New Year’s Eve
The Ford Focus glided into the intersection and turned southbound on Asterdis Boulevard. “Oh, ho”! said the driver, Jake Taves, gleefully as he saw the string of green lights stretched out before them leading down into the wooded valley where they lived. “We got the lights”, he said accelerating, turning up the music and drumming his hands on the steering wheel.
“Not too loud, Jake”, admonished his wife, Kathryn. “It’s late and Sebastian’s half asleep”!
“Aww – no he’s not! Are you, Seb?” he asked, glancing in the rear-view at his grinning 7-year-old son. “And you love this song, don’t you”?!
“Yeah! Yeah”! came the little voice from the back seat.
“See, Kath! Wide awake like a little rock star”!
“Alright, alright”! she laughed when suddenly she saw it coming at them. “Jake”! she screamed. “To your right”!!!
“What”?! he cried, too late to see the hurtling black pickup truck as it slammed into the passenger door and sent the car corkscrewing through the night air, a comet’s trail of shattered metal and glass glittering in its wake, across the frosted grass of the sleeping gardens.
New Year’s Eve the following year
“Thank God it’s finally over”, he sighed, slumping into an armchair on the other side of the fireplace from Kathryn. Their family and friends had just left. They had all tried to be so kind and supportive, with the big hugs and the lights and the decorations and the music; but the forced laughter and concerned eyes darting to the floor almost made the first Christmas without Sebastian even more unbearable. It might have been easier, he thought, if it had just been the two of them over the holidays. Alone together at the bottom of the deep well of choking grief only they could understand. Still, that would have been unbearable too, he thought, as he glanced up at his wife. She sat staring, with her hands in her lap, entranced by the dancing coals in the hearth. Those deep, watery blue eyes he had loved for so long – so vacant now, the fire in them dying out slowly as well.
He had tried to convince her over the summer to clean out Sebastian’s room and take down some of the pictures but she had steadfastly refused. Sometimes he would wake up in the night from one of his own nightmares and find the bed empty. He would find her in Sebastian’s bed, clutching his favourite bear. Her pain seemed to be on an entirely different, and impenetrable, level. His own had been mind-bending. After Sebastian was born, he had shuddered in horror, as all parents do, in contemplation of the death of a child and, as all parents do, he had reminded himself that the chances of it happening to him were almost nil. After it did happen to him, it was worse than he had imagined. He cried, he screamed, he broke things.
He could not even look forward to the trial as the drunk driver who had killed his son had died of his injuries two months after the crash. There was no release for the anger and frustration. Nevertheless, over the last few months, there had been calm moments, even moments when something had made him laugh out loud. He had slowly begun contemplating the future again and wondering what it would look like and how much space there might be in it for some kind of happiness.
“I’m leaving, Jake”, said Kathryn softly, breaking his sullen thoughts.
“Um, what do you mean leaving? Are you going somewhere”?
“I’m leaving you. I’m sorry but I just can’t do this anymore”.
“I… I… What? I don’t understand…” he stammered as if he had just been struck in the head with a hammer.
“You were driving too fast, Jake”.
“You were driving too fast and I told you and you never slowed down”.
“Kathy, you know that’s not true. The inquiry cleared me of all responsibility. I had no alcohol in me and no fault of any kind was found with my driving”.
“I was there”, she said in almost a monotone. “You had been drinking and I told you to slow down”.
“What are you doing”? he asked darkly. She had never once before blamed him or even hinted he was in any way at fault. “You asked me to turn down the music . That’s all. That guy would have hit us even if the music had been turned off”!
“I doesn’t matter”, she said dismissively.
“Yes, it does”, he said, his voice breaking. He reached for his glass of scotch and took a long pull.
“How can you do that”? she demanded, her eyes full of hostile recrimination.
“Drink. How could you possibly drink tonight”?!
“Kath, I’m at home and I’m not getting into a car”!
“Forget it. I’m going tomorrow to stay at my sister’s. She says I can stay until I find my own place. Doug and Janice will come by next week to get my things. Jake, I won’t ever ask for anything from you. The house is yours and I won’t ever ask for money. The things we bought together are now yours. Sebastian’s things are now yours – all I want is his bear. Just his bear, my things before I met you and copies of the photographs. That’s it”.
He stared at her as her terrible determination was starting to sink in and he felt his blood going cold. An awful fear began creeping across his skin and across his scalp. He realized his cheeks had become slick with tears. “Kathy… please… don’t do this… don’t… don’t go… you’re all I have now and I love you so much… I didn’t kill Seb… why are you doing this”?!
She got up and came over to him and, kneeling, put his hands in hers, her hardness suddenly gone. “You’re a good man, Jake, and you were a great father. You built this home for us – literally – and you’re such a gifted architect. And I do love you. This is not about not loving you…”
“Then why”? he croaked.
“Damn it, Jake – you look exactly like him. Your big goofy smile. Your hair. You even stand in the same way. But it’s your eyes – your green eyes and crazy long lashes. Every time I look at you, I’m looking at Seb’s ghost and… and… I’m going crazy, Jakey. And I get so angry that it’s not real. I can also tell you’re ready to move on”.
“Only with you!! I need you, Kathy”!!!
“I’m sorry, Jake”, she said firmly, the hardness returning as quickly as it had melted. “I’m going to bed. I’ll be gone in the morning”.
The magnitude of her announcement and her unflinching resolve left him thunderstruck. He got up, put on his boots and coat and set out on foot for the tracks. It was a freight train line that snaked through the rolling valley and he had been going there for years whenever he wanted to be alone to think, or listen to music or find a solution to an architectural problem that was eluding him. Kathryn had always worried about him getting hit by a train as he walked along the tracks but he assured her that he always looked out for them and, after all, they came so infrequently anyway.
As he trudged through the snow between the iron rails, he felt his heart teetering on the brink of a horrible abyss. Losing Sebastian had left him bereft and zombie-like until the recent rekindling of interest in life. Now Kathryn had crushed what little hope had been re-awakening within him. He felt torn between unbearable heartbreak and rage. He stared up into the sky. The stars flickered through the constellations over the treetops. He had always loved gazing up into the night sky and he and Sebastian had spent hours on the roof of the house with their telescopes, mapping out the beginning of time on charts. If he could have done it all over again, he would have gone into astronomy rather than architecture. Buildings rise and crumble into dust over the centuries – and always under the same inscrutable light of worlds created billions of years ago that no longer exist.
What am I going to do? he thought desperately, as he heard the distant rumble of a train approaching. He turned and saw its giant Cyclops headlight winking through the pines about a mile out. Turning back around, he put on his headphones, ratcheted the volume to maximum and walked down the centre of the tracks. It was the same song that had been blasting in the car when Sebastian was killed and he knew he would never turn around again.