If people could turn back time and do things differently, many would have taken such a chance. But life does not work on ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’. People have to live with the outcome of their actions and decisions, whatever they may be.
For Tim Cross, it was the day his wife died; when everything bright and colorful around him turned dull and grey.
“I’m so sorry, buddy! We couldn’t do anything,” Tim’s work partner said.
“Do any…What do you mean, Mac?”
“Didn’t you read my text?”
He put Mac on hold and hurriedly read the only message in his Inbox.
Sherman Factory on fire. No worries. Will take care, buddy. Keep surprise ready.
The clock seemed to stand still as the connection between his buddy’s call and the words he just read registered in his brain. Seconds later, the phone dropped, causing a loud thud on the wooden floor.
“Happy anniversary, doll!” Tim kissed his wife’s forehead.
Squinting her eye, still half-awake, Candice waved her hand in front of Tim‘s face trying to make sure her husband wasn‘t dreaming.
“Since when did we start this ‘happy anniversary’ thing?”
She yawned but smiled, drawing out two cute dimples, when she saw her husband making faces.
Married for 10 years, Mr and Mrs Cross had loved, argued, and hurt each other. They had seen each other cry and laugh. Many times they fought over their immaturity, lack of concern for the other, and expectations that were too unrealistic for the other to meet. But they had surpassed all trials and tribulations of marriage because they did not give up on each other. Because they always attempted to understand the real problem and listened to what the other had to say. Most of all, they never failed to share their plans and decisions, even doubts and apprehensions, to each other.
Though the couple did not believe in anniversaries, for both believed that every day was an occasion to be thankful for, Tim had something else in mind on that day.
“Well, I’m grateful we made it this far. Remember three years ago? The only time I slept on the couch? I couldn’t sleep that night, too afraid to find you gone in the morning. I thought I was gonna lose you that night.” Tim held Candice’s right hand and caressed the back of her palm.
Candice raised her left hand and fondled her husband‘s cheek. “We stayed strong, Tim. We didn’t let the bad times overpower the countless happy memories and experiences we shared together.”
They kissed and hugged but soon burst into laughter when they heard Tim’s belly growl.
“How come you’re hungry this early?”
“It’s my belly’s way of saying ‘get up and fix me some breakfast!’ Tim laughed.
At the dining table, as Tim waited for Candice to finish peeling an orange, a mischievous smile formed on his face thinking of the surprise that he had planned for weeks. He cleared his throat and asked, “Should I pick you up at the factory later?”
“It’s fine. It’s Dina’s turn to give me a ride home this week.” She gave half of the orange to Tim.
“Are you sure? You know, it’s our special day today.” Tim playfully winked at his wife.
A towelette landed on Tim’s chest.
“You’ll be late, mister!” Candice shook her head, laughing.
Tim went to work, only to come back three hours later when his wife had already left for her shift at Sherman Doll Factory. He had taken a day leave without informing Candice so he could surprise her with the cooking skills that he had learned at his workplace. Mac, his colleague at the Fire Department, gave him lessons.
It was three in the afternoon. Tim finished decorating the living room. Above the TV stand was a banner that read ‘Being with you for ten years has been the best years of my life’. His gift for Candice sat on the table. Now wearing an apron that was quite small and short for him, Tim was determined to become the best chef in his wife’s life from now on. He was amused at the thought.
He was setting the table when his phone rang. He wiped his hands and moved towards the living room. It was Mac.
It had been a week since the fire that left no one alive broke at Sherman Doll Factory. Looking at Tim, one could not say whether he was still mourning or simply did not care about the world anymore. All the windows of his house were closed. His neighbors had not seen him out. Every time the couple’s friends came to visit, Tim never opened the door. He would just yell at them to leave him alone.
Inside the house, Tim squatted on the floor holding the gift he had ordered custom-made for his beloved wife. A gold necklace with a doll pendant. He caressed it back and forth while his eyes, lifeless and empty, stared at a wedding photograph hanging on the wall. He hardly ate or drank. He had forgotten the foods that he had prepared that day. The entire house now smelled like a sewer.
Though days seemed tolerable, it was the nights that were unbearable for Tim. He would smell his wife’s pillows and hug her clothes in the hope to feel her presence and help him bear the pain that was tearing him apart. When he fell asleep, the nightmares would not spare his grieving soul. He kept hearing voices of his wife, begging to come and rescue her. Often times, his screams would rouse even the sleeping neighbors. Sometimes, he would wake up crying, having dreamt of those joyful days they had together.
One Month Later
The morning was bright and clear. A window at the Cross’s was open. Tim, bearded, thinner, and shabbily dressed, opened the door and walked towards town. He headed to the place where Sherman Doll Factory once stood.
Half-burnt candles and flowers from the victims’ families lay withered in what was before the entrance of the factory. The fire had consumed the entire premises. All that remained were charred pillars and black ashes. Tim went inside. He walked around aimlessly, touching whatever he could touch, picking things that he thought might lead him to the place where his wife was when the fire claimed her life. It took him an hour to settle in a corner.
Leaning on a pillar, head up, eyes closed, his stifled sobs broke the eerie silence of the place. He wept like a child, begging the heavens to take his life, for he now found it meaningless without his wife by his side. He cried until no more tears came out.
“I miss you so much, my love!” He mumbled repeatedly. Even then, emptiness and sorrow still remained and weighed heavily on his heart.
He was in this state when his eyes caught a glowing golden doll lying next to a scorched steel table. Of all the things in the area, the doll seemed to be the only one untouched by the fire.
He marched towards it only to be surprised by its appearance. It looked exactly like his wife – the face, the hair and the outfit! Before Tim could utter a word, the doll squinted her eye and stretched her hands. She got up and glared at Tim.
“It’s me, babe. The fire has shriveled me.”
Overjoyed hearing his wife’s voice, Tim took the doll in his arms in a tight embrace. He kissed her eyes, her nose, her cheeks, and her lips. “Oh, my doll! I thought I had lost you!”
“No, my love. I would never leave you.”
“But how did -” Tim shook his head. “Never mind! We shall go home and celebrate.”
Soon, Tim and Candice were back home.
“Come, doll. I’ve prepared your dishes! Mac taught me to cook, ya know!”
“So sweet of him!” She paused. “I have a suggestion, babe. Why don’t we have a picnic in the park? My lungs are filled with smoke. They need fresh air.”
Tim loved the idea.
In the park, Tim sat talking with Candice while arranging food before them. He left one thing inside the picnic basket – the gold necklace gift. He planned on giving it to her after they had eaten.
Passersby watched them with furrowed foreheads and giggles.
“Weirdo! Wacko! Nutcase!” they declared.
Those who dared to come closer covered their noses at the smell of rancid food, and quickly moved away nauseated.
The dishes Tim cooked on their anniversary lay spread before him. Candice the doll sat beside, her golden face smeared with molding food.
A couple passed by. “Poor man. Why doesn’t someone admit him to a hospital? He needs care,” the wife remarked. Nearby, a blind musician with a violin was singing a song, oblivious of his surroundings:
No one can know
A madman’s sorrow
Tell me if it was you
Would you not be blue too?
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