Marie woke to the fragrance of coffee brewing. She couldn’t remember it ever smelling so good. Maybe Bill had made it his special way this time.
“Bill?” She reached for the comfort he would give her, but his side of the bed was cold. “Bill?” Still no answer. She forced her eyes open. Grayness greeted her. She sat up and stretched her feet down to the slippers that waited to protect her from floor tiles that bent up, eager to nip at her toes. When she braved going into the main room, wooden furniture stood to attention, offering little solace. Thin fingers of frosty white fog crept through cracks and under doors.
In the kitchen, the coffee pot was cold. There was no electricity. Disappointment bit into her, as she lit the camp stove. The old percolator took its time, but finally started to spit and sputter. Hot water pressed through the last of the coffee grounds. She didn’t wait for it to finish, instead she poured the strong liquid into Bill’s favorite cup. Even though she preferred it black, she used what was left of the milk to fill the mug to the brim, adding three spoons of sugar to the concoction. This had become her waking tradition. Now that would come to an end too, just like so many other things. Marie would gladly trade all of the remaining traditions to have Bill back.
In the living room she sat on the faded leather couch, and faced the cold lifeless hearth. It reminded her of better times, when a warm fire heated the apartment. She pulled her knees to her chin and rested the mug so the steam could waft into her face. Don’t look up. The words screamed through her mind. Against her will, her eyes moved upward. On the mantel above, a cold gray urn held Bill’s ashes. Reality twisted through her.
The doorbell rang, startling Marie from her reverie. “Marie? Marie Wickstran. It’s me, Sam Nhatim.” When Marie unlocked it, Sam pushed the door all the way open so she could enter. Long blond hair hung in wet strings around her face. “Aren’t you ready yet?” Greenish water dripped to the floor.
“I’m not sure I want to go.” Marie returned to the couch and sat down.
“Mmmm. That smells good.” Sam pointed at the mug. “Do you have more?”
“Sure.” Marie nodded, then motioned with her head to the kitchen. “I used all the milk, but there’s more coffee. It’s the last.” Marie ducked her head.
When they finished, she could put it off no longer. Marie grabbed her coat. What could it hurt? It wasn’t as if they would change her mind about staying behind. If somehow they could bring Bill back, maybe. That wasn’t going to happen.
The meeting was in the middle of the park on the outskirts of town. In the half empty parking lot, Sam turned off the engine of the small red car. It rattled its reticence to quit, then coughed with a final shudder.
A bright flash of lightning lit the way into the one standing structure, a small elongated building with large windows on one side. These overlooked the rushing torrent of a greenish brown river. In happier times, weddings and family birthdays were celebrated here. Another flash and a deep rumble shook the air.
“It’s starting.” Sam shivered. “Mark, make room, please.” Sam’s smile could melt any man’s heart. She was one of those people everyone wanted to get to know.
Slender and nondescript, Mark sat on one of the benches that lined the walls, except the ones with the windows. He smiled and stood. “Sure thing sweetie.” Another flash brightened the room.
Before dark settled back, Marie sat down on the bench. Other than Sam next to her, Marie didn’t know anyone else in the room. The droning voice of Sam’s friend pushed Marie further into her corner. I shouldn’t have come. Marie wished she were home, wrapped in the soft blue blanket Bill had bought her on their second wedding anniversary. Instead, here in the thickening mist, cold penetrated even the heavy coat she wore. Something tickled her ear. The only thing visible was a soft tendril of fog that touched the heavy gray material. Marie pulled the collar closed.