A short story I had written for a writing group a couple of years ago based on loss.
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Dana was stunned to see the white butterfly in mid-November. The ground was frosty and the wind was bitter when it blew and she watched the butterfly flutter its wings. Every flap was a fight but it made its way directly across her view, she watched it disappear into an evergreen hedge. She remained there, watching the hedge, wanting to see the white butterfly again, to confirm its existence; but the harsh gust of the winter wind forced her away.
Dana carried the blue bag full of basic supplies from the corner shop and fished out her keys ready to open the lock on her front door. As she did the wind followed her in. It lifted the other coats on the coat rack and moved a couple of objects on the sideboard and forced a picture down. She quickly slammed the door shut. She picked up the picture of her and Matthew on their wedding day but she didn’t linger over it. Instead she went to the kitchen and poured her can of soup into a pan and placed it on the hob. It was him who liked soup. She said it was a poorly planned meal and he had laughed, but now it was all she could bring herself to eat. It began to bubble and pop, she poured the warm liquid into a bowl. She sat down at the table and slowly lifted the spoon to her lips and began to feed herself.
The front door opened and shut and the familiar heavy footsteps of her father were a welcome sound against the silence of the house. She turned to look at him and his warm brown face had a sad smile on it and she replied with her own weak one.
“Parking the car.” He replied.
He set to work, boiling the kettle taking out three mugs from the cupboard. Two teas and a coffee and once he had finished he brought the hot drinks to the table. One tea for Dana, a tea for himself and coffee for Sheryl. He sat opposite his daughter and he watched her blow on the spoon and sip at the soup. She had become so frail these last three years, but she was beginning to eat again and for him that was a big victory. There was little he could say and even less than he could do. Except to sit with her religiously every Wednesday and Sunday morning to just sit and drink tea and he came over when he could apart from then.
The door opened and closed again and the sound of clickety and clackety shoes announced his wife’s entry.
Sheryl offered their daughter the same smile he had and Dana gave one back. His wife stepped over the threshold and kissed her on the head. An act that violated their daughter’s wishes against physical contact and sat down in between them.
She looked at Dennis and Dana and it always astonished her how similar they were, even down to the shape of the nose and eyes. There were always so comfortable together even in silence. Sheyl took her mug, sipped on her coffee and relaxed back into her chair. The overgrown garden caught her eye. She sighed and without looking at either of them, she stated, “We can help you buy another house. You don’t have to stay here.”
Sheryl felt the disapproving eye of her husband but she was surprised to see that her daughter had not burst into tears at the mention of it, but Dana had put her spoon down.
“What if he came back and I was not here.”
“You have to let go…”
“I applied for a job,” she cut in her mother’s encouragement. Her mother’s face showed her surprise, “I don’t know if I will get it but I sent off the application last night.”
“That’s good, really good. What is it for?”
“Just to work at Sainsbury’s Local.” She replied.
“But you loved being a teacher.” Her mother commented.
“Don’t Sheryl.” Dennis threatened.
“It’s ok dad, your right mum I did. But I can’t go back to that and pretend as if I have everything together. I need a job that helps pay the bills I can’t keep letting you do that.” Dana tried really hard to forgive her mother, but she couldn’t let go of how quickly she had turned against Matthew after he went missing. She had accused him of having an affair and running off with the imaginary trollop, it was the only explanation she could offer and it cut Dana to her core. It was her attempt at getting Dana to not feel his loss so keenly but Dana knew there was no other woman.
Soon it would be three years to the day that she had made a missing person’s report and her world came crashing down around her ears. He simply walked out from work and no one had seen or heard from him since.
She wasn’t worried at first, she slept that night thinking he had gone over to his parents or gone out with some work friends. She did find it odd he didn’t call or even send her a text but she trusted him, he always came home. It was in the morning, that she knew something was wrong, she woke up expecting to see him, but his side of the bed had not been touched.
