Winter: On Wing and Prayer

Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge - Veteran, Nov-Dec 2020

This story is part of the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, coordinated and hosted by the amazing LisaBee. Please read the other stories, then, if you’d like share your votes for your favorites in the Veteran and Novice categories. You’re also encouraged to write and submit your own Sims short story! Deadline is Dec. 30. Note: Links to other stories and voting will be available at Lisabee’s blog on Jan. 1, 2021. Polls close Jan. 6, 2021

Stack of boxes of decorations in a dark hall

I can’t bring myself to decorate this year. I went to the attic, lugged down the boxes of construction paper chains and clove-studded styrofoam balls we made, my sisters and I, twenty years ago, but the boxes sit in the hall, as closed up as I feel inside.

My therapist tells me that grief is harder for sons and daughters, like me, who were emotionally neglected children. The only mood acceptable in our childhood home was cheerfulness stirred with an unhealthy dose of denial. It got us through with the illusion of being a happy family, especially during the holidays, when our good cheer ramped up with excitement and tension. But it didn’t teach us how to deal with other feelings.

If there’s anything this year has demanded, it’s been to learn to deal with those other things. That sounds too glib.

Everything sounds glib to me now, for the deepest words, the only ones that come close to touching this year, they’re buried shut.

Sometimes, I feel if I could only pull out one word, or two, that could express something of what we’re all feeling, I would be OK.

Looking sad

I figure I heard my dad say, maybe, 65,000 words–I mean, throughout my lifetime. Ten words a day, on average, for 18 years. Then, 10 words a day each time I saw him, which was maybe two or three times a year after that, for the next 10 years. And now, he’s silent forever. It’s not many words.

I must have heard my mom say 65,000 words a year–if not a day. You’d think the silence of her voice would be louder, but it’s my dad’s silence I notice more.

I don’t think I ever heard what I wanted to hear from either of them, not from my dad’s reticence nor my mom’s loquaciousness. And now, I won’t ever.

They died in April, a week apart, on ventilators, both of them, back in the days when doctors didn’t know to prone patients, back the first time hospitals were full, back when we thought that life would return to normal by now.

There’s no normal anymore. A few weeks after the Zoom memorial, the editor told all of us we’d be working remotely through June 2021, at least. The server team needed to stay where they could VPN in easily to the servers, but the writers, like me, could work from anywhere.

At the beginning of summer, when I couldn’t stand the idea of staying in my apartment through the heat of July and August, I moved up here to our family cabin. WiFi is surprisingly good, thanks to the State Park headquarters.

I tried to talk my sisters into bringing their households up here. We could form our own bubble, I figured, and I’d get to be with my niece and nephew. Good place for kids.

But my big sister was too busy with the kids’ remote learning, and her doctor husband couldn’t really leave his clinic. My little sister didn’t want to leave her Instacart job. “People count on me,” she said. “Maybe it’s not an important job, but it keeps older people safe.” Her boyfriend was earning overtime in the Amazon Fulfillment Center.

So, I’ve been isolating here by myself.

Jasper making sandwich

Sometimes my little sister and I will meet up online at ESO and run a dungeon or two. Sometimes her boyfriend will join us. We’ll talk on discord while we fight Daedra and Dremora.

But there are more nights when I’m alone. I don’t know if solitude helps processing grief or makes it harder. All I know is I have so much time to think that sometimes I can’t help but feel.

Crying on the couch

It was my little sister who turned me onto the discord channel for Covid Losers. Everyone there has lost someone or something to the pandemic. There are a lot of people like our family who lost parents. Then there are others who lost jobs, houses, plans, graduations, weddings, or their health.

It’s ripped into all of our lives.

Writing on the computer

Somehow, that doesn’t make me feel worse. It’s not schadenfreude, for I’m not happy at their suffering. It’s just that, I’m not so alone.

Brewing coffee

I wouldn’t wish for anyone to lose anyone or anything.

But talking to the others on discord, I realize that we aren’t losing alone. It’s like, we haven’t been singled out.

Eating alone at the counter

It’s swept through all our lives.

Drinking coffee

It’s winter now. Solstice. It’s dark by 4:15, and the silence is greater than I’d imagined.

I’ve been remembering how, even though my dad didn’t really talk, he used to sing.

Standing outside at night

He liked to sing happy songs, “Mares Eat Oats.” But he liked to sing hymns, too, especially the tragic ones. I must have heard him sing more words than I ever heard him speak.

When I was little, I used to listen for his bass, winding through the house. I could feel the low notes in my bones. Sometimes I sing now, in a voice that sounds like his.

On the solstice, I go out into the dark night. I think of everyone I know who has lost someone, something. I think of my two sisters and their households. I think of the countless people I don’t know, who have lost, too, and how this darkness holds all of us, in its silence, the stilled voices of those who no longer speak.

Profile in night

And in a voice that sounds like my dad’s, I sing into the darkness:

Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide thee
Only Thou art holy

Looking out into the peaceful darkness

As I sing, words don’t matter. It’s just voice, the deep resonance, that reaches out, fills the space, calls in memory, pulls out feelings. Around the world, people cry, and sing, and laugh, and weep some more, and this darkness surrounds them, with their living, breathing voices filling the emptiness.

This is the darkest night. Starting tomorrow, days will be longer.