It had been seven months since her husband died, and Susan still mourned him every day. She would still search for him in the night, in the empty space beside her, only to encounter air. She still thought she could hear the tail end of the song he was humming the day he was killed. As she wandered through her house, attempting to find solace in his old things, she would notice his absence even more. His passing had left a hole in her heart that did not heal, only grew more entrenched as each day passed. It was a whirlpool, sucking the enjoyment out of everything else in her life, leaving her pale and weary.
Susan moved slowly as she prepared dinner for herself. Ever since Henry had been taken from her, she had to remind herself to eat; when she did eat, it was never much. She often left half her food on the plate. Today, she was cooking spaghetti for herself; even with such a simple meal, it took her twice as long to boil the noodles and heat up the canned sauce than it used to. She simply did not possess the energy to create anything extravagant for only herself. Susan could feel the weight of Henry’s death lie heavily on her shoulders; it made it difficult to do anything beyond existing.
No matter how much Henry’s death crushed her inside, Susan found it difficult to blame the other driver. It had been raining, and Henry’s truck had burnt out its one remaining headlight earlier that week. The woman driving the car that hit Henry’s had not even seen him; she said that he appeared out of nowhere. It wasn’t her fault, really. It was Susan’s, for making him drive when she knew about the headlights. For forgetting the pepper at the store. For asking Henry to go back for it. She could still recall the policeman at the door, the apologetic look on his young face, before she thanked him and broke down. She remembered Henry’s funeral, the family and friends who had tried to comfort her. How his mother had looked at her, as if she were to blame for her only son’s death. But she was to blame.
Susan pushed the plate of spaghetti away from her. She had eaten only a few bites, leaving most of it untouched, but her appetite had gone. She put her head in her hands and quietly sobbed. Seven months should have been long enough for her to begin to move on, to start her life back up. But she was stuck. She could move neither forwards nor backwards, could only remain in the same condition she had been in since the accident. Her family had tried, Lord knows, but they all gave up after a time. “She’ll come ’round,” they all had said. But there was nothing to come round to. Only sadness.
Susan was pulled out of her reverie by the sound of the doorbell. She stayed where she was for a moment, not sure if she had imagined the sound, but when it chimed a second time, she slowly rose and wiped her eyes. She sniffed and tried to look presentable before she opened the door. A small boy looked up at her. She vaguely recognized him as the boy from next door, a brown-haired little ball of energy who was always skating or running around in his front yard. The Edgers, she thought their names were. Susan wasn’t quite sure what to say to him; she was not accustomed to small children appearing on her doorstep.
“Why are you sad?” the boy asked. He was holding a ball, Susan noticed. She searched for something to say to him.
“My husband is gone,” she finally replied. The boy cocked his head, much like a dog would.
“Where’d he go?”
Susan felt fresh tears well within her eyes, but she forced them back, blinking furiously. “He went somewhere better, somewhere far away.”
The boy nodded. “My grandpa went there too. Maybe they’re friends!”
“Maybe,” she said softly. Susan didn’t know what to think of this little boy. He was so happy, so care-free. She wished she could be like him.
“So what are you having for Thanksgiving?” the boy asked, swaying back and forth on his feet. Susan was taken aback-she hadn’t realized that it was almost Thanksgiving, hadn’t noticed the leaves changing and the weather getting cooler. She had been wrapped up in her own sorry little world, too intent on her own worries to care about anything else. She hadn’t even thought about Thanksgiving.
“I don’t know,” she answered truthfully. The boy-Susan finally remembered his name, Matthew-frowned.
“You should always know what you’re gonna eat on Thanksgiving! Mommy’s cooking a giant turkey that I helped pick out! And mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes, and green beans-yuck!” Matthew made a face and stuck out his tongue. “I know! You should come eat with us!” he beamed at her, his disgust of vegetables forgotten.
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, Matthew,” Susan told him gently. “Your mommy might not like you inviting people over like that.”
“It’s okay, I’ll ask her!” With that, Matthew turned and ran to his house. Susan watched him leave, wondering if she should close the door or not. Before she could decide, Matthew was back. “She says you can come!”
Matthew’s mother appeared behind him, having taken longer to walk over than her son. “He’s right; we’d be happy to have you eat with us!” she said as she came closer. “I’ve bought enough food for a whole army of people, so it’s no trouble at all!”
