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nothing was the same

of grief, of loss

By angela hepworthPublished 22 days ago 4 min read
Top Story - March 2024
24

Like clockwork, Justin Haylock wakes up at five a.m. every morning with a burning sensation in his throat and a twisted feeling in his stomach.

After blindly feeling around on his bed to find a clean pair of clothes, he gathers them up into his arms and stumbles out his bedroom door and down into the narrow hall that leads to the bathroom; despite having lived alone for almost two years, he locks the bathroom door behind him. There, he sinks down to his knees and promptly throws up into the toilet while the shower runs at full blast. It’s embarrassing, and probably unhealthy—he doesn’t know why it happens—but it only takes about five minutes of teary eyes and violent heaving to ease the aching pit in his stomach, so he’s accepted it as routine.

He showers next. Showers have become one of Justin’s least favorite things—they make him feel irrationally nervous now, standing there under a raging spray of water in a tiled, enclosed room all by himself, completely bared and vulnerable. So he washes himself at a nearly inhuman speed; he quickly coats his body in soap and scrubs every inch of his skin raw with a sponge until it’s red and burning. He hastily mixes shampoo and conditioner together in one hand and lathers it vigorously into his curly hair before washing it out, his nails often ripping his scalp open with shallow little cuts that sting rather annoyingly under the water. This takes another five minutes, and no matter how much he tries, he usually steps out feeling much worse than he did going in.

Some days, though, the ache in his stomach somehow worsens as he showers, and he has to crouch down in the tub on the balls of his feet and squeeze his eyes closed tightly just to be able to breathe. Occasionally he feels a warm, wet stinging in his eyes and distantly notices that he’s crying; the tears wash away by the water anyway, so it’s easy to forget it had ever happened by the time he gets out. Other times, he has full-on breakdowns in the shower, shuddering, panting panic attacks where he can’t see or hear or even breathe, so he sits down in the tub and hugs his knees to his chest until it’s over. On these days, even when he reaches up with a trembling hand to control the temperature of the water, it always ends up feeling scorching hot or freezing cold as it rains down relentlessly on his naked back.

Justin brushes his teeth afterwards, sometimes so hard that his toothbrush comes back an ugly brownish-red—he doesn’t know why he brushes so hard, he doesn’t mean to. He puts on his clothes—sweatpants and a plain t-shirt, he doesn’t like to wear anything that may draw unnecessary attention to himself—at least he wouldn’t like that, if he ever left the house. Then he brushes his hair—it’s always mangled and staticky and unbelievably hard to manage, so he’ll just yank a brush through his curls a few times before calling it a day.

By this time it’s usually about six, the sun still dwelling low in the sky. Justin’s never able to fall back asleep after he wakes up, so he goes downstairs instead. He brews coffee and pours himself a large cup—one packet of stevia, no milk.

Then he takes his mug out to the deck. His backyard is a quaint little beauty, with a nice glass table and two comfy chairs, facing outwards into the yard towards the trees behind the garage, swaying in the breeze. As he walks to the edge of his table, he can almost see her—Allison Montgomery, his beautiful wife, sitting in the seat with her tangled earbuds in and her eyes closed, her pale blonde lashes low and relaxed as her head tilts back onto the headrest of the chair. At this time in the morning, she’d always be dressed in a soft-looking white robe, having just got out of the shower; she was an early riser, and from the day they got married until the day they lowered her into the ground, Justin had never once woken up before her. When she’d see him, she’d smile as bright as the sun and wave. Justin would smile back and press her coffee into her hands—extra light, with extra sugar. They’d sit there in a comfortable quiet, breathing in the fresh dewy air of the early dawn, looking at the swaying leaves, taking in the world as it was.

And now—

And now.

Justin takes a deep breath, inhaling sharply through his nostrils and out through his mouth. His warm breath rises in a plume of smoke as he stares up into the abyss of the inky black sky.

The world is silent here.

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About the Creator

angela hepworth

Hello! I’m Angela and I love writing fiction—sometimes poetry if I’m feeling frisky. I delve into the dark, the sad, the silly, the sexy, and the stupid. Come check me out!

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Comments (11)

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  • Anna 17 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • Gerard DiLeo18 days ago

    It depends on from where the euphony comes. Nice.

  • Christy Munson20 days ago

    Hard edges and biting sentences feel apt for the cruelty of loss. This bittersweet fiction laments but it lacks sentimentality, which I find it refreshing. Very well done. Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Caroline Jane20 days ago

    This is beautifully sad. Really well put together. It got me good! 😭❤️

  • Oh, my heart. Fabulously done. Such a well-deserved top story. This really hit me

  • Ameer Bibi20 days ago

    Congratulations for your top story this story has a different perspective about a personality

  • Rachel Deeming20 days ago

    Very moving.

  • Nice short story. You should try entering some of the regular short story contests out there, reedsy, globe soup, etc

  • Michelle Liew21 days ago

    Angela, the perspective of the widow is always taken more into account than that of the widower - thanks for telling us that both men and women go through the grieving process. Excellent.

  • Shirley Belk22 days ago

    An incredibly perfect picture of grief. Bravo

  • Caroline Craven22 days ago

    Wow. This was so damn good and you explain grief and loss perfectly.

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