“After” by Rhema Sayers

“Salt Prune” by Sydney McKenna, oil on canvas

The entire house sparkled, immaculate. Or at least it sparkled as much as it could for as old as it was. It had taken weeks, especially with all these people tramping in and out. They’d been coming in, bringing her food, expecting her to be grateful. She had enough casseroles stockpiled for the next decade.

Sometimes she just kept on cleaning while they were trying to talk to her. The visits were becoming fewer and shorter, she’d noticed. When she pounded them over the heads with a two-by-four, they actually figured it out. Her lips twitched. “I vant to be alone,” She said aloud.

Her voice startled her. It was so quiet in the big house. She liked it that way. No more constant drone of the TV or the blaring voices of talk radio. Just silence and the occasional creaks and groans of an old house. So peaceful. So empty.

She filled her time with cleaning. There was so much still left to do. The stains in the rugs and the upholstery had been particularly stubborn. But she’d marshaled her forces, her Windex, her Mr. Clean, her carpet cleaner and her Bissell machine, and she had led them into battle, attacking with a ferocity the enemy could not withstand and the stains were vanquished.

Now she was advancing on the attic, which should produce some epic battles. She pulled down the retractable stairs and was showered with dust, causing her to sneeze repeatedly. Her eyes watered and for a moment she was crying, great tearing sobs that ripped from deep within her chest. But she focused  on the dust and ablution and carefully placed the sobs on a back shelf for later. She had had several long talks with herself (or maybe it was God she was talking to), discussing what her life should be like now. After. And she had struck a bargain with herself (or God). She would think about her life and her loss—after the house was cleaned—thoroughly.

She had gotten through the first few weeks with her dust cloth and mop held high. After the attic, there was the garage and then the closets still to do. There was time yet before she had to keep her bargain. She hadn’t been out of the house except for the funeral. She certainly didn’t need food. But she was going to need toilet paper soon. And laundry detergent. And Windex. And Pledge. And paper towels.

Walking out the front door would be like setting foot into a war zone. The eyes of her neighbors, friends would be watching. They would stop her on the street, in the stores, demanding to know how she was, what she was going to do now. She would see the sympathy, the pity in their eyes. She thought about asking her daughter to go for her, but she would see accusation as well as pity in those eyes, those sharp eyes that always reminded Melissa of her mother-in-law, who had been a world class bitch. Even their nasal voices were the same.

Maybe she could run out to the car, moving too quickly for anyone to reach her and then go to a store on the other side of town where she didn’t know anyone. Better yet! She could go to a different town! Encouraged by the brilliance of the solution, she started up the dusty steps to the attic. Her eyes went up to the black hole of the entrance in the ceiling and she stopped, riveted by the darkness. There it was—the whole of it. Black. Empty. A Stygian hollowness. And she felt its twin in the cold vacuum of her existence with all its light extinguished. And the sobs returned and would not be denied.

 
 
 Rhema Sayers is a retired doctor, now working as a freelance writer with some success. She has had over 40 short stories and historical articles published. She lives with her husband and three dogs in the desert near Tucson.

One thought on ““After” by Rhema Sayers

  1. Rhema,
    Great story…very compelling….for me, gut wrenching as I recall the period after my husband died. You hit the mark. I love the way you end your short….you really nail it.
    Best,
    Ellen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *