The birds were singing and the sun was shining… right through the window and directly into his eyes, but Ben didn’t want to wake up. He didn’t feel any joy at the beautiful day there to greet him as he woke. He didn’t feel much of anything that he wanted to feel. A surge of anger almost made it’s way through the dark cloak of his grief. It carried with it the thought that there shouldn’t be any more days that looked like this, so bright and cheerful. He would feel more at home in the world now if there were never anything but gray skies and howling stormy wind. At least that would hold a chill biting enough to excuse that which he felt.
Lifting his head Ben rubbed his face and looked over at Donna, her eyes red rimmed even in sleep. Face pale and hollow that anger flickered again shining a little stronger through suffocating grief. Her own the only thing to match it. Throwing an arm over her he buried face against sleep-warmed shoulder, pressed his lips and for a moment almost forgot to feel the aching sorrow. But just as he was narrowing the world down to nothing more than that soft warm shoulder and the sweet tickle of fine shampoo-scented hair catching on his cheek so in need of shaving, she whimpered in her sleep.
Both the name and the wrenching-sad tone of the sleeping breath that carried it shot through him like an icy bullet. It crashed his reverie right back into the ocean of cold grief and roiling helplessness. It was a struggle for him not to echo with a whimper of his own. Or a sob. Or to wake her knowing she must be dreaming. Strange in a way that should be comforting but wasn’t really, he thought it might be good that at least even in a bad dream their son was with her again. Even if that dream was so bad as to relive the baby’s death all over again. Careful not to wake her, he moved from the bed.
Walking into the kitchen, nails nearly to the quick scratched at stubble of chin and cheek. The morning silence replaced by that rough whispering sound. That quiet that used to portent a good day now sounded oppressive. If he hadn’t already decided not to wake Donna, he would have slammed cabinet doors and banged pots and pans to extinguish that silence. Instead he remained quiet even though the weight of it progressively grew.
Straightening the picture of Luke’s first steps that was set behind a slightly tacky fridge-frame, he wished for even the ticking of an old-fashioned clock. With only the overly polite digital clock built into the microwave which without a sound to draw attention to itself was ignored, and there was nothing to let him realize how long he stared at the small snapshot. Luke’s mouth open in a joyful squeal Ben thought he could hear it just remembering but was already forgetting exactly how it sounded. He wouldn’t realize that until the next time he watched the all too small handful of home movies they had managed to take. The thing that really struck him about the snapshot now was the happiness on Donna’s face as she sat several steps ahead of Luke. Ben realized just then that he’d forgotten how far beyond beautiful Donna’s smile was. But staring at that picture he was transfixed by it and caught with a sharper ache. He wanted to see her that happy again but couldn’t imagine either of them making it halfway back to how Then felt. Sliding his hand over it he left it just as askew as it had been before straightening it moments ago.
There was a frown on his face as he opened the refrigerator door a little faster than he should have. The condiments inside the door rattled. He blamed himself. It had seemed like the sensible choice to live as naturally as possible. They had embraced it both of them. It had made so much goddamn sense to avoid the additives and preservatives, the pesticides, to guard against pollutants and chemicals, to live naturally, to do things Right. They had thought they were doing everything right. Donna had breastfed, she had used the filter masks since day one of the pregnancy and they had even gone organic and gotten rid of every unnatural item. They had fallen hook line and sinker for the whole damn Biotics philosophy.
Fucking lot of good it had done the venomous thought spat through his mind with an almost literal rattle and hiss. It was the goddamn silence that was leaving such quiet calm room for his thoughts to rile themselves up this way. Reaching into the cabinet he knew he wasn’t going to be able to take it much longer. He started to race his mind for ways to escape it. Radio, television, any real noise at all was out, it would just wake Donna and her waking hours were no better than his. Reaching into the cabinet he found reason to escape it. His coffee container was empty.
He didn’t remember when he’d had the last cup but he didn’t waste time to do more than just mimic a semblance of being dressed. Heading outside he didn’t bother checking the contaminant meter or stopping for more than his shoes, leaving his mask hanging forgotten on it’s peg beside the door where it had hung untouched, purposefully ignored, since the last time they had taken Luke to the hospital.
The street wasn’t any different now than it had been that afternoon. A few people were on the sidewalk, either while they hurried to and from doorways, cars or just fidgeted as they waited for the bus. One of those absently scratched at hives rising on arms from either exhaust, pollen or even a sunlight allergy. Ben’s own eyes started to itch just from walking past the florist shop on the corner, even though it had installed a second set of doors in attempt to prevent such irritations to the sensitive.
