Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lilacs in the Fall - Short Story

Short story time again. I have missed the short story adventure I've been on for a few weeks and desperately wanted to keep up with my challenge. 

This week's story prompt from Chuck Wendig over at his blog asked us to: 

"Write a story of going against authority. That can mean whatever it means — but I want it to be a story with attitude, with a take-no-shit, have-no-fucks style. Whatever genre, whatever theme you want.
Get rude.
Be profane.
Middle fingers up.
Chaos and rebellion and whatever else you care to muster."

You can check it out here: Terrible Minds

Well, if you know me, then you know that I'm a big marshmallow. I struggle with conflict and chaos, rebellion. I try to avoid those things in my life and so it's not something that comes easy to me to write about (which is probably exactly why I should try to write about it, I know). 

So this week, I thought about it long and hard and decided my story of rebellion, giving-no-fucks, etc. would come in the form of me writing this story below - which has absolutely nothing to do with the prompt (middle finger up) - but everything to do with me wanting to submit something and not miss another week. 

I hope you enjoy it. 

Lilacs in the Fall
by Michelle Baillargeon

There is a widespread misconception that “there is no such thing as ghosts.” 

There are millions of people around the globe who are one hundred percent certain there is a God, an invisible, all seeing, all powerful being, who listens to their prayers and sometimes performs miracles. This is an entity they cannot see or touch or prove exists, yet they believe in it completely, whole-heartedly. I’m one of them.

This belief provides comfort, direction, questions (and sometimes answers), and hope, among other many other things. It’s an intensely private and individual experience for everyone, as it should be. I happen to believe there’s something bigger out there, something purposeful. For me, it doesn’t make sense if we're all  the result of a terrible explosion millions and millions of years ago or a random experiment of a not-so-long-lost race of aliens. 

But I’m not here to delve into that subject any further; there are certainly much more qualified people for that. I bring it up merely as a vehicle of comparison of “true believers” versus those people (I used to be one of ‘em) who are equally sure that just because you can't see them or touch them, that ghosts don't exist; I’m here to tell you that they do. We’ll leave Nessie, Bigfoot and Aliens for another day.

 My name is Joseph McIntyre, my friends call me Red. I’ve lived a long enough to have married my high school sweetheart (Mary, the love of my life) and raise two sons. They're working on families of their own now. I retired three years ago and just as we were settling into our new life together, I lost Mary. It was an accident, sudden and unexpected (as is its nature), and it happened at church of all places. 

Mary and I spent almost 46 years wonderful years together. They say hindsight is 20/20; but I must have rose colored glasses on. I don’t remember any arguments or disagreements (though we probably had a few, what married couple doesn’t?), just years of love and laughter. And ease. The kind that come from being with someone so long that you know their thoughts and their habits, their touch, the sound of their footsteps in the dark. I reach for her still, I look for her over my morning coffee, I listen for her voice. She’s only there in my memories. Or at least I thought so.  

I still go to church on Sundays, even though that’s where it happened. Some might have a tendency to keep their distance, or even blame God; but I go because it makes me feel closer to Mary. Closer even than I feel to her at home, full of her photos and furniture and unpacked clothes. 

I’ve recently started to go to church on Friday evenings, also. I always sit in “our” spot (fifth bench back on the right) and I try to get there early so that no one else can take that spot. The renovations are seamless. Good as new. No one could ever tell that a woman was crushed on that very spot beneath the church’s bell. 

It had come loose due to an unfortunate combination of aging wood and termites. No one else was hurt, we’d lingered after the service: Mary deep in meditation on our bench, me returning from the restroom. I guess I should take comfort in the swiftness of it all, but I can still see it happening in my mind - a film loop in slow motion - she never even looked up. Time is relative - fast and slow all at once, depending on your perspective. 

Well, I sit on our bench, longing for Mary’s hand in mine once more. She had a habit of putting hers in mine during the service and squeezing it if she was  particularly moved. I ignore the stray glances of pity from the congregation by closing my eyes, hoping it looks like I’m meditating on the service. That way, I am mostly able to remember Mary as she was and not how she left. 

Last Friday, as I sat with my eyes closed, tuning out the service and focusing on Mary’s memory, I swear I smelled lilacs. Lilacs were her favorite flower and there are several bushes in our gardens at home. But, it’s Fall and they’re not in bloom. Real or not, I breathed it in deeply, wanting to enhance my memories. It lingered, off and on, for most of the service. My heart was full as I left the church, and I’m sure it showed on my face. I told the Preacher it was his best service yet. White lies in church… probably not the best idea, but he doesn’t have to know I didn’t hear a word. 

Sunday meant another chance to go to church, my heart leapt with anticipation. Would the lilac scent return? Yes, I found out - and more. Much more. 

I arrived early, as I always do these days, eager to get to our seat. I nodded to the Preacher who was greeting people as they entered. I attempted to pass him on my way in, a quick nod Hello and I’d be on my way to Memory Lane. Being early, though, meant he had time to talk between parishioners. It seems he wanted to check on me. 

“Red, so good to see you again,” he reached out his hand to me. 

“Thank you, Father, good to see you, also.” I shook his hand quickly and let it go, trying to move past him. 

“I’ve been meaning to stop by and see how you’ve been holding up,” he looked at me quizzically, “I see that you’re coming twice a week now.”

I met his glance, nodding my head and trying to reassure him as best as I could. I managed to mumble a few words of appreciation while trying to extract myself from the conversations as gently as possible. 

I entered the church and headed to our spot, my heart sank. Someone was in Mary’s spot! I paused, unsure what to do. My stomach turned upside down and I could feel tears beginning to form. This had never happened before. Should I sit one row back? Should I sit next to them? 

I glanced around to see if anyone noticed my quandary. After a moment I glanced back at the bench, our bench thinking I could ask them to move. Surely, they would understand, who could refuse a grieving widower?  

I kept my head down as I made my way towards them, silently practicing my request, looking up only as I approached this interloper. I closed my eyes and opened them again to be sure. The interloper smiled at me and held out her hand. I looked around to see if anyone else saw what I saw. No one seemed to notice or care. I smiled back and took her hand as I sat down, taking a deep breath in - Lilacs!

I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for taking the time to stop by. 

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