Loss, 1st place winner, California Writers Club short-short story contest

Pushing aside the tubes leading to bags of fluids, she climbed into the small, cool bed with him. She wrapped her arms around his pitifully thin body, whispered, “Davey, son. I love you so.” Julie pulled him closer, whispered, “You can go now. Don’t worry about us. I’ll be right here with you.” Within minutes, she felt his last breath. Her mother’s tears flowed unceasingly onto his chest.

Brad arrived at the hospital shortly after, too late, aggrieved. Julie comforted him, made the arrangements for their only son’s burial and memorial service.

Now, nearly two years later, the image of David, as white as the hospital sheets he lay on, never left Julie’s mind. The numbness, gone, was replaced with a searing, ever-present ache that made it painful to be touched. She slept in the guest bedroom, her loss filling her consciousness.

Brad reached for Julie when his dreams were unbearable. He awakened with empty arms, bereft, his heart breaking nightly at the loss of his son and his wife.

Driving home after one of their weekly visits with a grief counselor, Brad pulled onto the country lane leading to their house, too big now. Without warning, he slammed his foot on the brakes and screeched to a stop, jerking Julie into the present. Her seatbelt tight against her chest, she spotted a doe as it leapt to the side of the road.

“Thank God you didn’t hit her,” she cried.

Brad accelerated, eager to be home, but again stepped hard on the brakes right before they felt the impact, heard a thud. Julie’s scream pierced the cool night air.

She jerked open the door, ran to the front of the car, knelt, put her hands on the warm, furry neck. “She had a fawn, Brad. Look what you’ve done,” she sobbed. Julie pressed her head to the fawn’s chest, trying to find a heartbeat. “I think he’s dead,” she cried.

“I’m sorry, Jule . . . ,” he began. “We hit him pretty hard. Come. Help me move him.” They each grabbed a front leg and pulled, the fawn’s neck flopping backwards, to the side of the road.

Julie spotted the doe they had barely missed earlier standing in an oak grove nearby. “Look, Brad. She’s here. She knows.” Tears streaming down her cheeks, she held out her hands to the doe, beckoning. “Don’t worry about us,” she said.

She felt Brad’s hand on her arm. “Julie. Get control of yourself. I couldn’t help it. Come on now.”

She recoiled from his touch, knelt again. She noticed the fawn’s leg twitch. “Did you see that?”

“I’m sure he’s hurt bad, Jule. You stay here with him. I’ll be right back.”

“You’re going for your gun.”

“You don’t want him to suffer. Do you?”

“I don’t want him to die. That’s what I don’t want.”

“Okay. I’m going now. I’ll be right back.”

He pulled onto the lane, leaving Julie kneeling by the fawn, stroking his neck. Unwanted thoughts of loss filled her mind. Of David as a young boy, joyful, riding his new bike down this same lane. Of her mother, who died suddenly just months before her son. Her high school friend who, with no explanation, drove her car into the river. She saw herself, just nine years old, her arms tight around her collie’s neck, her face close to his, a bullet hole in his side. The neighbor boy who hanged himself when he was fifteen.

Julie focused again on the doe, venturing ever closer, watching, waiting. Brad’s headlights illuminated the fawn. He pulled to the side of the road, parked the car, reached for his gun.

Julie sat upright, whispered to the fawn. “You can go now.”

The fawn’s front legs jerked a little. He tried to raise his head, laid it down again, and then, with what seemed to Julie a valiant effort, he stood, wobbly, weak, then stronger, then stronger yet, until his mother was beside him, nudging him, and when she knew it was time, she leapt into the woods, her fawn close behind.

Brad dropped the gun, took Julie’s hands, helped her stand. She didn’t resist when he pulled her close, stroked her hair. Her heart poured out its grief onto his chest.

“How I’ve missed you,” he whispered.

Julie put her arms around her husband, clasped her hands behind his back, held him tight.

“Bittersweet as it is, Jule, we still have each other. Let’s go home now.”