By Audrey Kosla, TIWP Student
Snow drifted lazily around in the cold outside Bill’s living room window. The first snow of the year, blanketing the world in a layer of white, not that he cared. Three years prior, Bill’s wife had passed away. Not by any sort of illness, as far as he knew of, just old age. She died peacefully and had lived a long and happy life, but Bill took it very hard. They had been best friends along with spouses, two complete halves of a whole. Bill and Martha had done everything together, traveled, explored, gone grocery shopping, learned how to use a phone with not much success. They were soulmates, anyone who saw them together could tell. Martha was outgoing while Bill was shy, she making sure he went out of his comfort zone, while he made sure she wasn’t too outspoken with strangers. Without Martha, something was missing. A piece of himself was gone. He hadn’t traveled since, could barely force himself outside other than for the bare necessities, and his past shyness had turned into bitterness, her loss weighing him down every step he took. As the holidays approached, his despair turned into the gut-wrenching grief that the merry times had brought over the past years. Christmas had been Bill and Martha’s happiest time, singing carols even though they were far outdated, and going to their town’s annual Christmas dinner at the town hall. They would always bring their famous homemade apple pie, something that everyone in the village looked forward to. Bill had barely been able to look at apples since her death, let alone bring himself to make the best part of Christmas. As the dreaded holiday grew closer every day, Bill was preparing to do as he normally did on December 25th, close his blinds, lock his door, and sit inside eating whatever leftovers he had from the week prior.
The week of her death, neighbors, friends, and family had come to the funeral, which had been a relatively small service. Bill hadn’t been able to speak, too overcome with grief to get any words out. For weeks after, he would do something that he knew Martha would laugh at and tease him for, she was always laughing at everything, never a frown seen upon her lovely face. It would make the memory of her fresh in his mind, and the grief would come back as if had never gone away.
For a while, people would wonder why he was rarely seen in the village anymore, or when he was, why he didn’t speak to anyone, and went as quickly as possible to do whatever task he needed to do, always with a frown, huffing at everyone who tried to help him. Neighbors would come to his door to see if he was doing fine, to which he would just gruffly tell them to go away and shut the door. After three years of this behavior, people stopped trying. The occasional few would still come and make sure he was okay now and then, but other than that, the village let him go about his business.
Now, the day before the night of Christmas eve, the night where Bill and Martha would be starting to make their famous apple pie, getting flour and cinnamon all over their kitchen while laughing at their mistakes, Bill was doing all that he could to ignore the sights of Christmas around him. The swaying of the trees, the snow that fell from the sky, the lights that lit up neighbor’s houses.
After sitting around and staring at the fireplace for some time, he needed something to distract him from the gloom, so he picked up an unfinished book and started reading. A few pages in and his thoughts consumed him again, so that he was just flipping pages idly, without really seeing them. He set down the book with a sigh and decided that the least he could do was make the house look nicer, maybe it would even brighten his mood. The floors were rather dusty, so he tried to find a broom. He couldn’t remember the last time he had swept, the broom tucked away somewhere in the closet full of miscellaneous items in the kitchen. Bill opened the door to a wave of dust and was searching around for a broom when he came across a box, a tattered, red velvet one that he hadn’t seen in years. He knew that it was the one that was full of picture albums of the five decades that Martha and he had been married all kept in one box, carefully organized by year. Forgetting all about his task, he gazed at the box, a wave of grief that he was trying so hard to avoid hitting him again. Unable to resist, he sat down on the couch, box in hand, and knowing the pain that it would cause, he still opened the dusty, tattered top slowly. Inside, as had been expected, were the normal photo albums, along with Christmas cards from family and friends underneath. He pulled out the top one, saw that it was from their wedding day, and quickly set it down next to him on the couch, unable to resist the memories of that happy day flooding back to him. He looked through the box some more, laughing for the first time in a while at the funny Christmas cards that they had kept, before coming across an unopened letter underneath one of the albums. The seal looked like it had been broken, and then shut again, and was heavy with multiple pieces of paper. Strange, Bill thought, he didn’t remember ever keeping this card. He flipped it over to the other side to see who it was addressed to, and his eyes widened slightly, and then became blurry with tears.
Billy, the card said. Only one person had ever called him Billy. One person.
With shaking hands, he turned it over and opened the already broken seal. It was dated a few weeks before Martha’s death, a few weeks before his life completely fell apart.
I would just like to start this letter by saying that I’m sorry. I know the pain that you must have been suffering these past few days, and I hate to be the one to have caused it.
Bill stopped. These past few days? Martha must have meant for him to have received this days after her passing, but why would she have needed to give him a letter in the first place? He shook his head in confusion and kept on reading.
I must confess, the day I went to the doctor’s office, it wasn’t for just an annual checkup. I had been feeling very under the weather, I just didn’t want to worry you because you seemed so happy to finally be rid of that awful job and retire, and I didn’t want to be the one to spoil that. When I went to that doctor, they told me that I had pneumonia, and it would only get worse with time. I planned on telling you at some point, I wanted to, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t want you to obsess about it in the few weeks I had left. So I didn’t, and I just lived life with you for as long as I could.
Bill remembered those weeks. They had traveled to the most amazing places and given out cookies and candy to all the kids in town just for the fun of it. He just always assumed she was happy he had finally quit his job, never anything more.
And we did, we had so much fun those weeks. It was the best ending I could have asked for. I love you Billy, and even in death, I will never stop. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the years to come, whether you will move on with life, and maybe find someone else that makes you just as happy as we made each other. Whatever ends up happening I wanted to remind you to keep on living. We have relied on each other for so long, Billy. The bad moments, the good, we have always stood by each other’s side, and been the laughter and the comfort and the happiness together, but when I’m gone, you need to find it within yourself to be that person for you. I will always be with you, and I know that that’s the type of cheesy line we like to laugh at, but for this one time, it’s true. I will be with you when you grieve, which I hope you do. I will be there when you finally laugh again, and go outside and see friends and neighbors. I will be there when you board a plane, and finally, travel to all the places that you wanted to go, but your job held you back from. When you experience the rest of your life, I will be there with you every step of the way. And when that moment comes, when you too, find your time to pass, hopefully after living in happiness, and not grief, I will be waiting for you wherever we are spit out after we stop living life. I know that we will see each other again, Billy. It’s rare for someone to find a soulmate, but we did, and somehow we will find our way back to each other, even if it takes eternity. I have never loved someone as much as I have loved you, and will forever and always, even in death.
Goodbye Billy. I can’t wait to see you again.
P.S. I know that you tend to be forgetful and ignore the things that bring back memories of pain but keep our traditions alive for me, they are what make us so special.
At this point, tears were streaming down Bill’s face rapidly, and he felt like that weight that had been sitting on his chest for three years had finally been lifted. Closure, that’s what he missed when she passed away, he never fully found a place to heal. But now, he had it, her words filling him with so much love and hope for the years to come, and Billy vowed that he would never let one moment pass in grief ever again. He would live, and then tell Martha all about it someday, just like she asked.
He set down the letter, and was still holding the envelope when the second piece of paper fell out. Titled along the top were the words, Apple Pie, and Bill smiled, even gone, she still always got everything right.
Still smiling he got up, and for the first time in three years, Bill picked up an apple and started cutting.