Ash

On sunny winter mornings like this, the snowy hills seem to shimmer in the pure white light. The small flakes dance over each other, letting the wind form soft waves in the once smooth ground.

I take a long, slow sip of coffee, letting the bitter liquid trickle down my throat and warm my shivering body.

The grandfather clock chimes loudly in the hallway, announcing the start of a new hour. It’s haunting call combined with the caffeine pushes sleep from my mind.

My eyes trace the faded horizon, searching the world she deserted. The white-capped mountains provide no solace for my aching loneliness.

It’s been three months yet I still listen for her voice on the other end of the phone. My ears search for her soft breathing mingling with mine in the quiet nights. My eyes long for her smile, soft and sweet, wordlessly communicating every secret in the word to me alone.

My heart continues to beat despite the silence of hers. Its rhythmic thumps echo through the house, bouncing off the walls in search of the other drummer.

The chair across from me sits cold and empty, shivering without her warmth. Her grey sweater remains draped across that chair where she had left it, collecting dust. Her place mat is empty, no longer requiring dishes or silverware. There’s nobody left to sit there anymore.

The ticking of the grandfather clock grows louder and louder, beating its way into my eardrums. It rattles in my head, suffocating my thoughts. Tick tock tick tock tick tock; an endless pattern.

Back and forth back and forth she would rock when she was anxious. She’d stand across from me, rocking back and forth on her heels after asking a question; waiting for my answer.

The air thickens. Dust. Pollution. The stench of black coffee. The mixture coats my lungs, closing in.

I stand, letting my chair fall away behind me. The sound it might’ve made as it hit the ground is drowned by the ticking of the grandfather clock.

Tick tock tick tock.

I walk to the door.

Tick tock tick tock.

Grab my coat.

Tick tock tick tock.

Shoes.

Tick tock tick tock.

The screech of rusty door hinges.

Tick tock tick tock.

The loud bang of the door slamming shut.

Silence.

Cold, bright silence.

The cement porch beneath my feet. The sun above my head. The frigid wind nipping at my coat. Snowflakes crashing into my pants. Thin pinpricks of ice stabbing my hands.

My mind is silent. I cannot conjure a single thought to keep me company. Only her face, appearing before my eyes in the blizzard. Her small smile dancing in the wind. Her emerald eyes gazing into mine.

She steps down from the porch steps, wearing the short dress with the sunflower pattern across the bodice and the blue, ruffled bottom.

I follow.

She prances through the snow, carefree and happy. Her feet float over the mounds of flakes, never even grazing the surface.

Mine sink straight through.

She heads toward the shed.

I follow, reaching out to touch her, to confirm the reality of her appearance.

She remains one step ahead, disappearing through the flimsy, uninsulated oak door. My eyes long for her to return.

My fingers make contact with the rough, sanded surface and I stumble into the small room. My eyes search the dim space, longing for even just a glimpse of her silver hair.

The empty worktables stare back at me, littered with tools and unfinished projects. The birdhouse we had begun sits in front of me, an incomplete box with no lid.

I reach out to touch it, placing my hand where hers had once been and waiting for the tears to come.

They never do. My eyes remain dry and tired, burning in their sockets with the fire my sorrow created.

I begin to turn away when I hear a small, almost inaudible meow. It’s a broken croaking mew, coming from inside the box.

My feet move on their own, taking me closer to the sound.

I peer into the box, my old eyes squinting in the dim light.

A pair of eyes, green as summer grass, gaze back at me. The left one is almost closed yet fixed upon me.

The grey bundle of fur croaks again, shivering against the confines of the flimsy maple box.

My hands reach into the small container, picking up the precious bundle. They bring it close to my chest, transferring heat into the cold little body.

My feet turn around and exit the shed, leaving the doors wide open. They run through the snow, nearly stumbling as they sprint up the cement steps and crash through the door. They take me and the bundle to the couch where I collapse, out of breath.

Sitting up, I pull my hands away from myself and peek into them. The small critter is hardly larger than my palms. It nestles its head into my fingers as a soft purr escapes its throat.

I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath until I let it out in one long, slow sigh.

The cat looks up at me now through one eye. Its small grey ears twitch as it turns away to give its knotted fur a few licks. It faces me again and releases a small croak before leaping off my lap, landing gracefully on the carpeted floor.

Its bushy tail flicks, telling me to follow it.

I get up.

The cat walks to my chair.

I follow.

It sits.

I stop.

It croaks, blinking its good eye, then paces around the chair before looking at me again.

I sit down.

The cat rubs its head against my legs, releasing a loud purr, before walking away. It soundlessly leaps onto the rickety chair across from me.

Her emerald eyes gaze at me steadily, a small smile plays on the corners of her lips as she rocks back and forth, purring softly.

For the first time in three months, I smile back, tears rolling down my face, and reply:

“Welcome home, Ash.”

 

A/N: A dedication to a dear friend. See you all next week!

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