He is probably at his mum’s house, she thought and Dana reached for her phone. No missed calls, so she called his, no answer. She kept ringing but it never answered, she didn’t realise then that would be her life line to hear his voice. In the coming days she would call his number repeatedly just to hear the familiar husk and for him to say his own name, “This is Matthew Lawson, I am sorry I can’t get to the phone right now. Please leave a message and I will get back to you.”
Then finally the robotic woman said, “This number is not recognised. Please dial and try again.”
She left so many messages that morning, until she realised she had to call his mum, Margaret. Dana tried really hard to keep calm and asked her if Matthew was with her, she answered, “No I haven’t seen him since you both come over for Sunday lunch.”
“Oh ok. Just get him to give me a call if you see him or if he comes over.”
“Is everything all right love? Did you two fight? It happens you know.” Her voice was so gentle and kind, it would be the last time she would hear that tone from her.
Dana began to call his friends, his co-workers anyone who may have been with him last night. But all she got was, he left to go home around the usual time. She called his number again and the constant ringing was like a knife edge pressing closer and closer on her throat.
She called her own mum, who said, “He hasn’t called us. Is everything all right darling?”
“Yeah,” she lied, “He is probably passed out on a friends couch from drinking too much and forgot to let his wife know where he is.”
Her mum chuckled and she heard her dad say in the background, “Well, he is definitely in the dog house now!”
Dana tried so hard to keep the fear at bay, but it was closing in on her as the day drew on. She sat in the living room and watched for him to come down the street from the direction of the train station or from the bus stop from the right. She kept picking up her phone to see if she had missed any of his calls or she tried to call him.
By two o’clock she was furious, she paced the house angrily doing the house work. That’s when she started to leave the angry messages, threatening him to come home or else. By five thirty she became nervous again and began to silently plead with God for him to walk in now so that she could scream at him. By six she was in tears and Dana called Amber, his big sister.
“Have you seen Matthew?” she croaked.
“No. Is everything ok Dana?”
“No…he didn’t come home last night and I’ve been waiting in all day. We were supposed to have a day out in London and I just can’t…” The panic finally overwhelmed her.
“Ok Dana, don’t worry I will try and call him, just keep calm.”
“Thank you Amber.” She breathed a sigh of relief and she knew that Amber would give him the bollocking he needed when he answered.
By eight o’clock everyone was at her house, her mum and dad and sister Becca, Matthew’s mum, dad and Amber. They decided that they would go out and look for him and Dana should stay at home and wait so that when he came home Dana would be the first the decapitate him for making them all worry. They went to his work, they went to the places he liked to drink, they went to his friend’s houses who all joined the search and Dana sat in the silent house. By eleven o’clock they were all back and now fear was written all over their faces. No one had seen him and he wasn’t answering any of their calls.
“Did something happen between you two?” Amber asked.
“No, I told you we were planning on going up to London for the day to go to the museums and the London eye and stuff like that.”
“Did you notice anything different on Friday morning?” Dennis asked.
“We both woke up, had showers, went to work… it was a normal day.” She began to cry and the ears would not stop. That night she called the police. It was the beginning of the questions that would not end. Something in her then shifted, the silence and the emptiness of the house became threatening.
In two days it would be three years since she saw his joyful face. He was always smiling and laughing, but it was at night that she truly felt his absence. The bed was theirs, their first major purchase together and it felt so empty. In the beginning she would wear his jumper and his smell was all that could comfort her. There was nothing she could do but wait and hope grew further and further away as the days passed.
A knot grew in Dana, the agony of waiting for news or even a sign was too much to bear and then Margaret accused her of being the reason he left. She went round to see her, to get a little comfort and give some too, but Margaret had turned on her.
“It’s your fault,” she hissed, “your fault he’s gone! I don’t want to see you anymore, don’t come back here!” her eyes were red from the unrelenting tears and her hands were shaking.
Dana left without saying a word and with the heavy accusation on her heart. She began to scrutinise her life with Matthew. Was it something she had done? Something she said or failed to do? Did she miss something vital and let him down? Was he punishing her for some mistake? But the longer she looked at their life, the pictures, the videos and things they had accumulated in their house she could see nothing but happiness from her point of view. Dana ransacked every draw or cupboard, his clothes, his toiletries and inspected every item in the house as if they would reveal the missing piece of the puzzle and it would lead her straight to him. But there was nothing.
