My short story of the month is called the Osprey. It’s one of several short stories I wrote during a real-world stint that I think was inspired by the writing group I was in at the time not being very into fantasy or science fiction.
This one’s very short. 1,410 words. I wrote it in November of 2009. Here’s a little info about it: Life is uncertain. Loved ones are sometimes ripped away unexpectedly and moving on can seem an insurmountable task.
by Erika Friedman
“I have the same dream almost every night. I’m flying over the water. And calling your name. You never answer.” The clash of the dumpster being emptied into a garbage truck intrudes on the early morning. I stop, wait for the distraction to fade, as if fearful my voice won’t carry over it. “I guess you were right about the osprey.”
I turn around. The kitchen is unoccupied. Silent. Undisturbed. There are dirty plates on the table. The smell of mint tea hugs the apartment. My untouched mug still steams its invitation, sitting beside Jeremy’s eternally empty one.
“Baby, your absence is all I see of tomorrow.”
At the funeral I talk about the osprey that lost its mate to a fishing net at Huntington Lake. Jeremy heard its calls every morning of our vacation and thought it was grieving. What to me seemed like nothing more than a series of short whistles was a song of mourning to my fiancée. He saw the world differently and invited me to share his vision.
I wanted everyone to understand that Jeremy was unique. He wasn’t merely a chef or an artist. He had empathy and kindness. He appreciated intricacies other people don’t notice. He looked when he walked. He didn’t drive with only the urgency of getting to his destination. Jeremy found beauty in things that were meaningless to me. In the distant vocalizations of a bird of prey that mated for life and is now alone.
I don’t know if that osprey felt sorrow when its partner drowned but if it did, I now share that anguish, that hole that eats everything. How am I supposed to fill it?
I haven’t cried since Jeremy died. I didn’t even cry when it happened. It was just past midnight, fourteen hours after the accident. He never regained consciousness. Maybe if I’d heard his voice one last time and articulated a goodbye, it would be different. But I couldn’t speak to a body hooked up to life support, to a bruised and crumpled shell. Now I can’t stop talking to a man who’s not here.
“Today’s our wedding day,” I tell him, curled up in the bed we shared, in the sheets that have slowly lost his scent. “We never picked a song for our first dance.”
I trace the pillow next to me like it’s his face. Hazel eyes, shoulder-length soft brown curls. A broad nose and illuminating smile. If I imagine it hard enough, I can almost feel his arms around me.
I hardly touch food. When I do it’s leftovers and defrosted soups and pastas he made so we’d always have home-cooked meals. Every day I get closer to the end of his supply and every day I eat less, not wanting to open the freezer and find a void, his neatly labeled containers clean and in a row on the counter. I won’t let him vanish from my life, all traces gone. So I cling to everything I can.
Sometimes I walk through the apartment and look at the once casual artifacts of his life. His things are everywhere. He was clean but messy. A pair of jeans is on the floor, strewn between the bathroom and the bed. One tennis shoe next to the closet, the other by the nightstand. I haven’t put them away. His sister offered to help me go through his stuff but I can’t swallow the idea of boxing him up. Of moving on.
Everyone is worried. My friends. My parents. His family. They tell me I have to grieve, that I can’t simply shut down. I nod, mumble unimportant responses, and know they’re right. What I’m doing is not healthy but it also hasn’t been very long. Doesn’t everyone cope in their own way? So what if I haven’t cleaned up his clothes. Or washed his favorite mug from the last time he drank tea. Or smiled once since the accident. There’s a wound, a tear, a longing.
“Jeremy, I know this isn’t what you want. I shouldn’t be the osprey, lamenting every morning for its lover, but you’re gone and I don’t know what to do.”
Sad movies, something I used to avoid religiously, are now a release. They’re the only thing that make me cry. I want to cry. Have sat in our bedroom, in the dark, for hours, trying to force this pain from my chest. It doesn’t work. To let go of the hurt, I have to let go of him. So I watch dramas and tragedies and pretend the sorrow that trails from my eyes is for Jeremy and not for these people who don’t exist.
I almost don’t go back to Huntington Lake. It’s the week that was supposed to be our delayed honeymoon and it’s the same cabin we stayed in before. Just three months ago. I don’t want to face all those memories but there are less there than at home so I force myself to make the drive.
Somehow, the people running Lakeview Cottages know. Maybe his mom told them? She’s the one who recommended Jeremy and I come. She’s close to a couple who co-own it with several other people. I guess it doesn’t matter how they know. I’m glad they do because I don’t want to talk to anyone. At all. I don’t even talk to Jeremy anymore.
It’s always very quiet in the mornings and at night. I don’t know what time I wake but there’s light peeking through the drapes. I should get up. There’s a hike to… I don’t remember where. Several people invited me. It might get my mind off this chasm of emptiness. I–
What’s that? Whistling. A set of calls. An osprey. It sounds just like the other, from earlier this summer, only now there’s so much sorrow. A lonely song trying to breach the abyss of separation. Just like he said. Maybe he was right, maybe it was crying for its mate all along. Maybe it still is.
Oh, God, Jeremy.
A strangled shout fights its way from my throat. I hit the mattress with my fists again and again, until it hurts. Tears are falling down my cheeks, wetting the blankets. I struggle for air, everything spins.
I miss you. I miss you all the time.
I want to say it but I haven’t got the breath. Sitting now, with my back against the wall, I clutch the pillow to my chest and shake. Sobbing, incoherent, tumbling into despair and away from it.
Morning bleeds into afternoon. The mild warmth of the sun penetrates the curtains drawn across the window. I’m still in bed, my face stained from more rounds of weeping than I can remember. No matter how much grief I extract, there’s always more. It ebbs and flows, each time easier to tap into. Easier to carry.
Extricating myself from a knot of sheets and blankets, I stumble into the kitchen. There’s a pile of dishes in the sink. I stare at them while I wait for the spray of water to heat up. It feels good to splash the liquid on my face, refreshing, and once I’m done I wash the plates.
It’s only two o’clock. Plenty of time to get out of the cabin and do something. There’s been enough sorrow for one day. For one lifetime.
I walk around the lake. It’s spectacular. The curving, rippling blue, surrounded by trees all around. With a rustling, light breeze. Perfect for a picnic by the water, for a trip in a kayak, for the beginning of a new life. The life I imagine without him. People do this all the time. There are support groups. I should join one. See a therapist. Anything to get past this. Anything. Even…say goodbye.
The apartment is exactly as I left it before my escape to the lake. It’s exactly as he left it, running late and hurrying to work. A museum, a tribute to our time together. But that time is gone and things must change.
I don’t know where to start.
There’s a pair of his long black socks near the couch, wadded into themselves. I pick them up, smooth them out, and place them in a box on the kitchen table. I find his jacket in the hall closet and fold it neatly beside the socks. Movies and books follow. Every item that was his, every item a weight off my heart.
You made it to the end! Thank you, you’re awesome! Any support would be greatly appreciated, from a comment letting me know you read it to feedback or any thoughts you have.