Bridget Haug

Wyld FLASH November 5th 2021

Carl was the third of their 1959 high school class to die that month, at 78. The virus had proved fatal at his age. Joining the small group of mourners under ancient oak trees, for the third time, Helena watched the hearse take the slight bend toward to the cemetery. It rolled over a pothole, rocking on its suspension, reminding Helena of the bumper cars she and Carl used to ride that summer—a lifetime ago.

Helena had grieved for the others, but this time was different. Neat shoes speckled with mud from days of unrelenting rain, masks pulled tight across strained faces, Carl’s widow and son stood where Helena should have.

The sweltering afternoons in eleventh grade when Carl grabbed Helena’s hand, pulling her from last period’s math class, were long gone. Yet, they replayed vividly in her mind. Running across the bridge to the river, they’d shed their clothes in crumpled piles, then jump from warm rocks into water rippling like clear silver over their skins. They would tangle around each other underwater, their lips and tongues mixing in cool, breathless kisses.

Helena remembered how Carl would cut heart shapes from his French notebook with blunt scissors, and present them to her inscribed with words she still whispered to herself when she was alone.

Mon merveilleux papillon

Their future was all laid out in front of them, not discussed precisely but evident in its unfolding; the years of studies, the cheap apartment in town before the house in the suburbs, and a dark-haired baby she was sure would be a girl they would call Martha.

But iiz had lived those years with Carl instead.

Standing under the trees, Helena watched as Liz’s shoulders heaved, mourning the husband she had lost. Liz had rescued Carl from deep despair, Helena knew, and walked him through the years pragmatically. They had lived in the suburbs, although not by the river, and it was even possible they had been happy. Helena had never felt her belly round and tighten, her breasts blossom the way Liz’s had. She had ached that it was Liz’s hand holding Carl’s when he took his last laboured breaths through congested lungs.

Helena went to the river often that summer of 1959, sometimes alone, even though Carl warned her not to—she was a good swimmer, but not a strong one. On a stuffy august afternoon, a vicious undercurrent gripped her legs, pulled her down and pinned her body against icy stones; the rush of water kept her under no matter how hard she kicked, no matter how desperately her hands reached upward to the surface. When the water filled her lungs, she finally stopped fighting.

Carl had faltered under her coffin’s weight, and now, his was lowered into the ground. Helena steeled herself for the final thump; she could never get used to that part.

As she turned to head back through the graveyard, she felt Carl by her side before she heard his whisper.

Mon merveilleux papillon

Author Bio: Bridget Haug plays with words at the edge of the world. Born and raised in France, she lives in New Zealand where she sometimes sits down to write stories. She’s an emerging writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in MetaStellar, Spider Road Press and various anthologies. Find out more at https://bridgethaugwriter.wordpress.com/

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