FICTION June 7, 2024

Day One

Day 1: Widowed after sixty-one years, Elizabeth wasn’t overwhelmed by grief. Rather, she tingled with possibility, now free to live the way she wanted. Instead of counting the days until she’d be buried too, like many in her newly single cohort, she savored each day of her rebirth.

Today, that bastard William went in the ground. No mourners, no flowers, no need to remember the plot location. She’d never visit that bag of bones again.

Day 2: Elizabeth boarded the bus to JC Penney and purchased seven trousers, and oh my gracious, the cutest pair of sweatpants with the word “JUICY” stitched on the rear. Her legs would never need pantyhose or feel the draft of a Minnesota winter again. 

Day 7: The shackles of time were erased with an ease that Elizabeth wouldn’t have guessed possible. The rigors of a schedule weren’t beaten into her as Bill would have claimed (oh, how he hated that private moniker—one she’d mistakenly said aloud a time or two). As she ate Chinese food in a new king-sized bed after midnight, she tried to remember their dreaded nighttime routine. 

A single gin and tonic (no lime), 5 p.m.; dinner at 6 (meat, potato, bread, overly soft vegetable, no spice); 7, draw his bath with Epsom salt, as if caring for the child she never had; 8 p.m., network television until the monologue of the late-night shows, which always angered Bill; 11 p.m., sleep in the matching twin beds. 

Day 14: Calls from her longtime hairdresser, nail tech, and Weight Watchers leader went unanswered. Besides having a hard time hearing on the phone, Elizabeth never liked the weekly maintenance of being a woman. She threw her curlers and cold creams in the trash.

Day 23: During an art appreciation class, Elizabeth realized she couldn’t always hear. At the lively social hours after class and at the occasional gallery opening, it was near impossible to tease the strand of a conversation from the environmental noise. Hearing was never a problem before. Who would want to absorb Bill’s every word—You’re a worthless cow, Bethy—but now she was missing too much. 

Day 50: The audiologist warned her that people often dislike their hearing aids at first. Elizabeth had no such issues. The birds chattered, and children laughed on a distant playground. That evening, her elderly house groaned and popped under the weight of a spring rain, and she chatted with Zack from Verizon on the phone for forty-five minutes.

Day 57: Sarah, a recent widow from the quilting circle at church, came over for a lunch of coffee and donuts. She showed Elizabeth how to download Pokémon Go on the new iPhone from Zack at Verizon. The game was meant to be played outdoors, but the women howled with laughter as they explored room to room in Elizabeth’s house, traipsing over unmade beds, bumbling under the formal dining table, and standing on the toilet lid. Elizabeth was in Billy’s office-turned-plant room when her new hearing aid squealed briefly, making her toes curl. “Bethy, you silly bitch, stop acting like a child.” William’s voice was rough from lack of use. “It’s five o’clock. Where’s my goddamned G&T?”

Day 63: Elizabeth’s eyes were sandpapered on their surface, her bones ached with fatigue. William’s voice was keeping her up every night. Only his voice, thank the heavens. She didn’t know what her ticker would do if she laid eyes on the demanding corpse that was once William. If she saw his corpse, being dead would be the least frightening thing about him. In life and death, Elizabeth feared the two deep-set vertical lines between his eyebrows, his elevens. From the angry way he’d been talking to her, she knew that William’s elevens would be formidable, which always ended in her getting hurt.

Day 65: After dinner (roast beef, mashed potato, bread and butter, soft carrots), Elizabeth brushed the crumbs from her skirt and set to cleaning the kitchen. At seven, she drew a lukewarm bath with Epsom salts. Undissolved crystals grated against her naked legs, and tears dripped down her face as she listened to the neighborhood kids playing outside. Her hearing aids squealed, and she curled her toes against the end of the porcelain tub. 

An animal freed from captivity always misses the confines of its cage. Isn’t that right, Bethy?” 

The rot of William’s breath made the bland dinner churn in her stomach. Goosebumps ran up her naked arms. How was he breathing on her? If she turned around, would he be standing there in the suit she’d buried him in? Seeing his elevens would be unbearable.

“Not true,” Elizabeth whispered, sitting tall in the tub. She didn’t care about the way her sagging breasts floated on the water, all she cared about was not looking behind her. “Not true, you old bastard.”

There was a warning squeal, but before Billy could talk again, Elizabeth ripped the hearing buds from her ears. Hands quaking, she traipsed through the house naked and wet.  

The junk drawer stuck. When she finally got it open, she pulled the whole thing out, dumping decades of clutter onto the floor. She grabbed a pink hammer she’d forgotten about, the one she got as a bridal gift all those years ago, a joke gift really. As Elizabeth pulverized the expensive hearing aids, she wondered if she’d miss the sound of children playing, of birds and rain, of salesmen on the phone. Some trade-offs were worth it.

Day 1: That old bastard William was gone again, and slipping into her quiet life was easier than she’d imagined.

Melody Sinclair has been published in various journals, including KAIROS Literary Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, and Bull: Men’s Fiction. She has won the Denver Woman’s Press Club Unknown Writers Contest and was a two-time finalist in the Adelaide Literary Award Contest. She is on the Fiction Reading Committee for Carve Magazine. Melody lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado with her husband, dog, and two kids.