She tilted the jug of pink lemonade and the ice cubes tumbled into her glass, three at a time, clinking together. He was at the other side of the room, slumped in a sofa, a cup of steaming coffee in his trembling fingers. Miriam wanted to say something, anything, but as her mouth opened, a single breath came whooshing out before she clamped it shut, her teeth grinding, hard. All this was giving her a headache and so she sat down, dizzy and flustered.
The morning was warm, humid almost. The sky silver, with grey-bellied clouds looming over the hills. It was just a little farm, tucked away in a dimming countryside.
The house was empty, except for her husband, but he never said anything. John was always silent, thoughtful. His eyes were intense and she took a certain pleasure in staring into them. She imagined that beneath the inky depths of his black irises, there was a soft whiskey brown, fading into gold. Miriam would smile when she thought of that, and sometimes, when she did, the silence was enough. But right now, it was painful and shudders crawled down her spine. She was too sensitive, too fragile and she knew that. But he was hurting and therefore she was hurting, watching him suffer.
She had always found her method to deal with the grief much more effective. She would curl up beneath the windowsill and imagine the boy running home from school, his legs moving faster than his shadow. His hair would be tousled and he would come in, loud and muddy, mixing in with the peace. She liked his laugh, a low, husky laugh resonating in his throat. Now when she looked out the window, she saw only fog and dust and blurs of trees, and no little boy.
‘’ More coffee?’’ Miriam’s voice was hesitant, small in the large house. It was almost as if though she were afraid of him, too sad to even lift his head.
John nodded, and rose from the chair, shuffling across the room to her. She stood and touched his shoulder lightly, muttering something he could not understand. He placed the mug in her open hands, gently and she looked away, a cough startling them both.
She switched on the coffee machine and started grinding the beans, the sound familiar and comforting. It reminded her of the boy’s laugh. It reminded him too. He sagged into the kitchen and opened a cupboard. Almost reluctantly, his fingers clasped around a bottle of whiskey, half empty. It was the Scottish kind, strong, his favourite. He poured a glass and made his way back to the sofa, planted in the middle of the connected living room area. He sipped, feeling it burn his throat, a spreading warmth that disappeared.
The boy had passed away less than a year ago. Eleven years old, too young and too sick. Theodore, he was called, or Theo for short. But it felt odd to say it now, it sounded all muddled up and wrong. That’s why they didn’t mention him anymore, because it was too hard to talk about it. He’d hated his father before he died, he’d despised John. Maybe it was the smoking or the sickly sweet whisper of verbal abuse, or both. A medallion, shiny gold, had his initials carved in and she would often stroke them gently like she had stroked his hair, a lifetime ago.
She handed him the coffee and pulled the glass of whiskey out of his bent fingers, shaking her head.
‘’No’’ she said, wiping away a tear. His tear. John’s eyes softened and Miriam’s deep, amber gaze bore into him, a sweet, tickling sensation drying his tears. But she pulled away, the strands of faded chestnut hair sweeping across her white face, and at that very moment, he lost her.
He drank his coffee, slowly, the rich aroma overwhelming her. She went to the small study, where light was streaming through the open window. She sat on the sill, opening it further, inhaling the air, crisp and fresh and hot. Alone, rocking back and forth, a hushed silence tempting her to say something.
‘’We’re ready to let go, my boy.’’ She whispered ‘’ Remember you haven’t just existed, you’ve lived’’ And somewhere in the distance, she heard his laugh.