White and Grey and Black

Brendan buttons a white shirt and leaves the house.

He had chosen the white coffin and Carrie the grey marble headstone with the lamb. They laid baby’s breath tied with ribbon and left a teddy bear bigger than Luke was.

People stop Brendan on the street. They ask how he and Carrie are, and he says: “We’re okay.”, “We’re leaning on each other.”, “One day at a time.” White lies — sheets — he throws over his wife who’s cold and pale in bed.

Fellow middle managers await at the office. They give him a sympathy card and grip his shoulder. “Come back when you’re ready.”

Brendan walks to the ambulance station where, in a room with grey window blinds, he thanks the paramedics for trying. Returning to the white-hot sunshine on the street, he blinks, squints, wonders if Luke saw this at the end.

In the house, Carrie puts on her slippers and a bathrobe.

She flicks on the light in the dim kitchen and searches the sink for her black coffee mug. There are plates she recognises from her cupboard with dried lasagne and grey stew she doesn’t remember eating. And casserole dishes she doesn’t own to be washed and returned to friends or neighbours. How kind of them, she thinks.

Carrie forgets the coffee. On the table is a cigarette packet, it’s label warning about the hazards of smoking to her and the harm done to children. She lights up. Notices a grey pigeon perched on the fence outside the window. “What’s happened to the thing?” The bird they had released at their baby’s grave — similar in shape and size, so it must be the same one; how kind that it’s come by — was white.

There’s ash in her hair and in its feathers. They’ve both aged so quickly.

Brendan returns to the house.

At the end of the sidewalk is a black mailbox and inside it thick white envelopes — more satiny cards with soaring thoughts, balloons floating to heaven — and a skinny greyish one with an invoice. The funeral home has been paid, but not the grief counsellor. He’ll have to wait until Brendan returns to work.

Carrie may not. She says she doesn’t have enough black in her closet.

Without a white word of sympathy for it, Brendan kicks the mailbox and sends it spinning into the street.

An SUV brakes, and the driver honks, gestures: “What the hell?”

Author Bio: Karen writes in a basement. Her work is in or forthcoming in FlashBack Fiction, Reflex Fiction, Bullshit Lit, Blank Spaces, Ghost City Press, Alien Buddha Press, Roi Fainéant Lit Press, and others. Find her on Twitter at @MeKawalker883.

Photo by Fiona Murray on Unsplash.

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