A New Dawn
– Fierce Fiction by Nikki McKenzie –
Don was awoken early by a familiar pain in his left knee. He rubbed the swollen joint as he sat upright in bed. Sighing, he glanced at the clock which told him it was only shortly past five in the morning. He knew the pain wouldn’t ease anytime soon, so he dragged himself out of bed and dressed by the slivers of moonlight peeking in through his bedroom window. Limping slightly, he crossed his bedroom quickly, not sparing even a glance at his wife’s still made bed.
When he emerged into the small kitchen with its peeling yellow paint, he made a mental note to add it to his already long list of repairs. He flipped the switch on his twelve-cup coffee maker, and carefully measured out the grounds with trembling hands. The almost twenty-year-old machine sluggishly came to life with an indignant groan that prompted Don to make another mental note to ask his son about a replacement machine. Maybe he would even consider one of the new single-serve pots he had heard about at the plant before he retired.
The house was quiet as the weary man sunk into his usual spot at the kitchen table; the legs of the chair easing into the familiar weight of him. He sipped slowly from his favourite mug, as he did almost every morning, and peered out of the large bay window. A fixture of the house he had always been proud to have built himself, it looked out onto the gorgeous, sprawling lake in all its entirety. It was still too dark to see much of the water, but a thin line of fog hovered delicately above the surface. A crisp morning breeze passed through the large window and the thinning man shivered as he pulled on his worn housecoat over his clothes. He squinted his tired eyes towards the waterline, trying to make out the line where the black velvet sky folded into the water underneath, but it was no use; the two met together so effortlessly on the horizon that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.
Though darkness still blanketed the early hours of the morning, Don could already hear the wildlife springing into action out in the woods. From his window he listened to the small animals that scurried amongst the trees and leapt from branch to branch in search of breakfast. The lonely cry of a loon searching for his mate echoed somberly across the large bay with no reply.
She was an animal person, so Don had built the large window for her to watch from. Still, she always had to have her first coffee on the old, unused boat dock that barely had enough planks to float when they’d first moved in, let alone years later. Early in their marriage Don would offer to join her for coffee, or replace the old chairs for her, but she always gently declined. She made her way down every morning before sunrise and listened to the forest wake up. For over thirty years, that was her morning ritual before she became too sick to handle the cool morning wind.
Feeling crestfallen, he craned his neck out
the window to catch a glimpse of her beloved dock. To his surprise, he saw his
granddaughter, Julia, dimly lit by the lights on the side of the house. She was
carefully maneuvering across the broken planks before stopping at the very edge
of the structure where two lonely chairs sat, sun damaged and worn from years of
being left to the elements. He watched as she inspected the chair on the left
and as he watched, he couldn’t help but notice how much she resembled her
grandmother many years ago.
She sat down in a very slow, deliberate fashion almost as if she was afraid of getting in trouble. She had come prepared for the chilly morning, wrapped now in a blanket, in the same wicker chair her grandma had always sat in. Don was struck by Julia’s uncanny resemblance to his late wife in the dim lighting. It reminded of when they had first taken up residence in the rundown cottage, living carefree lives, and filled with the hope of forever.
Pushing the memories away, he hobbled back towards his ancient coffee maker. He poured himself another cup, and a second mug as well. Pushing against the pain of his leg, he steadily clunked down the steps and into dewy air outside. He shuffled to the dock and placed the mug wordlessly in front of her. He sank into the twin chair and breathed a sigh of relief as the pressure lifted from his knee. Leaning his head back, he closed his eyes and listened to the sound of the waves hitting the rocky shore. The water crashed against the rocks, but he felt peaceful all the same.
Sneaking a glance at Julia, he was surprised to see how hardened her face had become. No longer did her cheeks round out her face and her eyes were closed off to him as they stared intently into the distance. Her mouth was turned just slightly downward in an all too familiar look of defeat. Almost involuntarily, his steady gaze fell to her exposed forearms. His eyes traced over the scars that ran ragged and wild, embossed permanently across her skin; he wondered if there were more that he couldn’t see. Don’s stomach lurched as he considered the possibility of more angry red gashes carved by her own hand. There was still no way for him to comprehend what could have made his sweet little girl feel like she needed to enact such cruelty on herself. He snuck another look at the angry, red raised skin that covered her arms in crosshatches and was once again reminded of his Vera.
