Golden Slumbers

From the Story Arc: Year-Turning

Previous Story in the Arc: Truce by Victoria Victrix (Sunday, December 13, 2009)

Next Story in the Arc: Vodka Truffles by John Murdock (Thursday, December 17, 2009)

(posted Monday, December 14, 2009)

It was that time of year again. The anniversary. So far, Bella was holding up pretty well. She’d made up for the rotten economy by coming up with all kinds of fund-raisers for the “Make ‘Em Laugh” Foundation, and had more than made up the shortfall in donations—ok, it was at the cost of some sleep, but she didn’t sleep that much this time of year anyway. And it was kind of fun being the guest star of “Smurfs on Parade” for a couple weeks. Not that she liked Smurfs, but the little kids’ faces just lit up when a real hero was playing Smurfette. And she’d signed on for three different performances of “Messiah” and the Episcopal “Service of Lessons and Carols.” Not that she was religious or anything, but keeping her voice in singing trim required a lot of practice and when she was practicing she wasn’t crying.

But tonight…well, tonight she’d just run out of willpower, even to stay late working on CCCP paperwork. The Memorial was just on the other side of the wall, and she could feel the need to obsessively make sure his name and medals were polished.

She signed onto her email account.

Dear Zach. They keep telling me that as time passes, this will get easier. Sometimes it does, but right now…it feels like I lost you yesterday. I love you, baby. Always will. B.

She hit send and off it went to the account she refused to allow Waitron to cancel. Then she picked up Ivan-the-cat and went home. Ivan squirmed when she got off the teleporter pad in Atlas Park, so she put him down. People were used to seeing her with the enormous cat trotting at her side now. The Hellions were terrified of him, which seemed to amuse him.

With her head down and her hands shoved in her pockets she contemplated the various options for getting through the night. Then she remembered Astra’s gift. Reminds you of a time when you were completely happy… Would that be good, or bad? Good while she lost herself in memory, bad when she came out again, because she would have to come out. The truffles had probably better go in the freezer for a couple weeks.

The apartment was so quiet she could hear the fridge humming when she got inside. Ivan headed for his bowl to make sure it was full. Abandoned for the moment, she felt overwhelmed with the burden of grief; fighting it valiantly, she went straight to her bedroom, stripped out of her uniform, pulled on a fresh sleep-t, and got one of Zach’s shirts out of the closet. She turned out the lights, stumbled into bed and curled herself around it, breathing in the faint scent of him, not so much falling asleep as being bludgeoned into it by too much grief and not enough rest.

The shadow in the corner detached itself from the others, and moved soundlessly towards the bed. It appeared to look down on the sleeping woman, whose tears soaked into the pillow even as she slept. It bent over her, reaching for her…

Then it sighed, and smoothed one of the tears from her cheek. It sat down on the bed beside her, hand just substantial enough to stroke her hair.

If you had asked him, when you still could, Zach Marlowe would have told you he wasn’t much of a singer. That was all Bella’s thing. But Bella would have said differently and certainly the whisper of music was melodious enough.

Once there was a way to get back homeward.
Once there was a way to get back home.
Sleep, pretty darlin’, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby.

The cat saw the shadow sitting on the bed, and turned back around. The couch would do for now.

Golden slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles awake you when you rise,
Sleep, pretty darlin’, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby.

The room was utterly silent except for that faint thread of song. Even the noises from outside didn’t venture within the four walls.

Once there was a way to get back homeward.
Once there was a way to get back home.
Sleep, pretty darlin’, do not cry.
And I will sing a lullaby.

Finally Bella’s tears dried; she sighed in her sleep, and rubbed her cheek against the old shirt. The shadow bent over her, brushing her lips. Sleep, babycakes. Love you too. Always will.

Then it thinned and faded, and was gone.