It was one of those evenings where 8PM seems like midnight because the days have gotten shorter and you get tired earlier and feel like the life is being sucked out of you. Margaret felt the ebb of life leaving her as she tied her dressing gown on and walked into the bathroom and began her nightly routine. As she stared at her reflection in the mirror, she wondered how she and Ralph had gotten so old. She saw her wrinkles and the dark bags under her eyes and thought of Ralph’s thinning hair and bloated paunch. They hadn’t always been that way. They had not, by any means, been models, but they also had not been this—old and fat.
She hated him working second shift at the forge. She didn’t mind eating dinner alone, and she got to watch the TV programs that she wanted, but she hated going to bed alone. Even if they weren’t as touchy-feely as they once were, there was something warm and comforting about them rubbing elbows as they brushed their teeth together; it was reassuring to have his belly brush against her back as he moved to the toilet; it was calming to talk together about the days’ events as she sat on the edge of the tub clipping her toenails. It wasn’t so much that she disliked doing those things by herself, but when she was there, alone in the dark, it was so… lonely. She longed for the security and comfort that his familiarity brought with it.
As she disrobed, she climbed into bed and felt her cotton PJ’s bunch up against the sheets. She used her toes to pull the hem of her PJ pants down while fluffing the comforter as she pulled it up to her chin. Those few moments where you feel the cool of the sheets touch you before your body heat warms them always gave her goose bumps. She sighed, pulled the chain on the lamp, and rolled onto her side, facing the wall. The inky darkness played tricks on her un-adjusted eyes, and she could see faint wisps of color dancing in front of her like the aurora borealis—flashes of greens and blues playing on her optic nerves.
As her breathing slowed and she allowed the cool darkness to slowly give way to warmer gray, she heard the key in the front door, then she heard the click of the latch and those familiar, heavy footfalls moving down the hallway, past the living room and towards the bedroom in their small duplex.
“It must’ve been a light night at the forge. You’re home early. I thought that you would have to wake me with a kiss,” she called to him as she heard him approaching the doorway. The soft pile of the carpet masked the trail that she knew he must be taking towards the bathroom. The light clicked on and she heard water running. The rectangle of yellow light projected onto the wall in front of her dispelled the gray half-real objects that had been playing in her vision.
“Must’ve been a bad night. You’re always quiet after a bad shift. I really hate second shift, too. It’s not the same without you here. I hate it.” The light switched off and she felt his substantial body slide into the sheets. Her side had just become warm, but she felt the cold of his hands and feet as they slid next to her. “It must be turning chilly out there! You’re freezing cold! I swear, Ralph, I was just getting comfortable!”
She almost jumped as the phone on the nightstand rang. She fumbled for the pull chain on the lamp as the phone continued ringing. “Hello?”
“Hello, Marge? It’s Jay, down at the forge. Listen—I” sirens cut through the static of the phone line. “Listen, Marge, there’s been an awful accident. It’s Ralph….” Margaret straightened, her heart pumping, a lump forming high in her throat. “Marge, I’m afraid… I’m afraid he—he didn’t make it, Marge. I’m so sorry, I….”
Marge tried to set the phone down, but it slipped off the nightstand and thumped to the floor. She grabbed the blanket so tight her knuckles turned white. Her breathing stopped. With eyes wide, she haltingly turned her head, begrudgingly fixing her eyes on the other side of the bed. And screamed.
A. Stump has always loved fiction, but only recently taken to writing it. His penchant is for tales of suspense, terror, and the macabre subtleties found in everyday life. His greatest skill lies in telling stories of the mundane, infused by supernatural oddity. He holds degrees in Sociology, Anthropology, and Divinity. He lives near Erie, Pa and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.