By Sara Kraft <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2007
Summary: Clark has trouble dealing with the guilt in the aftermath of a family tragedy.
Author's Note: I'm taking a fiction workshop class this semester, so I have to write a total of three stories to be workshopped by the class. And, to tell you the truth, I absolutely suck at writing original fiction — at least the "literary" stories the teacher calls for. No silly, predictable "genre" fic allowed. Well, I cheated on my latest story. It's Lois and Clark. :D But don't tell my classmates. ;) I did write it in a way that it's not too hard to change the names, though.
I tried something I've never tried before in this story — actually two things: writing in first person and writing in present tense. They both scare the wits out of me. *g* I hope my first attempt is passable.
LaraMoon and Paul (aka HatMan) were gracious enough to BR this for me, on the spot and last-minute. They were both an invaluable help!
Thanks to Jeanne for a quick and thoughtful GE job!
One last thing before we begin: This isn't a happy story. If you don't do unhappy, stop here and read no further. And that's all the WHAM warning you get.
They're so small. They didn't seem so small before, not when we bought them a few months ago. Lois had said how big they were, that there was no way her little baby could fill them. I never thought a pair of denim overalls lying motionless on the floor would be my undoing. It wasn't the overalls, really.
Lois blames me. I know she does. I blame myself, too. I should have been there. Brian shouldn't be … gone. My job isn't that important. Nothing is more important than Brian. If I'd just finished cleaning up that accident more quickly, flown home faster. Or if I hadn't felt the stupid need to stop at the store on the way home to buy more laundry detergent like Lois had asked. We still haven't done the laundry yet.
I run my fingertips over the rough material, then the cold circles of metal lining the little legs. How many times have I snapped and unsnapped them? My fingers travel to the right leg where there's a brown stain. Chocolate ice cream, if I remember right. It would stay there, too. The last thing I want to do is wash away any memories, even the little, insignificant ones. Lois won't do it either, but I know it's because she wouldn't be able to bear the task of folding Brian's little clothes when he wouldn't be using them again.
I finger the cuff of one leg, willing Brian's tiny foot to be poking out so I can tickle his toes. I'd give anything to hear him laugh again.
I walk in the door, finally home from work, and Brian waddle-runs towards me. I scoop him up and hold him high over my head, flying him around the foyer for a minute before I settle him on my hip.
"How's my little man today?"
"Daddy!" He throws his arms up as he yells.
I tickle under his arms, and he squeals and wriggles with laughter. I walk with him into the kitchen to find Lois.
"Uh, oh. Mommy's cooking," I say conspiratorially to Brian.
"Hungry," he whispers back, matching my tone.
"You're right. We're gonna go hungry."
"I can hear you two, you know." Lois turns to greet me with mock anger, wielding a slotted spoon in front of her.
"Hi, honey. How was your day?" I smile through my words, knowing she doesn't buy my innocence for a second. I start making my way towards her, slotted spoon or no.
"Oh, you think you're going to get a kiss after that, do you?" She's smiling, and I don't buy her act, either.
"You know me, ever the optimist." I wink at her.
Brian giggles at us from my hip and says, "Kiss Mommy!"
"That's right. I'm going to kiss Mommy, whether she likes it or not."
He giggles more and claps as I rush the last few steps and then wrap my free arm around Lois.
She laughs a sultry laugh. "Hey, Clark," she says, then I kiss her soundly on the lips.
Brian squirms a little against us after a moment. "Bir-day."
I step back reluctantly and focus my attention back on Brian. "That's right, little man. Tomorrow's your first birthday, and you're gonna have a party, aren't you?"
He nods enthusiastically. "Choc-ate!"
Lois laughs and says, "Yep, chocolate cake for you, buddy."
"Gee, I wonder where he got that addiction from," I tease. "Chocolate is one of Mommy's four food groups."
"Oh, and I suppose you had no part in contributing to that, Mr. I Eat Ding Dongs and Ho-Ho's for Breakfast?"
"Well, Brian's addiction is genetic. I could blame mine on your bad influence." She whacks my shoulder with the slotted spoon. "That's not how your mother tells it." She grins knowingly.
I have no defense for that and she knows it, so I just grin back at her.
"Did you buy the cake mix?" she asks.
Shoot. I watch as she rolls her eyes in annoyance, our playful banter over with now. "We have the day off tomorrow. I'll get it in the morning."
"Fine," she says as she turns back to the stove. "Dinner's almost ready. Can you put Brian in his high chair and set the table?"
"Sure," I reply, feeling guilty that I forgot something again.
I get Brian settled in and the plates on the table, then I come up behind her at the stove. I put my arms around her waist and move close. She feels a bit tense.
"I'm sorry I forgot to go to the store," I say in a low voice. "Sometimes I forget after a difficult rescue. I promise I'll get it in the morning."
I feel some of the tension bleed away. "It's okay, Clark. I know." She shuts the burners off and turns to face me, her arms circling around my neck. "Are you okay? Everything … turn out all right?"
I shake my head, trying not to remember the little girl I didn't save.
She pulls me into a hug and murmurs into my ear, "I'm sorry."
