Unkempt Things


The bed was unmade. Messy like everything else in the house. Dishes in the sink, crusty pans on the stove and laundry piling up downstairs. So much clutter. The house looked as if a bomb had dropped within it. Nothing was serene; everything was chaos.

Death could make a person forgetful though. Little mundane tasks become less important as the hole inside yourself grows bigger. Nothing feels worth it anymore. Nothing. Smiling or laughter become nuisances better left for the carefree and unburdened. As the shroud of decay settles over yourself, the world becomes more obscure and surreal——almost unreachable.

Lovers were not meant to follow each other into the dark. He had left her early into their union. Year two and she was already a widow. She had become something revered in close society; she was transformed into the “black lady” or the “mourning woman.”

At parties people parted from her as if she were the Red sea. They gave her sorry looks and whispered among themselves about the tragedy of her story. Bella Anderson had no “happily ever after,” and wasn’t it a shame? Such a pretty face already worn down by worry lines and puffy tear ducts. Such a travesty!

The unlucky lady bore their poking and prying with as much dignity as she could muster. What would Jack have said? Something sarcastic about society and all its “ills.” She missed his dry wit and the way his hair was always unkempt and how he smelled of tobacco, though he never smoked. She ached for his gentle touch and the sound of his violin being tuned. She craved his voice with its lazy southern twang and drawl. She missed all the things she took for granted and all that death bore away… .

Focusing back on the present, Bella adjusted her bathrobe. She was home (as usual). The mainstream world no longer appealed to her “widowed” sensibilities. What struck her fancy was black and white films with two lovers ending up in each other’s arms with nothing like cancer to dampen their dreams. No, cancer was not on the menu for her; Bella had digested her fill of tumors, sickness, and frailty to last her a lifetime. It was a bitter meal to eat and one that had left her lonely with only the angry taste of loss in her mouth as some sort of prize.

Jack had been her everything. He had the smoothness of Cary Grant, the sensitivity of Gregory Peck and the humor of Gene Wilder. How could she ever replace such a lover? Such a friend? The idea repulsed her.

Already friends and family were implying she try to catch another “keeper.” It was as if all good men were like fish to be netted or reeled in. The world was not so simple as that and true loves not so easy to let go of. Her mother was the worst offender. It was this need to have kids that drove the woman to push eligible bachelors into her daughter’s way. “Here.” mother would say. ” This one’s a doctor! Isn’t that nice? Wouldn’t you have smart children? Wouldn’t you feel secure being such a man’s wife?” Such talk made Bella wish she had the will to commit patricide.

Dusk was settling over their home again. The setting of the sun singled take out Chinese food and sleeping until noon. She supposed at some point she’d have to join the world again. Bills were accumulating and her job wasn’t always going to let her take so much time off. The school would ask her to come back sooner or later to teach. She knew that. However, all Bella wanted was the quiet and the peace and the tears that she needed to cry.

This woman carried a hurricane of hurt inside herself and time was to be her only remedy for it. Nothing else would do. No amount of tidiness or order could erase the sheer pain of loneliness. As fine as her sheets could be (looking all tucked in and firmly pressed) they wouldn’t erase the knowledge that they once swathed two people instead of one. Those dishes in the sink? Picked out by a deceased husband because he liked the abstract design. The filthy forgotten pans? Well, they once cooked meals for special occasions and not so special occasions for a couple not a single girl.

All these things were harsh reminders of what Bella no longer had: Her better half. When Jack died, so did she. That part of herself that believed in magical impossibilities and the infinite wonder of love’s everlasting light had grown sallow too. It too had perished alongside that fragile tumor riddled body of her man. It was her heart. She visited it every Sunday at Calvary Cemetery whenever she visited Jacky Boy.

Bella supposed that these messy disorganized things wouldn’t hurt her so much as time wore on. Eventually the sameness of the world would take her over once again. Life continues to live on, right? It cannot be helped. We as humans are programmed to thrive and to embrace the world. However, for all that survival instinct we cannot be forced to bend to the will of the earth altogether either. We must dance to our own music in order to find our way or else we’ll suffocate. We all march to the beat of our own drummers after all. Grief is no different.

Bella too will learn how to dance again. She knows this. She has accepted this fact even if such an acceptance feels like a kind of betrayal somehow.

Even now, atop Jack Anderson’s grave, there grows one resilient poppy. How’d it get there? I couldn’t tell you. Sure, it might be a coincidence. I’ll give you that. The seed could have been carried on the wind and dropped over any grave, but why pray tell that one? Why his tombstone? I choose to see this as a small sign to Bella from Jack himself.

Despite the odds that single poppy grows tall and large (much like the heart of a widow) because love drives all things to blossom in the end. This flower is a testament of “renewal.” Just look upon Bella while she slumbers. See her there akimbo in her disheveled bed then listen. Shhhh. Hush. I can hear a faint heartbeat. A gentle thrum. Can’t you hear it too? Bit by bit and notch by notch Bella’s heart is returning.

It’s a miracle isn’t it? That the ability to love can always find its way in spite of death itself? Jack would almost certainly say so. He believes in love as much as he still believes in his wife. The heart always triumphs. So too will Bella’s. Because she is more than a widow she is a woman who loved and loves and nothing can smother out a heart so strong. Cancer be damned. 


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