A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

by D. J. Russell (Feb 2007)

            Jennifer Schwartz pressed the power button on her phone and laid it back on the base.  Her fingers lingered on the handset for a moment as she absently thought about how things that were said could not be unsaid and how things that were done could be as lasting as the formation of mountains.

            She quickly snapped back to the moment.  This was Jeremiah’s special day and she wouldn’t let her being a sad-sack ruin it.  She brushed a forming tear from the corner of her eye, put on her best Mommy-loves-you smile and turned back to look at her little boy seated at the kitchen table.

            He was glorious in his perfection.  Jet-black hair framed a face that was almost feminine in the delicacy of its construction.  His green eyes, normally dancing with the mischief and laughter that six-year olds were often too full of, were now nearly covered by drooping lids.  Tilted to one side, his head rested lightly on folded arms.

            Jennifer walked over to where her son sat.  She instinctively brushed a few stray crumbs of cake into her hand and deposited the mess into the trash before pulling a chair next to her son.  She laid one arm around his shoulders and bent close, drinking in the fragrance of Prell shampoo and happy-little-boy.  She gave him a couple of quick butterfly kisses on the back of the neck.

            Her closeness, and the kisses, roused Jeremiah from his drowsiness long enough to shift his body more toward his mother.  Folding into her embrace, he laid his head on her breast and dangled his hand limply in her lap.

            Jennifer was pleased with herself.  The party had been a great success.  Streamers and balloons still festooned the dining room’s entryway and sign’s that proclaimed “Jeremiah Day,” painted in bright primary colors, still hung on the wall behind him.

            When she had told him a week ago that she was throwing him a party, he had been confused and curious.  It was not his birthday.  In fact, the day of the party was not a holiday of any kind.  When he questioned her, she only hugged him and told him that she did not need a reason to celebrate how much she loved him.  It was the prospect of chocolate ice cream and cake that won over any of his doubts, not his mother’s logic or whimsy.

Dark remnants of chocolate still outlined his lips.  Although she thought it precious when his love of ice cream prevailed over his table manners, it still took all of her will not to pick up a damp towelette and wipe the mess from his face.  Even with a messy face, he was the most precious thing in her life…a life that had once been the envy of all the women in her circle.

That had changed barely six months ago.  Had it only been six months?  It seemed so much longer than that.  She could still see, as though his image was fading before her eyes, David’s silhouette as he walked out the front door with suitcases in hand.

As her hand brushed lightly through her son’s hair, Jennifer let her eyes wonder around her kitchen and dining room one more time.  Yes, the dishes had been cleaned and neatly stacked in the drainer.  The trash had been bagged, tied, and placed by the back door.  Even though today was a special day, Jennifer had felt that this would be no excuse to let anyone think she might be a sloppy housekeeper.  She wasn’t obsessive about it, but she did like a tidy home.

            The only signs of the party that still remained were on the table in front of them.  One was a small pile of puzzle pieces, a Spongebob Squarepants picture that Jeremiah had been working on while she had cleaned up the party debris.  The other was a small box neatly encased in metallic-blue wrapping paper.  She had warned him sternly that this gift was for later and that under no circumstances was he to peek.

            And she knew that he wouldn’t.  That was the kind of boy Jeremiah was.  Oh, it wasn’t like he didn’t get into trouble.  No, Jeremiah wasn’t a perfect little angel - no matter how much his mother doted on him.  He got dirty and scraped as much as other little boys and left his room in such a shambles that his mother’s eyes would close and her head shake in dismay.  Those were just the little trials of growing up.  When his parents’ voices became stern or they became emphatic in their orders, Jeremiah was a good and obedient child.

            Jennifer’s eyes focused on a gold-framed photograph that stood on a table just inside the living room.  It was a portrait of her family when the world was perfect and the only tears that needed to be wiped away at the end of the day were those caused by falling bicycles or untied shoelaces.

            What had upset her most was why he had left.  It wasn’t that she had been having an affair.  Being unfaithful to David was something that had simply never crossed her mind.  If David had been having an affair, she knew in her heart that she would have forgiven him, even if she couldn’t forget.

            There had been no financial worries …. no excessive spending or lost jobs.  Although they were by no means wealthy, David’s job as a systems analyst along with her tendency toward frugality had allowed them a good life in a comfortable, if somewhat, modest home.  No infidelity.  No financial woes. No abuse.  Nothing.  That was the problem.

