Wilson stared at the blinking cursor and couldn’t think of a thing to write. His brain seemed frozen, unable to articulate one creative thought. All he could do was lean back on his swivel chair and let his gaze wander around the room. A midsized wooden bookshelf with five extra books arranged awkwardly on top. Lamp, coffee mug, printer, window, landscape painting hanging slightly crooked, dusty calculator, a crumpled stack of receipts, notepad, frogman…the one Sami had given him on Father’s Day—
Searing pain clutched his innards. He closed his eyes and turned away. “This will kill me. A month after the funeral, and I’m still a mess.” He heaved himself out of his chair and paced across the room. He stopped at the doorway. Where could he go? To the kitchen? What for? He had no appetite. The thought of food made him nauseous. To the living room? Why? The couch was empty. No stuffed animals. No half-completed pictures. No 4th-grade math book shoved under the pillow.
His phone buzzed. Clenching his jaw, he returned to his desk and snatched up the phone. “Yeah!” He knew he sounded like an angry bull, but hell, he couldn’t help it. He was angry. Disgustingly, furiously, blindingly angry.
“Wil?” Camilla, his wife. She sounded strong. Too strong. Damn. She had no right to be strong. He swallowed and sucked in his cheeks as if chewing his own flesh might help him maintain a modicum of composure.
“Yeah, honey, what’s up?” His shoulders sagged as weariness enveloped him.
“I’m at the grocery store, and I forgot the list…could you get it for me and read it off as I go along?”
Before he could give his brain any formal directions, Wilson found his feet padding into the kitchen. Yep, sure enough, there was the list, written in his wife’s beautiful but tiny cursive. He’d be lucky if he could read it. “Got it.” He squeezed the phone between his chin and his shoulder and held the list out with both hands, far enough to read but not as steady as he would’ve liked.
Her voice calm and parental enunciated her next request. “Great. I made it past the chips and cracker aisle and now I’m stuck between peanut butter and cereal.”
Wilson frowned and leaned against the counter. “Yeah? It says peanut butter and cereal on here…” He shook his head. “Look, you’ve done this every week for years; you’ve got to have the entire store mapped in your head. Dang it, woman, you could do this in your sleep.”
Wilson’s heart began to pound. “Honey?”
It was the softest sniffle in the world, but it nearly crushed Wilson’s will to live.
Camilla’s voice wavered through the air, into the phone, and pierced Wilson’s broken heart. “I just don’t know which peanut butter or what cereal…”
Flummoxed, Wilson felt a scream rise from his chest. “The ones you always get.”
A ragged breath brushed his ear and sent prickles of terror racing down his spine. “But we always got crunchy…because that’s what Sami—”
“Oh, God!” The phone clattered to the floor.
Waves smashed against his composure, heaving rocks at his innards. Black water smothered his airways. Vaguely in the distance, he could hear his wife’s plaintive voice calling from the floor.
“Wil? Please, I need to know. What kind of peanut butter? What cereal do I get—?”
Every ounce of his body wanted to grind the phone into smithereens with his heel, but his hands chose differently. He dropped down on a kitchen chair and pressed the phone to his ear. Camilla was crying. There were no sobs or wails. But he knew. She was probably just standing there in the middle of the aisle gripping the cart with one hand while tears poured down her face.
He leaned on one hand and waited. Muffled conversation rose over the distance. Camilla was talking to someone. Another woman…soothing words, a gentle tone… He pressed the phone harder. “Who the—?”
A voice rose. “Lost my son five years ago…hell on earth. Couldn’t pass his bedroom without breaking down and forget going out in public. Took me a whole year before I could go shopping by myself. Terrible. Yes, it is. God have mercy on parents who lose a child. Doesn’t matter how it happens…or how old. Just hell.”
Tears streamed down Wilson’s face and meandered over the phone before they fell like miniature pools on the smooth kitchen tabletop. Then, like a tidal wave on the rise, his shoulders heaved and his whole body rocked with searing, overwhelming pain. God, the pain.
After a few moments, still clutching the phone, he heard Camilla sniff. And then a sigh. An embarrassed—giggle? “Cam, what’s going on?” Wilson sat up.
A distant conversation. “Yeah, I’m okay now. Thanks.” Camilla blew her nose. Loudly.
Wilson’s eyes widened. He wiped his face with the back of his hand.
Teardrops smeared the phone. Wilson snatched a paper napkin, wiped it down, fumbled, and then smashed it against his ear again. “Yeah. You okay, honey?”
“No. But I’m…better.”
He could imagine her shyly ducking her head, winding a strand of hair behind her ear.
“A lady here…she understood…gave me a hug. It’s what I needed.”
Wilson nodded as his tears flowed again. He choked out his words. “So what’re you going to do?”
Camilla cleared her throat and undoubtedly squared her shoulders. “She suggested I try the smooth peanut butter and pick out a new cereal, one we never had before. So I grabbed a banana-strawberry granola mix.” Her voice dropped low, like a child begging for understanding. “Will that be okay?”
Wilson sniffed and grabbed another napkin. He wiped his nose. “Sure, honey. That’s perfect.” He swallowed back the ache in his throat and sat up. He fumbled for the list. “You want to do the rest of the shopping now or come home?”
Camilla’s voice steadied. “I’ll keep going…as long as you stay with me.”
“Course, honey. We’ll just take it one aisle at a time…”
A half hour later, Wilson returned to his desk. The curser was still blinking. He lifted his hand over the keys and tapped out five words.
One Aisle at a Time…
Books by A. K. Frailey
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OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ
OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI
OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)
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It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz
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The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S
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Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8