Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What if he hadn't died? A short story.

Yesterday would have been my late husband's 61st birthday. It made me stop and wonder for awhile what he would be like today if that spiteful fire had not stolen his life from him nearly 27 years ago. Instead of wondering, I woke up this morning and decided to write about the life together we didn't have. Maybe it will motivate you to do the same about a loved one you lost too soon. Write a story of how things might have been.

Image by George Hodan

A Normal Life

Jim walked into the kitchen, his sweat-soaked t-shirt draped around his neck. The sight of his tanned chest and muscular shoulders still took my breath away. He leaned down and kissed me. 

"Your head is burned. Why didn't you wear a hat? You're going to end up with skin cancer," I said, taking his tennis racket and putting it in the closet. A basketball rolled out and I kicked it back into place before closing the door.

"You worry too much." He opened the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of orange juice.

"Don't you dar--" 

Too late. He unscrewed the lid and drank directly from the bottle. Then he smiled at me and put the bottle back in the fridge. "I'm hitting the shower."

Leaning against the counter, I watched him take the stairs, two at a time. Here I was, not even 60 yet and barely able to walk up to the second floor. His stamina amazed me. At 61, he still embraced life like it would last forever. Even though I worried about him constantly, the fact was he would most likely outlive me. I worried about that, too. 

We'd been inseparable for the past 36 years. Even though I relied on him to take care of the things I couldn't do physically, he seemed entirely dependent on me. I'm not sure what he'd do without me. He was just a few short years away from retirement (thank God) and I couldn't wait for him to be away from the chemical company where he had worked for nearly as long as I'd known him. Even though the pay was good and kept us comfortable, it wasn't a safe place.

Still, he as doing a lot better physically than I was. I hadn't even poured my second cup of coffee yet and he was already home from his weekly tennis match. Every Monday, he and Doug played tennis on their mutual day off. After his shower, Jim would be outside again, mowing the lawn before the extreme summer heat bore down upon us. I'd insist on the hat this time.

Jim and I were best friends. After our daughters grew up and were off on their own, he supported me completely in my pursuit of a writing career. Having a flexible schedule worked well with his swing shifts and I had the freedom to meet with my writing friends whenever I wanted. My tribe. 

Freshly showered, Jim interrupted my thoughts, hugging me from behind as I gazed out the kitchen window. I breathed in the scent of him. He kissed me on the back of my head and reached for the coffee and my mug. Always the servant. Handing me the filled cup, he asked, "So what's on the agenda for today?"

"I thought you were mowing the lawn," I said.

"That was the plan, but it can wait. Besides, I just showered and I don't feel like getting all sweaty again."

"Yeah, I wondered about that."

"Let's take off for the day. Want to go swimming?"

"Seriously? And be seen in public in a swimsuit? No thank you."

"Seriously. I want to show off my beautiful wife and her hot body."

"You're crazy. Not happening. If you want to go swimming, call Jess or Bethany and see if you can take the kids to the pool."

"I could. But what I really want to do is spend the day with you. Hiking in the woods? How are your legs today? Fibro acting up?"

"No. They're pretty good. But it's awfully hot for hiking."

"Okay, honey. You decide. I just want to spend the day with you."

"The mall?"

I watched as Jim tried to control the contortions of his face, knowing the mall would be the last place he wanted to go on his day off. 

He chewed on the inside of his cheek. "Sure. If that's what you want to do." He feigned a smile.

Laughing, I let him know I was joking. I couldn't help feeling like the luckiest woman alive. I whispered another suggestion in his ear and, joining hands, we both headed up the stairs. Looked like he was going to get sweaty again after all.

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