by A.E. Escence

I have nothing, at least nothing that matters much anymore. The scene replays over and over in my head; taunting me, inviting me to let it in, to feel it.

I sit at his bedside, staring at the unmade bed. The pillow is thrown against the wall, folded in half and shoved in a corner, the comforter balled up at the end of the mattress, the sheet nowhere to be found.

He was always an active sleeper. He would get so hot at night that sometimes I would walk in in the mornings to find him lying on the hardwood floor in only his underwear; his thick, sandy brown hair matted to his forehead with sweat. He had no shame. But, then again, what five-year old does?

I stare at the empty bed, not wanting to disturb it in case he comes back. I need him to come back.

It’s been three months since we went to the fair. The smell of grease and powdered sugar is still embedded in my nose. My husband, Darren, and I took Brenan for his birthday. He was so excited because he was finally old enough to ride the carousel by himself.

“Eek!” Brenan squealed from the backseat. “This is the best day ever! I’m going to ride the biggest, coolest horse!”

I could hear his little legs kicking the back of Darren’s seat, Darren’s body jolting with every impact.

Darren rolled his eyes, but a small smile tugged at his lips. “Woah there bucko,” he chimed in, peering over his shoulder to look at Brenan. “Mommy’s going to get you if you get shoe marks on her seat again.”

Brenan stopped abruptly. “Sorry Mommy.”

“It’s alright hon. Just try to stay calm for a little longer. We’re almost there,” I replied, a little chuckle escaping my lips. I could feel the raw energy exuding from the toddler.

I think he rode the carousel twenty times throughout the day. The first time, Darren tried to help him get on, but Brenan was insistent on doing it himself. “I’m a big boy, Daddy!” he cried. Indeed, he was.

The day was full of more excitement between loaded nachos, funnel cakes, and carnival games. Brenan was so excited when Darren won him a stuffed dolphin in a ring toss. Dolphins were his favorite animal.

“His name is Brutus,” Brenan said as he rode atop Darren’s shoulders. He held the stuffed toy out beside him, bobbing it up and down to make it seem as though it were swimming through the air. Occasionally, he would press his nose to Brutus’ snout and imitate dolphin sounds, like he was having a conversation with his best friend.

Every time we rounded a corner there was another attraction that he just had to see; clowns in baggy striped jumpsuits juggling bowling pins, shirtless bearded men swallowing swords and fire torches, even tigers doing backflips and jumping through hoops. He was particularly fond of the acrobatic act the local carnival crew put on.  His face was one of pure awe as he watched the men and women in tights flip through the air and catch each other with grace.

Walking through the attractions, the ground was littered with half eaten foot-longs and soggy funnel cakes; most of which were dropped beside overfilled trash cans with flies swarming around them. More than once I had to pull Brenan up from the ground to keep him from grabbing half eaten cotton candy bags from the street. He would whine and yell, pleading the “five second rule.”

“They’ve been there far longer than that,” I assured him as I pulled him along with me.

Eventually, Darren caved and surprised Brenan with a two-foot-tall bag of cotton candy. It had five colors and he insisted that I eat the pink one because “pink is a girl’s color.” Between Brenan and Darren, they finished the entire bag. It’s amazing the child didn’t eat himself sick.

He was so happy; every time I looked at him he had a grin from ear to ear.

By nine o’clock we were ready to go home. It was past Brenan’s bedtime and he had yet to open his birthday present, his very first “Big-Boy Bike.”

Brenan rode on Darren’s shoulders for most of the walk back to the car, the sugar still coursing heavily through his system. I couldn’t help but smile at his playful laughter as he bounced up and down while his father ran.

During the last stretch back to the parking lot, Brenan demanded to be let down because, “he was a big boy and he could walk.” I chuckled at him and made him hold my hand as his father ran ahead with Brutus to get the car started, and we crossed the street. We did everything right, never let him out of our sight… until we did.

It all happened so fast. His father running to start the car, the phone call that made me let go of Brenan’s hand, me continuing forward thinking he was following me, turning around to see him walking the yellow line in the road, the headlights behind him swerving side to side, the car going too fast, me dropping the phone, running toward him, calling his name, his face as he looked up at me and smiled, and then the sound of his body as it collided with the front end of a Buick, rolling over the top of the car and off the trunk onto the road, his mangled body sprawled on the asphalt, and the Buick speeding away.

My mouth hung open, no sound coming out, my feet glued to the ground. I wasn’t even ten feet away from him. The sound of his body colliding with the car echoed in my ears. To this day, every time Darren dumps potatoes in our metal sink, it brings me rushing back.

I dropped down to my knees, the shock of my bones on asphalt bringing me back to reality and my screams were released. I couldn’t move. So, I just stared, losing myself in my wails.

I could hear Darren run toward me, but his footsteps stopped when he caught sight of the toddler sized mound on the road. His breath caught and, for a minute, he was frozen too. Hesitantly, Darren walked over to Brenan, picked him up, and carried him to me.

He sat down in front of me holding our baby; our bloody, mangled baby, with tears raining down his face. He handed Brenan to me and I cradled him to my chest, rocking back and forth, his limp body swaying with me. All I could do was cry and whisper “My baby” in his little ear. Darren came to my side and pulled me into him, holding us both. And we stayed like that till the cops showed up, not wanting to let him go.