Stepping through Java Tonic’s door his nose was tickled by the rich aroma of coffee mingled sharply with an array of vaguely chemical odors softened only slightly by the thicker herbal smell. He only nodded while going up to the counter and a friend of Donna’s spotted him, calling out to him. Waving with smiles that though probably innocuous he told himself, lit that small spark of anger already flickering on and off this morning. He ignored it as he ordered “a large dark roast with the basic boost, black with three sweeteners and a medium superplus anti-tox, light, just one sweetener. Oh and make it extra happy.” The pharmarista nodded only asking “prescription or-” Ben shook his head “over the counter” nodding as he was told “that’s not gonna be all that happy.”
“That’ll be fine” pretty sure that Donna would be upset if she knew he was having just over the counter anti-depressants added to her blend, he wasn’t even going to suggest she try to get a prescription.
While he waited for the coffees he heard Helen and Evan come over and hover near the counter beside him “Hey Ben” the overly skinny brunette smiled and touched his arm “how’s Donna? We haven’t seen her in ages.”
He had never seen Helen wear a filter mask and she wasn’t wearing one now. Even though it was pretty clear that she could have used one, though the perpetual redness of her eyes might have been self-inflicted. He didn’t bring up the fact that ‘ages’ apparently was only three months now. He only said “you could have if you’d come to the funeral. It was yesterday” he didn’t bother to be nice about it.
Helen seemed to have grown even more oblivious than ever as she shook her head “funerals are depressing, would you tell her to return my messages.” She laughed.. actually laughed as she added “or I’m going to start thinking she’s blowing us off.”
“Maybe it’s just you Helen” he felt a tense throbbing knot form between his eyebrows.
“Hold on there” Evan interjected “it’s not Helen’s fault that you and Donna-”
Ben not only stepped out of line and glared at him but didn’t let him finish . Though ironically by demanding, daring Evan to finish what he’d started to say “What? You got something to say?”
“All I’m saying is that you owe Helen an apology. If you had any sense at all, you might see that it was probably for the be-”
That low-pulsing spark of anger he’d woken up with flared and something snapped as with a clenching fist flying to do the shutting up, Ben didn’t let him finish that word.
Evan reeled back only to lunge forward with a swing of his own. Both of them grappling and swinging sent the rest of Java Tonic’s patrons, Helen included, scurrying out of the way. A couple of the employees behind the counter rushed to break them up or at least shout for them to get out of the place while others stood shocked. It only took one to call the police.
Donna had woken halfway through a sliding stretch that reached for where Ben was no longer laying asleep. Pushing herself up and looking around and toward the door she called out “Ben?” Pausing a moment to suffer the disappointment of hearing no reply before pushing covers aside she stood from bed. Leaning out of the bedroom door she called out again “Ben?” She couldn’t help feeling a little upset, a little bit angry for some unreasoning reason that he had left her sleeping alone. Even telling herself that it was well past ridiculous to be thinking like that, it lingered.
Sighing as she came into the kitchen and found it too empty. Sitting at the table she turned her head with another sigh and rested chin in the palm of her hand, elbow on the back of the chair. Achy red eyes gazing out the window at the sky colored too bright a blue and cluttered with overstuffed clouds. Much like it had for Ben, the loveliness of the day sparked anger for Donna as well. The clouds reminded her of that cream-colored teddy bear still sitting in the now useless crib down the hall. A sky like that was straight out of a million children’s books. She was sure there were at least three in Luke’s room that had identical pictures. It was so unfair that she couldn’t read them too him anymore, so unfair that he couldn’t see the sky anymore.
As that thought went through her mind it tore her heart along the way. Lifting head and hand to rest fingertips lightly on brow with a long shaky breath she managed to keep the tears at bay. It felt as though all she ever did was cry, even when she wasn’t shedding any tears.
Turning her head at the sound of her cell’s ring tone set too loud, she practically jumped out of the chair without leaving it. Only finding feet on the floor to cross it, she answered and was only momentarily comforted to hear Ben’s voice.
“I’m sorry Donna, I.. I got in a fight and got arrested” he said and paused, feeling sick to let her down like this, ashamed and barely able to ask “would you come down and bail me out?”
Donna’s stomach sunk with stunned shock and she mumbled something that barely registered to herself as the words stumbled off her tongue before she hung up the phone.