Take a summer trip with me today somewhere far away from reality and the neighborhood. This piece of flash fiction won second place in the 2nd Annual Faith Radio Writers Contest in July 2014 and was published in Splickety Prime in September 2014. Enjoy!
In many ways, it made perfect sense to tear out the walls down to the studs. Beatrice needed the change, the newness. Even the old drywall reminded her of Hank. Was renovating a bathroom such a big deal? For years, he’d said so. She remembered the last time she’d asked.
“Don’t have the money right now,” he said, a sneer playing on his lip.
“But I’ve put away a little.” Beatrice pulled a wad of cash from her bathrobe pocket. What she meant was “enough.”
“Where’d you get that?” He peered at her through squinted eyes, his mouth hard.
“Some from the rummage sale a couple years ago. Some from gifts. My birthday, Christmas, you know.”
“You been keeping that when the door needed fixing? And my truck got that ding?” He extended his hand. “I’ll take that.”
Her smile faded, and she dropped the roll of cash into his palm.
He counted out the bills, keeping the number to himself.
“What about the bathroom?”
He snorted. “What about the bathroom?”
After thirty-five years of marriage, she was used to his sarcasm. It didn’t slice into her any more, but his mimicry still ripped her to the core. She turned away, hot tears spilling down her cheeks. Her teeth clenched.
That was the last time she’d asked about the bathroom. And only four months before he was gone.
Now she watched the handyman. Dust thickened the air as the man hacked through the walls. Hank’s walls. Now hers.
Hank. She recalled the day of his funeral.
“Did you know he had heart problems?” her friend asked, standing near the casket.
“Most of the men in his family went that way,” Beatrice said. “He never got checked.”
“Well, I’m sorry. So sudden.”
Well-wishers told her what a guy he was—how solid, how predictable. She nodded and accepted all the hugs paid out to her.
Her grown daughter stared at Hank’s body. “He never wore a suit in real life. Why now?” Krista had her dad’s way, his eyes.
“They just do that. It’s an expectation.”
“Well, it’s stupid. This looks nothing like him.”
Beatrice gave her a half-hug before more people pressed in around her.
“He sure had a way about him. That sense of humor,” one of his buddies said.
Beatrice frowned, trying to remember his humor. Hank breathed earth’s air just last week, and she couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember him.
In the sanctuary, the pastor talked about life, about being reunited with Hank one day. Beatrice wondered…
When the service ended, six of Hank’s buddies carried his body away. Her gaze trailed after the casket. There he goes.
As people filed out, she deserted her pew and walked into the room where the refreshments would be served. Ham on buns, potato salad, pickles, cake. Hank’s favorites. She made her way into the church’s kitchen, tied on an apron, and busied herself filling the platters.
“What are you doing back here, honey?” a woman asked.
“Serving,” Beatrice said.
“Not today. You sit down. But take some food first.”
“But I’m on the schedule.”
“Not at your own husband’s funeral.”
Beatrice took off the apron and hung it up again. Now what?
The evening of the funeral, emptiness warmed the house. Krista had bolted after the burial. Beatrice understood. She wanted to be alone too. She had refused her friends’ offers to stay with her.
Beatrice walked from room to room and inhaled the quiet, the peace. When she reached the bathroom, she sat on the closed toilet lid and stared at the faded blue wall—imagined it gone. The red tape had been pulled away, the shackles unclasped.
She waited out the weekend and on Monday morning made the call. “I’d like to have my bathroom renovated.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s passing. We read about it in the paper and—”
“Could you come this week and do it?”
“We do an estimate first. That’s how it works. But we can take care of it this week. It’s the least we can do.”
“Okay. Any day is fine.”
Beatrice thought she had enough credit on one card to cover it.
Now excitement bubbled through her as she watched the demolition. The crumbling walls.
“What on earth?” The handyman stopped and squatted to the ground.
“What?” She edged closer, her mouth going dry. Through the dust, she eyed bundles—many bundles—of something.
He turned toward her, clutching dusty handfuls of green bills held together by rubber bands. “And there’s more.”
Among the stacks once hidden away in the wall, Beatrice spied a single roll of cash—her cash—and the hole that led into Hank’s closet.
She swallowed, her eyes wide. It was never about the money. Only about the walls.
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