Hellen walked around the corner heading towards her house. She was wearing a simple white blouse and a complimentary flower-printed skirt, a white leather handbag swinging from her shoulder. She walked with her head downcast and her arms folded tightly across her torso to protect herself from the slight chill of the air and the occasional gust of wind. It was only a short walk to the post office, but she only began to regret her decision to not wear more clothing when she was already halfway to her destination, and she was determined not to turn back for something as trivial as a jacket.
Along with the weather, she had also underestimated the amount of time it would take for her to change her mailing address. The blue of the sky, once possessing a vast territory of the horizon, had been replaced with an expansive haze that reflected Hellen’s mood.
She had almost stopped herself again at the entrance to the post office. She had almost turned around, gone back home, unpacked her suitcase, called U-Haul to tell them her order was a mistake, and written him a letter expressing how deeply she loved him and needed him to come home. But she had stopped, gone home, unpacked, called, and written all before, and every time she did, she found herself right back where she began. Repetition began to flatten her resolve to the point where many of her possessions stayed packed longer than they did not, and her hesitation outside the post office lasted only a few seconds.
She had never made it all the way to the post office before, but now that she had done it, she knew that she had broken one of the last barriers standing in her way before actually going through with it.
An exceptionally strong gust of wind caused Hellen to close her eyes to shield them from the dry, bitter air. Because of this, she heard the front door close before she saw who had exited her house. Looking up quickly, the last person she ever expected to see danced into her vision and came running towards her.
“John?” she said, disbelieving her eyes but unable to deny what was before them. “What--?”
“Hellen! Hellen I’m home!” the man said. The man embraced Hellen tightly and swung her around. The thick seams of his sand-blasted camouflage uniform scratched against her bare arms. Hellen, too shocked to return or refuse the gesture, allowed herself to be carried through the air. The man gently set her down and released her.
“What are you--? How did you--?” she asked.
“They had a drawing to send someone on leave for the holidays. My name! They picked my name!” the man said.
He embraced her again.
“I…can’t believe it” Hellen said, trying to sound thrilled through her loss of words. Now recovering from her shock, a new sense of guilt and foreboding began to swell in her chest.
“I’m so glad to see you” the man said earnestly. He released her and gazed at her as though he was attempting to memorize every detail and contour of her face. He then surveyed his surroundings with a similar combination of awe and contentment. His eyes came to rest on the silver-gray car parked in the driveway that he seemed to notice for the first time. Many overpacked boxes and bags filled with personal items were visible through the windows.
“Is that…? Are you…going somewhere?” he asked.
“No, no!” Hellen said, panic swirling into the pot of sickly emotions building up inside of her.
“But the boxes in your car, and the suitcases--” he said.
“No! My--my father--he collapsed. Um, heart issues. I was going to go see him” she said, trying to gain more control over her rising hysteria.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “He just picked me up from the airport and dropped me off here a minute ago. He wouldn’t have…”
Hellen watched as slow realization appeared in his eyes, how he subconsciously recoiled at the very thought of what might actually be true. What was true. “Oh…did…no” he said. She could see him fight the reality. “Are you--?”
“John. Listen to me--” she said.
“Are you really?” he asked.
“I can explain. Listen” she said, feeling the flood of dread finally course through her body. She never wanted it this way. She never imagined it this way. This day was never supposed to happen this way.
Hellen sought for the right words to say, for anything that could make this unfortunate turn of events better. The man stared at Hellen as he waited for her to give an explanation. But no words found their way out of Hellen’s mouth. They stood there in long, thick silence as the unspoken truth solidified between them.
“How could you?” The man said, taking a half-step away from Hellen, disbelief and betrayal written on his face. “I’ve thought about you every day. I wanted to see you more than anything. You kept me alive over there.”
“John…” she said.
“And this is what I have to come home to?” he said.
“I…I--” she said.
“For crying out loud we’ve been married for seven years!” he said.
“And you’ve been gone for six of them!” she said.
What was that? Did she just shout at her husband? Did that really just happen? These thoughts crossed her mind but were pushed aside with the force of a heavy object crashing down a hill, unable to stop. “How do you expect me to survive here all by myself while you’re just gone? I’ve been left alone while you’re off halfway across the world babysitting some people you don’t even know!”
She was unable to contain herself. She had never spoken to her husband like this before. She felt years of culminated loss, anger, jealousy, and grief pour out of her through her words.
“Hellen…” the man said. His eyes were wide, and his eyebrows were upraised in surprise. He appeared to be more taken off guard than she had been. He spoke in a calmer but slightly shaken voice, “I’ve told you, we’ve just got to get through this together for a little while now so we can have—”
“--‘an amazing life together in the future.’ Yeah. I know,” she said. Hellen’s voice was shaking, but she did not want to stop now. “But wake up, John. The future is now. And it’s just me. There is no ‘us’ when you’re gone. There is no ‘amazing life together’ when you refuse to be together. It’s just me and the void you leave behind when you leave.”
She waited to let her words sink in, and then, as she felt a sudden flare of spite, said, “And you’re going to have to enjoy your fantasy alone.” Alone is what she had suffered through, and alone is exactly what she wanted to make him feel.
She turned around and strode towards her car with hard determination, having put the keys and all necessary belongings inside earlier to steel herself to finally go through with it.
“Hellen…Hellen, no!” the man said as he rushed over to her and grabbed her wrist.
“Let go of me!” she said, ripping her arm out of his grip. “I’m done!”
She opened the car door, got inside, and snapped the door shut. Her hand snatched the keys and started the engine. Hellen backed her car down the driveway, accelerated down the street, and rounded the corner she had come around just minutes before.
As she drove down the road, out of sight of the man and his house, a silence settled around her. The storm had come and gone, and she was left in the stillness that comes after, the crashing tides of loss and conflict subsiding within. The clouds had broken apart, and she saw her life and decisions clearly in the light of day. She felt a numbness inside, and in the quiet she reflected on what was lost and what had been done, watching without seeing the world around her moving by.
She did not know what to do or what to think, so she allowed the momentum of her predetermined course of action to carry her farther down the road. As the numbness wore off, a soft ache grew inside of her, and it brought with it a kind of pain she had not known before, along with a breed of loss different from anything she had felt over all these years. As the post office disappeared from view, she was already fostering the hope of going back again.
Nathan Cauley is a junior studying Computer Science with a passion for reading, writing, and comedy. He has two dreams after graduation: developing games with artistic characters, captivating stories, and exciting challenges; and writing and performing a sitcom he has been working on that he deeply desires to see come to life. He enjoys being with his family and friends and owns a beagle with a constant need to use his foot as a chinrest.