by Jessilyn Rich
I brought blankets down from the closet, and made my father a bed on the sofa. There were plenty of rooms upstairs with real beds for him to sleep in, but they were dusty and would need a good cleaning before anyone could really sleep in them. I could have spent a little time with a mop and broom cleaning one of them up for him, but this was easier. He was a guest after all, but just not a welcome guest. I also knew all too well he wouldn’t sleep, not so close to the shore, where the horns could still catch your ears and haunt your dreams. I wondered for a moment if he was even able to sleep at home, miles from the harbor, where not even the wind could hold the sound that long. I doubted it, as I was sure he was still sitting beside the window of their room in the old house. The house we had left all those years ago.
He had spent most of the day out walking. I knew he had gone up to the hill where the unmarked grave lay. Smooth stones with tiny angels on them, their little hands folded in prayer at the foot of wooden crosses. No one in town knew how they had gotten there, or who they were for, but each time the horn sounded and the smoke cleared from the village, more stones would appear. No names, no bodies laid beneath them, just crosses and stones, overlooking the sea. The path to get there was long and beautiful, trees with their arms wrapped around the trail. Wildflowers nestled between the trunks, and the soft sound of the waves close enough to call you, but distant enough to make you question if they were real.
When he came home in the evening, the air in the house grew heavy. We didn’t chat and catch up on each other’s lives, like most would after so much time apart. There was no laughter and excitement to see one another. He sat at the table, his calloused hands folded in front of him, while he stared out to the sea. I always wondered what he was looking for, or if he even saw the harbor at all, but I never asked. I tried to ignore the silence and focused my attention on putting together something to eat. A couple of grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, it wasn’t fancy, but it would fill the gut. I took my time flipping the sandwiches in the pan much more often than I would have normally, but it gave me something to do. I threw them on to a couple of plates, and felt a pang of guilt ring in my heart.
The plates with their edges decorated with little blue flowers had been my grandmothers. She had been an incredible cook, always able to whip up a meal that would stick to your ribs and warm your soul at a moment’s notice. She loved to cook and everyone was welcome at her table. There had always been someone there for dinner that didn’t belong to the house. A neighbor, a friend, the town minster, a fisherman from the docks with no one waiting at home for him. It didn’t matter who, there was always someone, and that was how she loved it. I felt guilty putting a couple of crappy sandwiches on her plates and serving them to a guest, even an unwelcome guest, but this was as good as it was going to get tonight.
We ate in silence except for the sounds of spoons clinking and mouths chewing. The night began to close in around us, and the kitchen fell into darkness. I took the empty dishes from the table, leaving them in the sink for morning, I had no desire to prolong the silence. Now that night had fallen on the world, I wanted to get to the window and away from him. I hesitated in the doorway as I was leaving. It felt wrong to leave without saying anything, but I didn’t know what to say. He was here for a reason and neither of us wanted to talk about it anymore. He was only here because it had happened again.