That stupid ashtray. I had held it together until I saw that lumpy piece of painted clay sitting on his desk. He had kept my hideous childhood art for nearly thirty years. It wasn't even dusty or filled with paper clips or some other useful item.
It sat on his desk like an object of reverence and knocked a fatal hole in the wall I had built against my grief. I dashed away the tears on my cheeks before Mom could see them. She was hardly holding it together as it was and probably for my sake.
"I, uh...I think this one could work." I pulled the photograph out from behind its cellophane cover and handed it to Mom.
"Oh, yes," Mom whispered and traced her finger along the edge of the picture. "This was taken at that benefit we attended with..ah...what were their names?"
"The Andersons," I filled in for her.
"The Andersons," she mumbled.
I flipped through more pages of the ratty photo album trying to find enough pictures to satisfy Mom so I could get out of here and curl up at home with a strong drink. His house was filled with art deco paintings and smelled faintly of tobacco. It made me wish I were anywhere else, not sitting in that exquisite chair, searching for something to say. There was nothing I could say to fill the hole in Mom's heart.
"Do you think you could look through his desk for me?" Mom's voice was small in the overstated room.
I needed this to be over. I needed my mother's joyous tone and vibrant smile back.
"What do you need, Mom?"
"A book. Well, a journal. Small with a black cover."
I pulled out drawers, ignoring the pens, clips and notepads that had been rendered useless without an owner. I didn't want to think about needing to clean out all the mundane pieces of his life that made him a functioning, normal person. The kitchen alone would be hell.
Tucked away between two file folders was the mysterious journal. Before I could even confirm if it was what she was after, Mom gasped when she caught sight of it.
Her eyes shined with unshed tears and her chin puckered while holding in a fresh wave of sorrow. I reached across the desk and placed it in her trembling hand. "He kept it. I knew he kept it."
"What is it?" I immediately wanted the words back in my mouth. That little book was only going to open wounds I was holding together with a fine thread of strength.
"Poetry?" I couldn't imagine my hard ass father reading poetry.
Mom hugged the book to her chest and the first genuine smile I had seen in days warmed her face. "I wrote them. Not for him, not at first anyway. I caught him with one of my books one night, but I never said anything. I just kept writing them. Filling the pages until they ran out. When this book disappeared, I didn't look for it. I knew where it was."
If anyone else had told me that story, I would have laughed and congratulated them on the joke. Anyone who had met my father knew him as a cigar smoking, stock market magician with a lifetime membership to the good old boys club.
But my mother. She was everything his wife shouldn't have been: free spirited, soft-hearted and so damn happy. Just the sight of her eased the etched lines in his forehead and relaxed his shoulders from their constant state of attention.
The most wonderful lesson my parents had taught me was that true love existed.
Unfortunately, I also learned that the loss of one half of that perfect pairing devastates the other.
Mom stared blankly out the window, lost in her memories. She didn't even open the book, just held it like a fragile china doll. I knew then that a piece of her died with my father three days ago.
This was one of those awful life events that altered your world forever. If I ever got married and had children, they wouldn't know my dad. They would never see my mom as I had. She wouldn't be the same without that spark in her eye that he put there.
I shook off the pity party. Mom didn't need that on her right now. She could only put one foot in front of the other and count how many minutes had passed since she last saw him.
"Mom, I need to make a few more calls and, ...um..." I couldn't say it. I couldn't tell her I needed to choose a suit to take to the funeral home for Dad. The lump in my throat kept the words trapped.
How the hell did I become the responsible adult in this equation? That was Dad's job.
"The charcoal gray."
My head snapped up at the certain tone in Mom's voice. "What?"
"His suit. The charcoal gray. With a black shirt and tie." She smiled again, but without the light in her eyes. "I always thought he looked so handsome in it." She let out a small laugh. "He wore it when he knew he had pissed me off. He knew what I thought of that suit and that I couldn't resist looking at him while he wore it."
The smile, the laughter. It wasn't the same and it might not ever be again, but it was more than I had hoped for. My own smile answered in return.
"Okay, Mom." I picked up the earlier agreed upon photo. "Charcoal gray it is."
And now onto the second showing of our double feature. Head on over to Denise's blog and check out her story from the prompt in bold.