The first time Laura Klein saved her husband’s life, she’d found his side of the bed cold at four a.m. Her throat clenched around the hard-edged understanding he’d gone off his medication again. She stumbled down the stairs in her nightgown, checked the yard, and raced down the street in her station wagon, her bare foot pressed to the accelerator. Half a mile away, she located his Corolla flipped on the side of Forest Road with Jack pinned beneath the dash, his leg broken in three places. After the Jaws of Life cut him from the wreckage, her atheist husband had smiled up at her and, with a wink and a grimace, declared himself born again.
The second time, Laura had followed a serpentine trail of spilled sleeping pills between the house and the tool shed and discovered Jack curled between the lawn mower and snow blower. She’d shaken him till a mild protest bubbled from his lips, and then, fingers twitching with relief, speed-dialed 911.
The third time Jack had tried to end his life, Laura had found his body.
Laura stood in Jack’s writing studio, the printer chugging out a copy of his estate tax returns behind her back. The late winter sunrise streamed through the wavy glass window and fell across the recently purchased futon. For months, the empty space had served as a reminder. Now, with the replacement futon back in its proper spot, she’d thought she could keep herself from rehashing the last moments of Jack’s life.
She’d thought wrong.
Laura snapped up the original returns and slipped from the studio into the mudroom that doubled as her home office. From the pocket of her robe, she took the skeleton key and locked the door behind her, wishing it were that easy to confine her memories. She set the papers on her desk and slid her checklist off the bookshelf. If she wrote things down, then she wouldn’t need to worry. Not as much.
Friday: Clean house, especially bathrooms, and split firewood. Pick up groceries at Market Basket. Bring Jack’s tax returns to the post office.
Serving as executor for Jack’s estate had kept Laura busy for more than ten months. She preferred her role as Jack’s editorial assistant, even though revising one of his literary novels often took longer than Jack spent writing a first draft.
A first draft would mentally exhaust him, depress him when he should’ve been celebrating. Several weeks later, Jack would trumpet his accomplishment and turn the house upside down, searching for the credit cards she’d hidden from him. Despite her best efforts, till the day Jack died, the man acted as though he’d no clue how thin a respectable mid-list author’s advances and royalties spread over a year.
“Jack.” She stroked her husband’s name and touched two fingers to her lips, mimicking the pressure of his soft mouth. Last kiss. “I love you so,” he’d said, and she’d glanced over her shoulder. Jack’s tall frame had filled their bedroom doorway the last time she’d seen her husband alive.
A thread of nausea tickled her throat, and she swallowed against a rapidly forming knot. She wrestled with her breath and recognized the excessively deep inhalations, a sure sign of hyperventilating. At Jack’s funeral, a panicked rumble had moved through the crowd, and her friend Maggie had held a crackling brown lunch bag over Laura’s nose and mouth, chanting breathing instructions. If she grayed out today, no one would come to her rescue.
She closed her eyes, focused on her breathing the way Maggie had taught her. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. In and out, in and out. From the next room, the kitchen clock ticked the seconds. Her mind settled. Gradually, her breathing slowed.
Laura sighed, blinked her eyes open, and shoved the checklist onto the bookcase, disturbing the crowded shelf. Elastic-bound papers tumbled head over heels, then slapped the floor at her feet. Laura crouched and gathered up three manuscripts of hers she’d never complete, but couldn’t bear to toss. A story of family secrets. A journey of self-discovery. And a tale of losing and finding love. Each manuscript had grown from a facet of her life at the time of its writing. Each manuscript represented a missed opportunity she could never get back. Each manuscript stirred a stomach-plummeting falling-apart sensation of loss she resented. She needed to give herself a break. Her life hadn’t exactly been normal. She could barely remember normal.
Maybe six weeks from now, after commemorating the one-year anniversary of Jack’s death, she could finally work on a brand-spanking new creation. Unless she’d ignored inspiration so many times, she’d run out of chances. Over the course of their marriage, whenever she’d carved out a slice of time to focus on writing fiction, Jack would dive into a real-life crisis she couldn’t ignore. How could she blame him for his perfect timing? She shook her head, told herself her eyes stung from an allergy to dust, and forced the manuscripts back onto the shelf.
Family always came first.
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