He could still picture her lost in her too-big hospital gown that made her look twice as frail as she already was and covered in a collection of surgical scars. They were all delivered in only a few short months, but they covered her chest and back almost completely. Her once soft skin had hardened while it was being picked over and prodded at by the faceless doctors who threw condolences over their shoulders as they hurried between rooms. He thought about the dark purple and black bruises left in the crooks of her frail arms. Elbows where, of course, the usual place for nurses to absentmindedly stick her with different tubes and needles before retreating to other tasks without so much as a word to ease their ever-growing fears.
The sun was finally making progress on it’s slow climb into the sky, and he could just make out the silhouette of a small fishing boat in the middle of the lake. A man sat alone in the back, lazily casting a line behind him. He was entranced by this fisherman who managed to beat even the sun itself to start the day. Don watched the boat as it gracefully cut through the small cresting waves and he wondered if anyone was waiting at home for the lonely angler. He kept his eyes on the man until the boat drifted out of view, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
That left him no choice but to confront his own scars. His decision to keep Vera admitted for chemo treatments, even though they both knew it wouldn’t do any good, still haunted him. He remembered so clearly his last moments with his wife. Her smile still filled with warmth as she took her final breath and her eyes steady as ever as they gazed into his, just as they had on the day they had first laid eyes on each other. Vera didn’t blame him for wanting to keep fighting, he knew that, but he wished he could have been stronger for her then, when it mattered.
The pair on the dock still hadn’t spoken a word yet, but it felt right not to fill the silence. It felt like enough to be in each other’s company; in fact he felt more connected to her sitting on the dock than when she was dropped off at his door. For the first time since Vera had died, he didn’t feel alone.
The sun, now even higher in the sky, was capturing everything in its glow and its heat bounced off the glassy surface of the lake. Don couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this kind of sudden warmth. The rays seemed to infiltrate his skin and warm him from the inside out. He could only liken it to the sensation of waking up from sleep and noticing someone had placed a blanket on him while he slept. Surprised by the warm feeling in his stomach, he thought again of his wife.
The tears began to escape as he finally understood what his wife had felt when she came out here. He understood now that sitting on this crumbling old dock could be just what you needed to feel like everything would be okay. It had been enough to get her through another appointment, another surgery, another battle, even when she knew she wouldn’t win. It was a moment to herself where nothing felt out of control and she didn’t have to feel helpless.
“I’ve never sat out here at this time of day before.” Don’s gruff voice cut through the silence, tears still running across his tired face. As he spoke, he suddenly felt lighter. It was as if he had carried those words so long inside that they had been weighing him down.
“But you have now.” Her reply was barely above a whisper and Don almost didn’t hear her. She stood up slowly, collecting the two identical mugs.
“I think I could go for another one, if you don’t mind.” She turned and started up the stairs and he was reminded once again how much she resembled Vera when they had first made this their home. Julia paused on the steps.
“Thanks for sitting with me, Grandpa. It’s nice to not feel alone anymore.” Nodding his head knowingly, he glanced at the now vacant chair beside him and smiled. Don felt grateful that he had never come out here with Vera. If he had, he would never be able to sit out here again without missing her. Now it could be a new memory for Julia to share with him. The warm beams of sunlight shone down on his weathered face, and he began to feel drowsy. Shutting his eyes, he smiled at the image of his beloved forever etched on the back of his eyelids, knowing she was at peace. There was no way to save Vera from her illness, but he would be there for his granddaughter now. A warm breeze drifted across his still body as he dozed off in the old whicker chair. And the sun, at last, seized its place among the morning sky, officially signalling the start of a new day.
About the Author – Nikki McKenzie
Nikki McKenzie is full of sarcasm and also positivity and is the embodiment of when Jim from “The Office” looks into the camera. An avid storyteller, creatively, socially and professionally, she aspires to continue to write until she has no stories left to tell.
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