by Lee Hamblin
Today, just as she has every one of the last fifty-six mornings, Phylis Hutson walks the mile and a quarter to the store.
There’s never a need to dress up nice or fix her hair. Sometimes she even forgoes brushing her teeth, figuring there’s nobody gonna notice anyway.
Come rain, come shine, she plants one foot down on the sidewalk, then the other, again the first, again the other: steps taken one by one.
Every morning she buys a carton of half and half, even though she’s got a refrigerator at home and that at the store is probably the same delivery they got seven days previous.
The handsome young cashier, furnished with street confident tramlines and dreams yet to fade, looks at her then turns his eyes inward. He knows her story. He doesn’t know what exactly he should say, so he says nothing at all. He hands her her change and counts his blessings.
She walks slowly, familiar with the pattern of the cracks in the concrete, the distance between crossroads, the thrum of others: of other mothers’ children so alive with laughter and tears.
She walks slow enough that by the time she returns, her husband, just as he did yesterday and the fifty-five days before, will politely decline her offer of coffee, and tell her he’ll easier grab one on the way to the garage where he works seven days a week.
Truth is, he’d work eight if he could.
Soon as she’s back, he’ll leave for work, telling her he loves her, though not yet able to hold her close for fear of cracking.
He’s management now, though for the last month he’s been spending time on the workshop floor amongst the guys: flexing his muscles, beating door panels, straightening out fenders crushed by collision: tight-jawed pounding, hammering and loathing.
He comes home at six. Sometimes Phylis detects a hint of whisky on his breath that never used to be.
Phylis closes the curtains, wipes away a memory, and lights the solitary white candle sat in the center of the table. She sets the plates down. They eat together with the radio on too low to hear. They choose their words carefully, as if strangers on a train. Ed finishes his food in moments and stares into space. Phylis says she was not that hungry anyway and slides her plate away.
Ed washes the dishes, as he always does, then tells her he’s had another real busy day, that he’s awfully tired, and would she mind if he …
“Of course not, honey,” she cuts in. He heads on upstairs, though not without bidding her goodnight and kissing her forehead lightly.
Phylis hears the squeaks of taps opening, the water running, the toilet flushing, the taps shutting, the floorboards creaking, the bedroom door quietly closing.
She listens to the silence, stares at the candle’s flicker, and asks herself the same question she did yesterday and all the days before. She never gets an answer.
One day, she thinks, when she’s ready, she’ll walk right on past the store where she buys half and half. Though this time it’ll be a warm summer’s evening, under a star sprinkled sky. She’ll wear a pretty dress, do her hair neat, brighten her lips. Ed’ll come too. He’ll wear that trilby with the black ribbon, a nice suit, his best pair of brogues. They’ll hold hands, stop outside the chapel, listen to the angels singing within.
One day, she hopes, when she’s ready, she’ll once again sing of love.
Lee Hamblin is a Londoner living in Greece for the last decade. He’s had stories published with Ellipsis Zine, Flash Frontier, Spelk, Reflex, F(r)iction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Platform For Prose, Sick Lit and STORGY. Coming soon: Bath Flash Anthology, Fictive Dream and Stories For Homes Volume 2. He tweets @kali_thea and puts words here: https://hamblin1.wordpress.com.