It is February 18th. The yellows, greens, and blues of the stained-glass windows give color to the otherwise white flowers surrounding the black coffin. There is a minister speaking of love and family; the love Sam was given by his family, by blood and by marriage, and the love he surely would have shown his own family that he had wanted to start.
They are nice words, if a little cliche, and Natalie is glad they are said, glad that something is happening how she expects it to. More people speak, a near endless parade of Natalie and Sam’s friends and family. Natalie sits straight-backed in her pew, hidden behind the veil that her face has become.
It is Natalie’s turn to speak. She looks out at all the people, dressed in black from their shoes to their hats. It feels appropriate.
It is February 5th. The sky is blue, with white clouds. Natalie’s office is gray, but bright. Nobody has put out any Valentine’s decorations yet. Natalie is looking forward to going home, taking a nap, and watching something on Netflix. Her cell phone rings, distracting her from her daydreams. It’s an unknown number. On another day she might have ignored it, but today she doesn’t.
“Is this Natalie Portswine?”
Natalie thinks at first that it’s a telemarketer, but something in the voice–tired and professional, yes, but also kind–stops her from hanging up or being snarky.
“Your husband is in the hospital, his condition in critical, you are listed as his emergency contact in his medical file. We advise that you come as quickly as you can.”
It is February 18th. The red roses in Natalie’s hands stand out among the black clothes and the green grass. Everything that anyone could think to say, was said, even those things that were cliche or redundant. Now everyone is crowded around a hole in the ground, while they start to lower the casket into the hole. But before they do, Natalie steps forward and lays the roses on the casket. The roses are wilted, the blooms diminished by time, but their color is still vibrant. When she is done, Natalie nods to the men and they lower the casket into the ground.
Some dirt is ceremoniously tossed on the casket before the crowd leaves. Later, a backhoe is used to fill the hole completely, burying the red beneath a mound of brown.
It is February 5th, Sam’s skin is very white, his bedding is light blue, the tubes attached to him are clear. Natalie can see him through the glass, but she’s not allowed in right now; there are doctors and nurses around him, monitoring machines and pushing syringes; she can’t hear what they’re saying, but they look serious. When they have finally finished, and she is allowed to hear and feel her husband as well as see him, she is told that his brain was without oxygen for a long time, and they don’t think he will recover. They will know more the next tomorrow after more tests.
For now Natalie’s reservoir of tears has run out. She sits by his bed and holds his hand, but he doesn’t respond. She nestles her head against his shoulder, interlaces her fingers with his, and rubs her thumb across the back of his hand. She hums to break the monotany, and then begins to sing softly into his chest. And when she closes her eyes, his chest moving with every breath, it feels almost normal except for the whirs and beeps of the machines.
It is February 14th. The usual gray and white of the office decor is accented by red. Natalie has forced herself to come to work in an attempt to ward off her feelings of uselessness, but she is finding it difficult to concentrate on spreadsheets. There is a commotion by the door, excitement followed by something else. She allows herself to be drawn towards it, rather than stare blankly at her computer.
Candice and Tyra look up from a delivery of roses, they look sad and pitying. They don’t say anything, but Candice hands the flowers to Natalie. She sees a card stuck in the middle of the flowers, on the outside it reads: ‘To Natalie’. She starts to cry before she even opens it and reads: ‘For the love of my life and the songbird that captured me.’
Natalie finds herself back at her desk. The roses sit in a vase, their perfect petals look like glass or acrylic, brittle, fragile. She can’t go home, not now, but her thoughts are covered in a black goop, both slow and slippery at the same time. People come by and say kind words to her that she doesn’t understand; she responds automatically, barely even understanding her own. And throughout, her tears come out, slowly and steadily.