The Space She Left Behind
I could still see the scuff marks on the floor where the hospital bed had been wheeled away. The rubber parts of the wheels were no match for the wooden floor and yet try as I might, the dark spots only got darker, no matter how much I tried to get rid of them.
The living room felt cold, as if no one had ever lived in this house at all. Viv had objected all day to having to move into the living room. But with all her body aches and those ridiculous spiral stairs that even I, in my healthiest state couldn't climb up without tripping, setting her up downstairs made the most sense.
I never understood how she found that room upstairs cozy at all. Before she was sick she'd slept in there most nights, when she'd be working but after she was sick, it became her safe space and she'd moved in for good. Whenever I'd walk in, to bring her meals, or change the channel or charge her phone, or just be her company, the dust mites danced in the air, settling ever so lightly on the rays of the sun that poked in through the window. She liked it dark and cozy; I could never change her mind about letting the light in.
Her books were piled high on the floor, bookcases overflowed, long hanging plants touched the books and almost kissed the floor. She had an old Remington Portable typewriter that she still used occasionally, on those rare good days. A couple of the newer smart typewriters sat nearby, and papers were always everywhere.
A month before Viv died, finally succumbing to the dreaded cancer that had riddled her body as severely as bullets tear through flesh, the living room had been transformed to look almost exactly as her sanctuary upstairs. She'd given us all strict orders, her sister, her son and of course, me.
"Todd, don't drop that bin, it has all my special pens in it." Viv sat in her wheelchair in her room, adjusting her bonnet, tightening her robe and wagging a finger at her son. Todd sighed and tied his long dreadlocks into a ponytail so he wouldn't miss a step going down the stairs. "Those are my treasures!" He laughed and yelled back, "I gotcha Mom!"
He carefully carried the bin of gel pens, quill pens, state of the art markers and even two, not one, but two Montblancs. He shook his head at me as we locked eyes when he descended the stairs.
"Keisha come on, that typewriter was Granddad's and I know he wouldn't find it the least bit amusing that you're even trying to balance it like that. Do you think you're carrying one of those grandkids of yours?" She shook her head as her sister removed the typewriter from her hip and adjusted it to her sister's specifications. She pretended to bow down to her sister for approval. "Would you like the royal ass kissed too madam?"
It was only then that Viv smiled; she bit her nails nervously as she looked around her emptying office. She wasn't a bad woman; she was just a scared one. "I want to die with my books around me, and of course all of you." She'd said that to me many times and we all were happy to oblige her wishes.
Our Vivian Turner would never get to see age 50. Her birthday was in 3 months but she knew soon, she'd see her last sunset.
After dinner was the only time of day any of us could pull back the curtains, and she'd let us move her into either a chair by the window or if she was feeling up to it, the wicker one on the balcony.
Vivian wrote award winning poetry, having taken the social media world by storm with her vivid words and imagery she created with them. She was one of those "Instagram poets" with a million followers and subsequent book deals. Eventually she wrote a novel, the captivating story of her grandfather Otis Turner and his quest to find out about his ancestors, slaves who escaped via the underground railroad. The tale was riveting and raw and had won her a Pulitzer.
After her death, the New York Times called her "a brilliant and kind soul, devoted to her family and will forever be an inspiration to her readers."
I continued staring at the empty space where her bed had been. Her books were gone too, Todd took them as she'd wanted, the windows were bare and the light could finally shine in. And yet...
I squinted, with more than just my eyes, my soul wanted the truth hidden. It was as though the light made it too obvious that she was no longer here, that life in this place without her was unrecognizable. I thought of her heavy dark red curtains that hid most of the light and only they made sense to me then.
What would the new owners put in this space? Would they know who had lain here, and drawn her last breath alongside those that loved her most? Would a side table sit here, with mail casually tossed on it, where some kid would leave a mug and forget it there all night only for his or her mother to yell at them in the morning about it?
Would someone sit in a chaise lounge with their own curtains drawn, nursing a glass of wine, about to curl up and read after a long day?
Perhaps they would be reading her novel, "The Ashes of the Brave", or her poetry, "Love in the Time of A Cruel World", which was my personal favorite.
But I couldn't have favorites; I had to love them all. I was her second opinion always; every poem, every story, every first, second draft. She was talented and didn't need my expertise, especially since I was no writer. I was an almost retired Bailiff for the local courthouse and reading had never been my thing, but her words were golden, dripping emotion and truth with every syllable.
It warmed my heart that she shared herself with me, her words, her success, her body, her love, her heart and of course, those last years of her life.
We were married for only ten years. We met at a support group for surviving spouses of those who had succumbed to alcoholism. We met, two very different people with one thing in common, our broken hearts and our hope for a second chance at love.
The years had flown by and now she was gone. Her body lay resting but her spirit was everywhere. It lived on in her words, in the ones she wrote and the ones she read, in her son's heart and in mine and she would live on because she was the beauty of my life, because in my lowest moments she brought me love and joy and peace, because she inspired anyone who read her work, because she was a phenomenal mother, sister and friend.
I walked away from the empty space where she drifted away, where we cried and tried to hold on, the one place where she became our angel.
I realized that it didn't matter what anyone put here, it could never match the beauty that she was, and could never be as strong as she. Nothing could provide as much comfort as her soft hands or her lingering embraces, those kisses that could heal a lifetime of pain.
I would never be able to rest on any one thing that would fit here, or even waste anymore time trying to imagine it because nothing fits here anymore, in this world without her in it. The space she has left is endless and vast and covers a distance longer than every light year combined. That space will last until the earth is long gone, becoming nothing but dust particles in the setting sun's rays through the drawn curtains of another world.
This short story was originally entered into reedsy.com short story contest in response to the prompt, “Write a story about a character who’s trying to fill an empty space, literally or metaphorically.”