            When she had pleaded with David to tell her why he was ending their ten-year marriage, the only reply that he could come up with was that he no longer felt for her what he once did.  He didn’t dislike her nor hate her; he just did not care anymore.  For Jennifer, this was a fate worse than if he had backhanded her across the face.  At least with an act of brutality she could feel the passion of his anger instead of having to look into those cold and indifferent eyes.

            Jeremiah was asleep.  His breathing, which had been deep and restful, became increasingly shallow and ragged.  Jennifer never stopped stroking his hair.  Even when flecks of red began to color the faint string of dribble at the corner of his mouth, she brushed it away with her thumb and continued holding him close.

            He had given her everything - the house, the cars, and a generous check each month to care for her and Jeremiah.  If possible, David showed even more love than usual on his only son.  Each and every day, David would commute the half-hour from his new apartment to spend the evenings with Jeremiah, riding bikes or playing Xbox and rolling around on the living room carpet battling dragons that only they could see.

Jennifer pulled the gift closer to her.  She used one long and delicately manicured nail to breach the seal of the wrapping, sliding it horizontally around the lip of the box’s top until all she would have to do was lift the cardboard lid and show its contents.

Losing David was bad enough, but the sympathetic looks and clucks of disapproval from her mother and friends took what seemed an unbearable situation up one more notch.

It had not been long before the stress of the separation took its toll on her.  A friend, Margarite, had suggested she go see a therapist about her anxieties.  Reluctantly, Jennifer went to Dr. Foreman’s the following afternoon.  He was intrigued  by her case and asked her to come twice each week, starting the following Monday.

During their fourth session together, Dr. Foreman suggested that she might benefit from an aggressive anti-depression therapy.  He reassured her that she wasn’t the first woman to need a little help after going through a marital separation.   She had taken the prescription with more than a little reluctance.

            It had taken her two weeks to get up the nerve to walk into her local pharmacy and present the prescription to be filled.  Her cheeks had been flushed with embarrassment as she had handed the slip to the technician, never allowing her eyes to quite meet those of the lovely young woman behind the counter.  Jennifer had been pleasantly surprised with a simple “thank you, it will be about thirty minutes” and no scolding words of condemnation.

            A sound now broke the stillness of the evening.  Amidst the background noise of yapping dogs and the whoosh-whooshing of passing cars, a sorrowful wail could be faintly heard.  Jennifer stilled her stroking hand for a moment and listened.  It was growing gradually louder.  She knew it was time to open the last of Jeremiah’s gifts.  With a carefully manicured finger, she slid one sharp nail through the wrapping.  Once this was done, she carefully removed the box’s top and placed it on the table beside the box.  She did not look inside.

            The pills had not been much help.  They did allow her to sleep more easily at night, but her dreams were no more pleasant than before.  During the daylight hours, she was calm and collected, but she lacked the energy to keep the house going according to what she perceived as acceptable standards.  The pills did nothing whatsoever to quell her despair when the certified letter had been delivered two weeks ago.

            Opening the package up, Jennifer had found divorce papers ready for her to sign.  It had been something she was trying to overcome and work out with David, but they were really no surprise.  The surprise had been the application for full custody of Jeremiah that David had included.  Jeremiah?  He was going to take her beloved Jeremiah away from her?

            Jeremiah’s ragged breathing had stopped.  He lay completely still in her arms.  Jennifer pulled him even tighter to her breasts.  Tears streaming from the corners of her eyes, she hoped and prayed that he would remember how much she had tried to make this his special day.  He should always know how much his mother loved and cherished him.

            The wailing sound that had seemed like only an annoying intruder moments ago, now split the night like an axe slicing through timber.  The sound was painful to her ears. 

            Jennifer knew that now was the time.  If she was going to keep her family together, she must cast away her fear and stand resolved.  With no further hesitation, she reached into the box and brought out its contents.  Silver reflected off its metallic surface as she inspected it.  It was so cool and heavy.

            The air-splitting sound of the sirens had ceased.  The calm had once again been restored to her little home.  Jennifer kissed Jeremiah once more on the top of his head and on his cheek.  In the abnormal silence of the house, the metallic click that came next was sharp and distinct.

            The gunshot shattered the night just as Officer Michael Dupree raised his hand to knock on the door.

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Revised February 2007.