A year had passed and a police officer came to see her to say that usually after this amount of time, the likelihood of someone returning home was slim to none.
“Are you telling me he is dead?”
“It’s more than likely, but we have nothing conclusive. No use on his credit cards, no sightings and no one can tell…”
His face and kind voice faded away and there it was the thing she had feared most. No one was going to keep looking for him and like a puff a smoke, he was gone as if he was never there in the first place. Dana looked around her and the signs of their life was the only thing that confirmed his presence. That at one point they were together, building a life. The knot grew tighter and bigger and that’s when she stopped crying. The tiniest part of her held onto the wish that Matthew Lawson would just walk in through the door and it would all be a nightmare.
It was her turn then, she took to the streets and searched for him, pushing his photograph into people’s faces outside of his work until finally the guard told her they would have to call the police.
“But you know me Jack.”
“I am sorry Dana,” was all he could say before he walked away from her.
Dana wondered around the same streets day after day, searching for his face in the passing crowds.
Another year passed and the hope of even glimpsing Matthew faded away and what she was left with was a world that continued on in spite of her and Matthew. She was stuck and there was no end to the sorrow that made the knot in her continued to grow.
One night as she sat in the silent house, there was a knock on the door. Dana ran to the door, opened it and Amber was standing there instead of Matthew. Her heart sank and though she was glad to see her, she was not Matthew.
“Can I come in?” she asked.
Dana stepped aside and followed Amber to the kitchen and sat down at the table and Dana did the same. Nothing was said between them for a while as they studied each other. Amber felt her heart ache for Dana, she was always so beautiful but her frailty and her anguish was easy to read. The Dana she knew was gone.
Dana saw that Amber was plump and glowing and her eyes lowered to her stomach and a bump was there. She gasped as she realised the reason, “Congratulations.” She offered with a genuine smile and tears in her eyes.
Amber teared up to, “Thank you. I am having a boy. We want to call him Matthew.”
Dana wiped her tears away.
“I wanted to come and talk to you. I wanted to tell you I don’t blame you in any way. I know a lot of people thought you were involved somehow, but I don’t and neither does mum.”
“She accused me…”
“I know she did, but she was angry at him and you were the closest person. She regrets what she said,” Amber was trying her hardest to hold back her tears, “I am sorry.”
Dana felt a part of the knot in her loosen.
“I should go.” Amber went to the kitchen door and stopped, “Matthew would want you to live Dana, he wouldn’t want you to disappear too.”
Dana finally saw that this was it, this would be her life her existence determined by his absence. Anger coursed through her, because there was no way she could fully exist without him and without the hope of finding him dead or alive, she could never fully grieve. She took a deep breath and she accepted this was the story of her life. A part of her would always look for Matthew Lawson and the woman who was Dana in their photos and videos went with him.
Dana woke up on the November 15th and the sun was bright but there was still frost on her window. She washed and dressed and put on her coat and boots but she hesitated at the door. Finally she opened it and stepped outside, she walked until she got to Crystal Palace Park. The view was spectacular, the city of London sprawled out below her. She was warm against the November chill and at the corner of her eye, she saw the familiar fluttering white of a butterfly. Dana watched it again but this time it looked beautiful. The sun made it glow and she noticed how easy it flew across her view and disappeared again. She reflected on Amber’s due date, it must be soon and she was glad that the baby would have his name. Dana hoped it would mean that he would inherit his uncle’s contagious laughter, quick wit and soft eyes that he too would be the kind pf person everyone loved to be around.
Three years had passed since Matthew Lawson went missing in London and as she looked out over the city Dana could not bring herself to say the word goodbye, instead she closed her eyes and remembered the kiss he left on her lips when he told her to “have a good day” that morning and rushed out the door, worried he would be late for work.