They caught the driver who hit him later that night. Supposedly, he turned himself in at a checkpoint around 11 PM. The officers said he was drunk and distracted by his friends in the car. I demanded to see him, to confront the murderer of my only child and to give him a piece of my mind; which was in shambles at that point.

They obliged me after they finished their questioning and brought me to the police station.  Apparently, the boy wanted to see me too.

When I arrived, they led me to an interrogation room and allotted us ten minutes. As the officer closed the door behind me, I dared myself to look at my son’s killer.

He was just a boy, no older than seventeen. His hands were cuffed to the table and his head was hanging. He couldn’t even lift his eyes to look at me. I could see the shame on his face and his knuckles were white from clenching his fists for so long.

I wanted to yell at him, to grab him by the collar, make him look me in the eye, and apologize for taking the only thing in the world that mattered to me. But I didn’t.

I stared at him for a few minutes while tears streamed uncontrollably from my eyes and let him suffer in my presence.

Then, he spoke. A soft whisper of “I’m sorry” blew through his lips and it was like a fire erupted within me.

“You’re sorry?” I said, my rage practically dripping off my tongue. “Tell that to my son.”

He didn’t reply, his head still down.

“You know, he was only five years old? It was his birthday.”

“They told me,” he said quietly. “I never meant to hurt anyone.”

“Does it look like I care what you meant?” I spat at him. “My little boy is dead because you were stupid enough to get behind the wheel of a car drunk.”

He nodded.

“And you know what the worst part was?” I continued. “That you just kept on driving. You hit a little boy and didn’t even stop to see if he was ok. You couldn’t even own up to what you did.”

“I did own up,” he said suddenly. “I turned myself in.”

“And I’m supposed to commend you for that?” I looked at him in disgust. “You’re a murderer.”

He didn’t reply.

“And you’re going to rot in jail.” Tears welled in my eyes, threatening to stream down my face again. “I’m going to make sure that you’re tried as an adult for this. You will pay for what you did.”

I left the room, slamming the door behind me. That boy is going to remember that night for the rest of his life. Just like me.

About a week ago I got my wish. The boy was tried as an adult and sentenced to twenty-five years to life for vehicular manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, and underage drinking.

I haven’t forgiven him yet, but he writes me letters telling me how sorry he is and that he wishes that night had never happened. Me too.

It’s been three months since we went to the fair and it’s hard for me to move from this spot. Darren has to carry me to bed sometimes because he knows, if he doesn’t, I’ll stay up all night staring at the empty mattress.

The truth is, being in here, in Brenan’s room, doesn’t make me sad. It keeps me sane. It’s when I’m away from here that the memories start to press down on me. But when I sit by his bedside I’m reminded of the happy little boy I used to have. It was in this room that I rocked him to sleep till he was two. And it was here that Darren and I would play with him together; tickle fights and mock wrestling matches were a nightly ritual before bedtime. This room holds the evidence of my motherhood; every minute that I spent raising a child to grow up to be something spectacular… something he would never be.

The digital clock on the nightstand reads eight o’clock. Darren will be home from work soon and I don’t want him to see me in here again. The pain is evident on his face every time he glances in this room, a constant reminder of our loss. But he can’t seem to get rid anything either. It’s still too new, too fresh.

I bend down and pick up the stuffed dolphin off of the floor; its soft, grey hairs brushing my fingertips. I touch its snout to my nose and peer into its black, beaded eyes. I like to think Brenan is swimming with dolphins up there; maybe even one named Brutus. It’s a silly fantasy, I know, but when I think of how happy it would make him, the pain lessens and it all gets a little bit easier.

Placing Brutus on the bed, I reluctantly pick myself up off of the floor and leave the room. Before I close the door, I sneak one last look inside, imagining Brenan’s little body sprawled out on the bed. I can almost hear him breathing.

I hear Darren’s car pull into the driveway and I quickly close the door and run to the bathroom to jump in the shower. I’m almost always in the shower when he gets home these days.

Standing under the scalding water, I wait for Darren to come in and tell me goodnight, like always. A few minutes pass and he opens the door, but he does not follow the routine. Instead, I hear him sigh heavily before he speaks.

“What are we doing?”

The question catches me off guard and I don’t know how to respond.

“I never see you anymore,” he says.

Still I don’t answer.

“I just want us to be ok again… to move on.”

Me too, I think. But it’s not that easy.

“I know that’s easier said than done,” he says, almost as if he heard my thoughts. “But damn it Laura, I’m your husband and I love you.”

I love you too. But every time I look at you, I see Brenan. I don’t answer.

“Will you say something, please?

My mind is blank, so I say what he wants to hear. “Ok. I love you.”

I hear him breathe a breath of relief. “Thank God. I was afraid I’d lost you too.”

He closes the door behind him as he leaves me to bathe alone. He’s probably going to want to talk when I get out. And I know that I should, but I don’t even know what to say to him anymore. Is it possible to move on from a loss like this? And if so, can I move on with Darren or will he just be a constant reminder of that tragic day?

I’ve got to try though, right? I owe it to him to salvage what we have left, don’t I?

Do I?


Category: Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student