I nod and try to let the grief and guilt ebb away. "I love you," I say, not able to put into words how much I appreciate, how much I need her comfort on days like this.
"And I love you."
Those last four months passed so quickly, but they seem like a lifetime ago now. I finger the small tag that reads "18 mo". He didn't get to make it that far.
Lois will be mad if she wakes up and finds me here sitting on the floor. But I can't help it. I hadn't meant to flick the light on in the nursery on my way to the bedroom. Habit, I suppose, checking to make sure the little guy was all right. It's been a week, but I'm still finding ways to upset myself like this.
The soft, dim light flickers along the walls, chasing shadows of rabbits from the lampshade around the room. The rabbits blur instead of hop, running futilely in circles towards a nonexistent destination. Are they chasing or fleeing?
It seems like Lois is fleeing from me. We made love the night after it happened, in some futile attempt to seek comfort. But she hasn't touched me since. Maybe she's afraid we'll get pregnant again. It's too soon. Far too soon.
But it's not that.
The guilt cuts into me afresh. It feels as though something visceral has been torn from my gut. A wound that won't ever heal. I should have been there.
I tried talking to her about it last night, but she pushed away from the dinner table, her meal unfinished. I cleaned up slowly that night, trying hard to ignore his blue sippy cup sitting innocently on the counter and the little teeth marks on the straw. He chews — chewed — at it all the time. I wrapped the leftovers and put them in the fridge next to the Gerber Graduates that would remain uneaten, trying not to notice them, either.
I ought to clean those out, put away all his things, too. But I can't bring myself to get up off the floor.
The rabbits taunt me now, as if they're playing some sick game of monkey in the middle, but I don't know what it is they're keeping from me. In an instant, they sink deeper into the wall. Someone's turned the hall light on. Lois is awake.
I don't turn around, but I know she's there. I don't need to look; I can see her there in my mind, leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed loosely and her head resting against the blue trim. The same way I'd always found her when she was watching Brian sleep. I used to stand behind her, her back against me, my arms wrapped protectively around her waist, my chin upon her shoulder, watching with her.
We'd whisper softly, careful not to wake our sleeping angel. "He's beautiful," she'd say.
And I'd hug her closer and kiss her soft hair where it fell over her cheek and framed her face. "Absolutely," I'd reply.
Her voice, just as soft as it had been those nights, pulls me back to the present again. "Are you coming to bed?" she asks. I can't tell if it's annoyance with me or the strain of so many sleepless nights in her tone.
My legs are starting to tingle, as if they just realized they'd lost circulation from sitting too long in one spot. I move to shake my head, but I think better of it. I need to get up. "I'll be along in a minute," I say instead.
I can hear her feet padding softly along on the carpet, and I'm alone again. Slowly, I stand, and the pin pricks dance up my legs like a wildfire. I'm still for a moment, letting the tingling subside before I move to Brian's crib.
I look down at the empty sheets peeking from beneath a patterned quilt. They're clean, and I can smell the strong scent of fresh fabric softener. Lois made his bed. I didn't think she'd been in here since …
I reach down to smooth out wrinkles in the fabric that aren't there, as though I need an excuse, even for myself, to touch the cotton blend spotted with cartoon cows. The quilt is cool to the touch. I run my hand along it one last time before I turn away and leave the room.
Lois is in bed already with the bedside lamps extinguished, but the bright glow from the full autumn moon affords enough light for me to see her.
Her eyes are closed, and in the soft light, I'm reminded how beautiful she is, how much I love her. There's a tight but comforting pull in my chest. I wish I could make her pain disappear.
I strip down to my boxers, leaving my clothes on the floor. I'll get them later. As I climb into bed next to her, I notice she's not on her side, facing away from me anymore. It probably doesn't mean anything, though I wish it did.
The sheets are cool at first when I slip between them, but they warm quickly. I can smell the fabric softener in here, too. My body settles into the mattress as I lie still on my back. I turn my head to look at Lois. She's not asleep.
She looks at me tenderly, I imagine, and turns on her side to face me. "I did some laundry today," she says softly.
"I noticed." I run my hand atop the quilt covering us. This one's warm.
I raise my eyes back to her, not realizing they'd wandered. There's tender concern on her face that I can't mistake this time. I'm not sure if I want to listen.
"It's not your fault."
I shake my head, the day's stubble on my cheek rasping against the freshly cleaned pillowcase. It is my fault. It's my job to save people. And that day, I saved everyone but Brian.
She reaches to rest her palm against my cheek, as if willing me to look at her, or to keep me from shaking my head again.
"You couldn't have known," she says. "There's nothing you could have done."
But I should have known. I answer calls for help all day long. Brian died, and there is nothing I can do about it.
"He's gone," I whisper, and I can feel fresh tears burning wet behind my eyes.
She only nods, but a few silent tears slip down her cheek. I watch the small circle of wetness form on the pillowcase beneath her face. "Hold me," she says. It's almost a question.
I don't hesitate, shifting closer and gathering her close to me. Her body's warm as her tears make her tremble.
Forgive me, Lois. I don't have the courage to say it aloud. I only hope that she will anyway.