, but she saw what it took. So she stayed. She stayed out of the way, out of his view and stayed put.

In the end, he left her. Before she could get the chance, he was gone.

One friend, long ago, had called her obedient. She also thought he hit her. Not ever. He had never even laid a hand on her. In any way. He just didn’t love her. He was an awful, lonely man who had never figured out how to love. But then, neither had she.

She looked down at what remained of him. Of their life. It was an empty life and an empty notion right from the start. Neither of them were young when they married. It was just time. They were due and it was what you did. It was not for love. It was for show. For the good of all.

She had tried to make it work, but they had barely even been friends. He wasn’t a friendly man. So she gave up trying.

And yet here she was, at his side once again.

An empty life deserves an empty graveside. “You got what you gave,” she said. “I stood by you, every day. Every hour.”

“I know you had to leave,” she said. “But couldn’t we have left together?”

‘Empty’ is a short story by Rosalie Wodecki. It featured in the 2015 Lit Bulb Festival.

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