Coping. Short Story.

Grace looked at the table, already it was covered in piles and piles of papers and she still had a large stack sitting in front of her. She stood from the table and turned on the kettle, she didn’t particularly want tea, but it gave her a good excuse for a little break. She turned her back on the kitchen table and looked out the window at the garden. The brown soil didn’t do much to lift her spirits, but it was better than nothing. The entire garden looked a little dead. She would have to do something about that too, though what she didn’t quite know. She had no proof, but she was reasonably sure that old bastard Hank had done something to poison all the grass. It was the only thing that would explain why it all died off within a few weeks. Sure she hadn’t taken great care of it, mostly just cutting it when needed, but she knew it would have needed downright intent rather than neglect to get rid of it all. The flowers in the pots were dead too, but that one was her fault. She had pretty much left them to their own devices and they ended up dying during a particularly hot spell of weather. The kettle clicked, Grace sighed as she filled her cup, she couldn’t afford to worry about the garden right now, she didn’t have the time or the money to invest into making it look halfway decent. Besides, who would care? She didn’t have many visitors and she was the only one who lived here. Maybe she would have cared more while Bobby was still alive, but he was gone now. She looked down at her cup, away from the swing set. They had put that in on his third birthday, she couldn’t bear to take it up. He had loved it so much, it seemed a shame to watch it rust in the rain and sun, but it seemed somehow sacrilegious to pull it down. Besides, it could be a comfort. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly bad, she went outside and sat on the swing, closing her eyes and drifting back and forth gently. Sometimes she thought she could hear his laughter, faint but bright and happy. Grace wrapped her hands around her mug and sat at the table.

The bills were piling up faster than she could sort them, really, she didn’t know why she even bothered trying to organise them, she was just going to end up crushed beneath them no matter what she did. Bradley had run out on her not three months after it happened. Said he couldn’t stay in this damn house any longer. Not that she blamed him, but she didn’t have the luxury of just up and leaving. No, the bills were in her name still, they’d come after her. She didn’t know where Bradley was, no one did. He had just disappeared a week after leaving, bringing only a backpack and whatever money he had managed to drain from their accounts. That had been almost seven months ago now and as time passed she found the love she once had for him replaced with seething anger and a faint hope that he just wouldn’t return. She couldn’t deal with that, the apologies, the requests to get back together. Grace was able to keep her head above the water, just about, but she knew if he came back he would drag her down with him and they’d both drown. Hell, she didn’t even know if she’d be strong enough tell him where to shove it. Not with her mother whispering in her ear, “grief does strange things darling, you can’t blame the man for wanting to get away.” Grace’s hands stopped sorting and she glanced at the clock, there was still time before the weekly phone call. She felt a ball form in her stomach, a writhing mass of nerves. She always hated those calls, but they stopped her mother from visiting at least.

Grace looked at the piles of paper, she couldn’t do this. Not today. She stood from the table, grabbed her keys from the wall rack and walked out the front door, only pausing to throw on shoes and a light jacket. She got into the car and started to drive. She didn’t know where she was going, she didn’t care she just needed to get out of that house. That awful, awful house, so cold and empty. Why did she have to stay behind to pick up the pieces? Why couldn’t she just run away, avoid everything and pretend it’s all fine. Not like she had anything holding her down anymore. No family, no real friends. They had all just seemed to drift away in the last few months. Not that she blamed them, she wasn’t exactly the greatest conversationalist these days. Most of the time she was just trying to get through the day in one piece so she could fall into bed and into the arms of oblivion, before waking the next day to do it all again.

Grace drove in silence, not paying attention to the turns she was taking, she didn’t care where she ended up. When she finally pulled into a parking lot it was starting to get dark. She looked at the sign, she had an hour until it closed. She opened the door and stepped out into the chilly air. A faint breeze blew past her, sending goosebumps up her arms. She leaned against the car and breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of trees and flowers that drifted from the park. She closed her eyes, and imagined the heat of the sun on her skin, the screams and shouts of dozens of children as they ran through the playground, the warmth of her son as he hugged her before running off to play. Suddenly there wasn’t enough air, her lungs felt tight, heavy, she couldn’t breathe. She opened her eyes, the warmth falling away, she leaned over, hands on her legs as she gasped, a great sob tore itself from her chest, bursting through her throat and mouth, tears hot and bitter streaking her face, each one feeling like it burned as it fell. She sobbed until there was nothing left, until snot ran from her nose and she gasped for air. Finally, when it was all out she stood and shakily wiped at her nose. She should have brought tissues with her, she chuckled, it was weak, watery, but it was still a chuckle. She opened the door to her car and sat in again, her cheeks burning with shame and embarrassment. She didn’t know how long she had stood there crying, how many people had seen her, she didn’t want to know. She reached into the glove compartment and dug out a crumpled pack of tissues, she used one to clear away her nose and cheeks. Grace took a deep breath and released it slowly. After a few minutes she turned on the car and pulled out of the parking lot. Her chest felt lighter, like a weight had been lifted. Every time she finally thought she was done crying she was hit with another episode, where she just needed to get out, to get away and to let it out. Each time was horrible and embarrassing, but despite the burning of her throat and the gritty feel to her eyes, she always felt better. She knew she might never be completely better again, that it might never go away and she was fine with that. She needed to keep living, she needed to for Bobby’s sake. Someone had to remember him, remember the good times they had together and even the bad. No one else would do it, not Bradley who fled the country to try and get away from himself, not her mother who acted like everything was fine and nothing had changed. No, the only one left was Grace and if she didn’t remember him, if she didn’t keep him alive, even if only through memories, she would never forgive herself. So she would keep going, if only for him.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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