Due to an injury, plus another project I’m working on, I will not be able to continue writing short stories for the foreseeable future. Please enjoy this short story, originally published in December 2014.
Liza’s heart stopped beating when she saw the envelope. It was in among the bills and flyers, like it was nothing. Like it was just another piece of mail instead of the notice that had come to tear her husband away from her.
When Darryl came home that night the notice was lying on the mail table, on the very top of a stack of mail. There was no way he could miss it.
Liza was sitting in the armchair in the living room, elbows on her knees, hands cupped over her mouth. She was staring blankly at the floor. She heard Darryl come in, but she didn’t acknowledge him. She waited to se what he would do.
He looked at the envelope, paused for only a moment, then picked it up and began to open it.
Liza closed her eyes. She did not want to witness this.
“My number’s been called.” His voice was perfectly calm, the kind of tone he would use to tell her the grocery store was out of milk.
Liza opened her eyes. His tone had jarred her, not quite to the point where she could deal with this, but at least to a point where she knew she couldn’t avoid it any longer.
“What are you going to do?” she said.
He flipped the paper over, checking to see if there was anything on the other side, but there was nothing.
“It says I have to go get a physical. Evaluate my fitness. There’s an address.”
He held it out for Liza to see, but she didn’t take it. She didn’t even look at it. She felt the way vampires must feel when someone holds up a cross.
Darryl pulled the paper back. “Are you mad?”
Liza’s eyes popped open and her eyebrows shot up as she said, “Am I mad? Why would I be mad?”
Darryl shrugged. “You seem like you’re mad. You haven’t looked at me since I got home.”
Liza looked at him and was flooded with all the emotions she had been avoiding. His brow was furrowed over his green eyes and Liza felt guilt stab her in the gut. She was being selfish. He was the one they were calling to fight overseas and she was making this about her.
She fought back tears and struggled to shake herself out of it. “I’m sorry, she said, getting out of the chair and reaching for him. “I’m not made. I’m just scared. Aren’t you scared?”
“Yeah, but I don’t see what good that’s going to do. I still have to go.”
Liza tried to smile and she squeezed his hands. He squeezed back and Liza took a deep breath. “So this is it,” she said.
“No, this is just the beginning,” said Darryl. “We have no way of knowing how this will end, so stop acting like I’m already dead.”
Liza couldn’t help but bark a laugh.
He put a hand on her cheek and she nestled into his caress.
Liza waited while Darryl had his physical. She pulled at a loose thread on her sweater. She crossed, uncrossed, and recrossed her legs. She hated to hope for her husband to be unhealthy, but she couldn’t help it. Not necessarily for him to be unhealthy, but maybe just to have a small abnormality that would render him unfit for service. Like flat feet.
When Darryl came out of the exam, Liza jumped to her feet, hoping.
Liza’s face fell right along with her heart. If she could have melted into the floor, she would have. She wanted to fall back into her chair, but she couldn’t do that to Darryl. However hard this was on her, it had to be much harder on him.
“I leave on Wednesday,” he said.
Liza stumbled backwards a step. She planted one foot behind her to keep from falling.
“So soon,” she said. It had a date. It was final.
Darryl nodded, his brow furrowed with concern as he studied her.
Liza felt another stab of guilt as she looked at those green eyes. She took a deep breath and said, “Alright. What do you want to do before you go?”
Darryl grinned. “I want to spend time with my best girl.”
So they spent time together. They went to drive-in movies and snuggled as they shared a box of popcorn. They went out to dinner. They stayed in to dinner. They spent time together, just the two of them, and they spent time with his friends and family.
The women tried not to cry. His mother failed. The men clapped him on the back and congratulated him, acting as though he had won some big award.
When the day came, Liza tried to act like it was just another day. Like he was just leaving to go on an extended business trip – never mind that Darryl had never been on a business trip in his life. He had never even been outside the state.
She walked him to the bus stop. She had offered to ride with him, but he had said there was no point in spending the money on another ticket. She knew he was right, even as she longed to spend every last minute with him.
They walked very slowly to the bus stop, holding hands. “I’m going to miss my bus,” Darryl said, as the stop drew near and Liza slowed her pace to a crawl.
Liza didn’t say anything. She gazed at their clasped hands without increasing her speed.
Darryl stopped walking, faced her, and taking her by the shoulders, turned her to face him. When she refused to look up, he held her chin and gently raised it until she was looking into those incredible green eyes. She waited, full of dread, for him to say something. She was afraid he was going to say “good-bye”, and then she would have to say “good-bye”, and she didn’t think she could do that. She should have insisted they include that as part of their wedding vows to each other: never say good-bye.
Darryl didn’t say anything. He bent to kiss her, and when their lips met, it was the softest, most tender kiss they had ever had, and that was saying something. Liza wanted to melt and wrap her arms around Darryl and hold him to her. She settled for resting her hands on his elbows while she savored the kiss. If she hugged him now, she would never let him go. He would have to go half-way around the world with her hanging off his neck, the embodiment of the ball-and-chain he sometimes liked to joke she was.
When Darryl pulled out of the kiss, Liza wanted to cry. He leaned his forehead against hers and cupped her face in his hands. “I’ll see you in a year,” he whispered.
Liza couldn’t hold back a sob after that.
He kissed her lightly on the forehead, hoisted the strap of his bag higher on his shoulder, and headed for the bus stop, just as the bus was pulling up to the curb.
It wasn’t until the bus was out of sight that Liza let loose all the tears she had been holding back.
To be continued …