My seventh attempt for The First Line, February 2018. 944 words.
Leo massaged the back of his neck, thankful the meeting was finally over. He had a backlog of end of term papers to grade and they weren’t grading themselves while he wasted time attending the monthly faculty meeting. The past half hour was a complete waste of time, nothing that was discussed was any different from last month.
He sat down at his desk, pulling the stack of papers toward him. Sighing, he picked up his red pen and began with the top paper. Halfway down the page, he groaned. What were they teaching these kids in high school? Certainly not proper English. Or how to write papers. Rolling his eyes, he set to work with his red pen, and writing a big C at the top of the page.
Long after the sun had set, he flipped the final page over and gathered up the stack of papers. He shuffled them into order, set them back on his desk, and stood, stretching the kinks out of his back. He had another stack to work on, but seeing as it was after seven, he knew he better hit the road home, so he gathered up what was left and put it in his bag. His dogs would be needing to go out and be fed, and Leo himself was ready for his dinner.
It was frigid outside. His breath froze as it left his mouth. He could swear he heard the frozen water droplets hit the pavement as he made his way to his car. He buried his hands in his pockets and tilted his head down, trying to avoid the bite of the wind in his face.
He wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming holiday. It was his first since his wife of forty-five years passed away. They had no children of their own. For whatever reason, even though they’d wanted to fill their house with the pitter-patter of little feet, they hadn’t been blessed in that way. So they’d turned their attention to other people’s children; his wife taught elementary students for thirty years, while he’d gone the collegiate route.
They had their students and their dogs and that had been enough for them. But now she was gone and Leo had trouble dragging himself from bed most mornings. The only joy he found in life was in the thought that someday he’d see her again. Someday.
As he turned the key in the lock, he could hear Holly and Asher barking and scratching at the door. “I’m sorry kids,” he said patting their heads as they raced by him to relieve themselves. He dropped his keys and the mail on the foyer table, slipped off his shoes and hung up his jacket. He walked up the four stairs to the kitchen, opened the fridge and sighed. He’d forgotten to stop at the store again. He pulled out the milk, set it on the counter and went for a bowl and the cereal. It was a light dinner kind of night. Holly yipped at the back door, she was ready to come back into the warm house. Asher would stay out for hours, but not Holly. She preferred the creature comforts. He set his full bowl on the table and walked over to let Holly in.
He rinsed his bowl and set it in the sink, then wandered the halls of their house, as he did most every night. Even with Holly and Asher, the house was too quiet. Maybe it was time to downsize, but where would he go and would his dogs be able to go with? He turned on the television for noise and sat in his chair, pulling the stack of papers and his red pen out of his bag.
It was midnight by the time he finished his work and rather than expend the energy moving to the empty bed, he kicked his chair back and settled in for the night. He knew he was dreaming when he saw Martha walking toward him with a beaming smile on her face. He’d missed that smile. He’d missed her. He sat up, knowing it wasn’t real, but not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to be with her.
“It’s time, my love. Isn’t that grand?”
“Time for what?”
“For you to join me. Oh, I’ve waited so long and now it’s time. Come, my love. Let’s go.”
“Where are we going, Martha? It’s three in the morning,” Leo said, glancing at his wrist watch. “Who’ll watch Holly and Asher?”
“Holly and Asher are taken care of. You know the little kids next door love them to pieces.” She reached out her hands to Leo. “Come on darling.”
Leo reached up and clasped her hand. It felt real, oh so real. How long he’d been wanting to hold her hand again. Just a touch, just a moment. He’d had so much he wanted to say to her still. And now, here she was, and all he could think was what would happen to Holly and Asher.
He pulled her down on his lap, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding her tight. “I’ve missed you so much, Martha bear.”
“I’ve missed you, too. But here I am and now it’s time to go.” She scooted off his lap, extended her hand, and smiled.
Leo stood, glancing around the house they’d shared their entire married life. They had so many memories housed inside and he was grateful for every one. He reached down to pet Holly and Asher one last time. “I love you, Martha bear. I’m ready.” He took her hand and together they walked into the light.