Short Stories About Grief And Loss
The first Story is titled (Dad’s “Monday, bread and butter” Song) and has a word count of 580. It is about the small things which evoke memories and grief experienced in a variety of ways. Mourning can be sporadic in that nostalgia can be brought to the fore by random incidents.
In the second story "Island of freedom" the word count is under 500 and termed as flash fiction. It is about a wife who comes to understand the need to relive and embellish loves of the past. At times we can attribute characteristics and qualities to those people we have known in the past. This can prove especially true when the present is dull and the future seems to have little to make it worthwhile.
I do but sing because I must; and pipe but as the linnets sing— Alfred Lord Tennyson
Dad’s “Monday, Bread And Butter” Song
“Monday, bread and butter, Tuesday roast beef” my dad would sing. I think we children found it comforting, in its predictability and repetition. Each day of every week had its own food or function. As each new day was added to the rest, all previous days were reiterated. It was a song Dad learned at summer camp, with his four brothers. Hence, not surprisingly, at family parties, all of them would sing it, without much melody, reminding them, it seemed, of hikes and camp fires in decades passed.
“Wednesday soup day, Thursday spare ribs, Friday fish day.”
In our own lives, friends moved away, pets died, we siblings fought. Yet, what we called “Dad’s bread and butter song” was always there, akin to air and water. Later, when anguish came, as we approached adulthood: engagements ending, jobs quests seeming ceaseless, that song remained, sung now less frequently, but reassuring, urging us onward.
“Saturday, pay day, Sunday church day”, every verse finishing with the refrain, “Oh, you hungry lookers, we wish the same to you.”
Years passed, then, somehow, decades. During what seemed to us too soon, our children reached those ages when we first had heard Dad’s song. Surely we siblings had not aged that much. And yet, we heard our children plead with “Granddad” to sing “the bread and butter song”, much as we ourselves had at those ages. And so he would, his voice no longer strong. Absorbing this, we strove for nonchalance. Dad slowly had grown older, as had we, the youngest of us having just turned forty, but still, Dad’s life seemed infinite.
Then came that morning when we could no longer ignore his waning strength and growing frailty. The stroke he had, forced us to lose our sense of immortality- Dad’s, our own, and ultimately, one day, that of our children, too. Dad’s doctors kept repeating “agitated”, as if this state was not to be expected of a man who, still vibrant as he aged, could barely speak, or force his throat to swallow. A feeding tube provided nutrients, but that was all.
We brought him lots of pens and stacks of paper, but these he threw aside as indicators that his voice was gone and could not be restored. Then, one nurse suggested, if he tried to sing, his thoughts might reach us. Although not knowing why, some years before, she had seen this succeed, so why should Dad not try?
Hearing the urge to sing, Dad smiled for the first time since his stroke and sang, with all the zest within him that old song; then, one by one, we each joined with him. After that, he sometimes sang his thoughts, but for the most part, nodding, he smiled as we sat reminiscing about years past, chatted in terms of current happenings, with aspirations for the days to follow.
I was in England when I got the call I knew would come, while hoping it would never. Recently married, I felt happy Dad had met my husband briefly, but for long enough to gauge his essence.
After Dad’s death, my grief was not as deep as I believed and thought it ought to be. Then, I grew to understand the Dad I knew, died in the true sense, the day that stroke engulfed him. Still, when on walks, I see activities sequenced by days, I ache to hear his song, and wish I could sing it beside him.
Islands of Freedom
I watch Jake sitting on our patio, and know, as I have heard it far too often, during a spat, or after too much wine, that he is pining for a girl he knew, back on an island where he had been stationed during World War Two. He can't recall which island it had been, or her name even. I sometimes think this adds to his enchantment, allowing both to stay nameless and timeless, in that infinitude each of us craves.
Maybe he and she never had names for one another, in the true sense. Though Jake himself has grown grey-haired, plumpish and liver-spotted, in memory, this sylph remains as she was then, “sweet as a lily, wild as a gazelle”, clichés to guard a precious reminiscence from drab reality.
A Husband’s Deliberate Cruelty
The morning after his retirement, Jake walked into our dining-room and said, “Forty-eight years wasted, shackled to you. Those two weeks on that island were the only time in my whole life when I felt happy.”
Despite his hinting at these thoughts before, he had never quite encapsulated this hatred towards me, built upon a longing for island sun, laughter and tenderness with nothing asked of him beyond the moment.
The Seeds of Understanding
Somehow, he could not hurt me anymore. Those words, once spoken, stripped them of their power. Like arrows held in shadows of abeyance, they were gone, their bow-string broken.
Released from jealousy, I said, “Jake, you've never truly told me why you didn't marry her and then stay on her island, or bring her back here to America; I’d like to know.”
Jake glanced around bewildered; then he said, “I've tried to think that through ten thousand times; I can't feel sure. The war was done; my ship was sailing home, so I sailed on it. The girl cried, and I cried a little, too. I said I would come back, we'd be together. I meant it at the time; I thought I would. But then, at home, back with my family, living the way I had before the war, that island and the girl seemed far-away, then further and further. And then I met you.”
“So what about those wasted, shackled years?”
“Surely you understand I didn't mean that.”
“Oh yes, you did; we all want endless chances. Sometimes I think of how my life might have been different if I had married a boyfriend, or my almost fiancée, but no need to bother about all that now; let’s just have breakfast.”
And so we breakfasted.
Now, we continue, living the life we two have forged together. Watching Jake, here from our kitchen window, I don't begrudge him thoughts of seasons passed. I have my own, and always shall, I know. Maybe this is a part of nature’s way of keeping us on earth. Even when we find no joy or reason, dreams can continue.
© 2015 Colleen Swan