I know this might be tiresome for many but I have been revising this short piece of fiction for several hours now and have decided to post it instead of writing something else on my blog tonight. The first four paragraphs of the story are much the same, but then the story takes a turn in paragraph five. If you don’t have the heart to read this again, then no worries. For any who do and are so inclined, please let me know if this story works. If you are not inclined, then that’s okay too. It is very hard to gain perspective on a story that you’ve been staring out for several hours. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, then please let me know if it feels contrived, predictable, just flat, or something else. Stories take time to come into being and some need more work than others. This one may very well be in that latter category.
Here’s to a lovely evening. May you rest well.
I’ll be checking back in again tomorrow.
Mary Louise awoke at 3 am to the distinct smell of bacon frying. For just one moment, she wondered what John was doing up so early, then she remembered. John was not up early, he was dead, and had been now for the past 49 days. The worst 49 days of her life since she’d walked into their study and found him in his armchair, skin cold, eyes staring off at some distant point on the far wall, the victim of a defective heart valve that no doctor had noticed in John’s thirty-two years on earth.
The bacon smell grew stronger. “What in the world?” she mumbled as she slipped on her robe and headed for the staircase. The house was dark save for a dim lamp burning in the upstairs hall and she leaned over the stair rail to see if she saw a light under the door in the kitchen. She didn’t, but curiosity propelled her forward. She tiptoed down the stairs, avoiding the steps she knew creaked.
Off in the distance, she heard a siren and stiffened. Maybe the police were in search of the very person who had broken into her kitchen. She crept past the kitchen door and headed for the hall closet where she kept a pistol. She thought perhaps she should telephone the police. Yes, of course, that is exactly what she should do, a woman alone in an old two-story Victorian home. But first, she decided to put her ear against the kitchen door to determine if she could hear any activity. Silence. Even the bacon smell, which still wafted in the air, was beginning to wane.
Mary Louise screwed up her courage, held the pistol steady as she had been trained to do by John himself, and pushed the door open with her foot. It banged against the far wall, making her jump, but the overhead light she flipped on revealed only an empty kitchen with everything neat and tidy just as she’d left it. The chain was still securely fastened on the back door and her rain boots were undisturbed right in front of the door. She peered out the kitchen window. The garage light glowed, revealing nothing.
“I must be losing my mind,” she muttered as she headed back upstairs. Just as she reached the top step, Mary Louise saw a man sprawled on the wicker chair in the hall, his face hidden in the shadows. She screamed, scrambled down the stairs and ran out her front door to the house across the street. “Help me!” she yelled as she pounded on the door. A minute later, Morrie, her beloved neighbor, opened the door and let her in.
“What’s happened, child?” Morrie asked as Mary Louise collapsed into his arms, shivering with fear. “A man — in my house— call the police!”
The police came, searched Mary Louise’s house, found no evidence of any break-in and suggested in as kind a tone as they could muster that she was, after all, a grieving widow and maybe, just maybe, her imagination had been playing tricks on her.
By the time they left, Mary Louise was feeling indignant. “How dare they treat me like I’m some hysterical woman,” she snapped at Morrie, who had dutifully remained through the house search and was sitting at the kitchen table. “I mean I couldn’t have made up that bacon smell, for God’s sake. How would I ever come up with that on my own?”
Morrie patted her hand. “The mind can do some pretty amazing things, my dear. Right after Ruth died, I’d been sitting in the living room watching television when all of a sudden, I’d smell her homemade chocolate chip cookies baking in the kitchen.” He smiled, then wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. “Oh god, I loved smelling those cookies baking. Made me feel close to her.”
You don’t smell them anymore?”
“No. Now I’m in a better place. Then I was still raw from the loss.” He smiled sheepishly. “I like to think it was Ruth’s way of letting me know she was close.” He stood up and headed to the front door. “Call if you need anything,” he said, then gave her a hug. “I will be over like a shot.“
Mary Louise watched as Morrie ambled slowly back to his house. “Sweet man,” she muttered, then turned off the porch light.
“He is sweet,” a male voice said softly behind her.
Mary Louise wheeled around to see the same figure that had been sprawled on her wicker chair upstairs, but this time he was standing near her, his face illuminated by the table lamp. “John?”
“Hey, Doll Face.”
“But—but—how are you here?”
He shrugged. “Not quite sure about the how, but I’m here to say a proper good-bye.”
“A proper good-bye?”
“Yea, I didn’t get to do that before and that just wasn’t the right way to make my exit.”
“You know, die. Move off into the ether. Head up into the Great Unknown. After seeing your face when you found me, I felt so bad. So unsettled. I just couldn’t leave without saying a few words to you.”
You saw me?”
“Yea, who knew that’s the way this works, eh? But, yea, it was like I was floating above my body and saw you come in. That look on your face, aw, that stricken look has haunted me.”
“Haunted you? No irony there.”
John laughed. “Did you make the connection with the bacon smell?”
Mary Louise looked puzzled.
“You mean when you brought me breakfast in bed? Oh, of course! I told you how much I loved the bacon smell when I woke up.”
John looked pleased. “That was my way of letting you know I was around.”
“You mean like Ruth with Morrie?”
“Just like Ruth with Morrie.”
“But Morrie doesn’t smell the cookies anymore.”
“No, because Ruth has moved on in her journey just like I need to do.”
“But you just got here!”
“Well, actually, I’ve been lingering, but today is the day I have to go.”
“No! You can’t leave.” Mary Louise sank down on the nearby sofa, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I can’t stand the idea of losing you again!”
John’s face softened. “You are smart and funny and brave and kind. You can stand it and you will move forward and have a happy life.”
“But what about us?” her voice barely a whisper.
John leaned down and brushed her forehead with a wisp of a kiss. “Love never dies. Our souls are connected forever.”
Mary Louise slept with a deep sense of peace.