Susan looked at the pair, both of whom were smiling at her. She found that she was unable to say no. “O-okay then,” she murmured.
“Great!” Mrs. Edger exclaimed. “We’re eating tomorrow at four; I’ll send Matthew around to get you!” Susan nodded mutely as the two said goodbye and walked back to their house. So she didn’t have to spend Thanksgiving alone, after all.
The next day, Susan woke with more energy than she had since Henry’s passing. She showered and dressed in a nice blouse and jeans, then tried to find something to occupy her time until Matthew came. She read a couple chapters in a forgotten novel, flipped through channels on the television, and dusted the house for a while before her doorbell chimed just before four o’ clock. Matthew, in a sweater vest and with neatly parted hair, was there to greet her.
“Hi, Mrs. Susan!” he said. “Mommy said to come tell you we’re ready!” Susan smiled and followed him across the grass to her neighbor’s home. Matthew opened the door and yelled “Mommy, Mrs. Susan’s here!”
Mrs. Edger (Anne, Susan recalled) appeared from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. “Hello, Susan, I’m glad you could make it! We’re setting the table now, so please make yourself comfortable.”
Susan followed Anne into the dining room, where Mr. Edger was placing plates and napkins on the large table; there were already a few platters of food waiting, as well. Susan wasn’t sure what she should do; she deliberated between sitting down and offering to help before Anne chose for her.
“Could you help me with the turkey, Susan?” she asked, nodding towards the kitchen. “It’s been sliced, it just needs to be carried in.” Susan made a noise of agreement and made her way to the kitchen. She loaded her arms with the platter of turkey and followed Anne, who was carrying a bowl of potatoes, back to the dining room. When they entered, they found Matthew already sitting in a chair and Mr. Edger arranging the dishes to make room for the turkey. Susan handed him the platter and allowed him to place it where he wanted.
Soon they were all seated and Mr. Edger began the blessing. “Lord, please bless this food to our bodies,” he said, bowing his head. “Thank you for bringing Susan to the table tonight, and let us all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Susan echoed his “amen” and smiled; she was pleasantly embarrassed at having attention brought to her, but she enjoyed it nonetheless.
“For you,” Mr. Edger said, spearing a slice of turkey and placing it on Susan’s plate. “Guests get first dibs.” Susan thanked him and accepted other morsels offered to her by the Edgers. Before long, her plate was full of food that she had no hope of finishing and the atmosphere was full of pleasant conversation. Susan finally relaxed and even joined in the conversation, for once not haunted by thoughts of her late husband. She enjoyed being part of a family again; for too long, it had been only herself.
Dinner passed quickly, at least in Susan’s mind, and to her surprise, when she looked down at her plate she discovered that she had eaten every bite of her meal. She offered to help with the dishes, which Anne graciously declined (you’re a guest!). She ended up with Matthew in the living room, allowing him to show her all of his toys.
“This is my fire truck, and this is my favorite ball, and these are my army guys!” Matthew said, showing her each in rapid succession. Susan nodded at each and knelt beside him.
“Do the army guys have names?” she asked. Matthew thought about it for a moment.
“Nope,” he decided, “but they do!” He held out a stuffed bear and octopus to her. “This is Marco,” he said, gesturing at the octopus, “and this is Henry!”
Susan gently took the stuffed bear. Its eyes were hidden beneath its fur, and the stuffing had come out of one of its feet. “Henry is a very good name for him,” she finally said. Matthew looked at her, thoughtful.
“If you want,” he said shyly, “you can have him. He makes people feel better.” Susan glanced up at him.
“I can’t take your bear,” she said, offering it back to him. Matthew crossed his arms.
“Yes you can, I’m giving him to you! He’ll make you not be sad.”
Susan slowly pulled her arm back and looked down at the bear. Looked down at Henry. “Thanks,” she whispered, hugging the bear lightly. Matthew grinned at her.
“See, he likes you!” Susan smiled and nodded.
“I think he does.”
Susan realized in that moment, the hole in her heart was shrinking slightly, its space being taken up by a brown-haired boy and his bear. She laughed through her watery eyes.
“I think he does.”