The alarm clock winked on and off, the red light gently strobing over the quiet room.
A spectator would only be able to notice a few details at a time in between the blinking, like a bat chirping its way through the night in hopes of something sweet. Blink...
A flowery, yellowed wallpaper. Blink...A nightstand, painted cream, with a photo of a young couple at the-Blink...beach.
Two acoustic guitars leaning against the wall, one slightly smaller than-Blink...A collection of license plates hanging on the wall, each from a different state. Blink...
A bed, with an arm stretched across the empty side of the covers...Blink.
Eddie had heard the alarm go off, had waited it out until the sound stopped, the blinking trying in vain to pull him out of bed.
He had always been an early riser, enjoying a bitter coffee on the porch while the sun crawled over the horizon, the birds helping him keep watch over the house in the early hours.
A tear rolled down his cheek, getting lost somewhere between the creases in his face and the wrinkles in the sheets. There was no sound accompanying the soft crying.
The sobs had gone away some time ago, leaving with the birds in search of some place warmer.
It was just him now, lying alone in a cold bed, his body failing to keep him warm the way it once had.
He reached for a pillow that was forgetting her scent, grateful for a memory that let him imagine it was still there, filling his lungs as he emptied his eyes into the quiet dark.
Betty pushed the screen door open, joining him with a coffee almost as sweet as her.
They might have chattered over the sound of the birds in their youth, but now they let the silence of their friendship wrap around them like a familiar hug. She had been so beautiful that day.
She was beautiful everyday, but that day it seemed like the sun had risen from sleep just to get a glimpse of her.
Eddie pushed himself up, creaking joints sinking into the mattress. He pushed his feet into morning slippers, shuffling towards the door.
The alarm clock was left blinking as he made his way into the hall. 9:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 9:01 a....
The newspaper boy raced past, flippantly tossing the paper over their fence. Eddie chuckled to himself. He liked to think that the boy was racing to see his own Betty.
It had been newspaper deliveries that paid for the first date he asked Betty on.
He sipped coffee through a smile, not noticing how the boy skipped over the other houses,
how the boy was much too tall to be a boy; not questioning why he was wearing a dark hood halfway through July...
In a slumped daze, he began to brush his teeth. He flicked his eyes away from the mirror, still not used to his weathered face after all this time.
His gaze landed on several bottles of medication. Dust had settled on a few of the unused ones, like flowers on a grave. He cleaned his toothbrush and spit into the drain.
He reached for one of the bottles, and a thought made its way through his head, a thought that had made its way through his head countless times since summer.
He stared into the open container, debating thoughtlessly. Were they really keeping him alive, or just contributing to a pain that he didn't want to live with anymore?
Betty stepped into the yard and stole the paper under her arm. She loved reading about their little town's dramas, cutting out her favorite articles and storing them in a scrapbook.
She had a way of making her own fun, one of her many qualities that never lost its charm. She kissed him on her way inside.
The screen door shuddered close, leaving Eddie to daydream as the neighborhood began waking up...
The cool of the kitchen tiles went through his thin slippers with ease. He had never been one for winter.
Winter was when everything slowed down, when the birds left and the trees bared their bones.
Betty told him once that it gave them an excuse to cuddle by the fireplace, and that sentiment had almost changed his mind on the matter. Almost.
It didn't change that summer was when she wore sundresses, when she pulled her hair into a messy bun, giving him a chance to tease a playful kiss across her neck.
He used to spend all winter thinking of her shy, summer laughter. He wondered if the next summer would still be as warm without that music.
Her unused mug clinked against his as he took it from the cabinet. One afternoon, several years ago, she had suggested they paint their coffee cups.
She brought her acrylics out from their space beneath the bed, and they set to work on giving life to that white glass.
Hers had turned out lovely, of course, a panorama of a city street, with sunflowers stretching out from every window, while his was a scene of birds over trees, crudely done in black paint.
She poked fun, as she always did, at his disregard for color, not realizing that he only continued the habit to coax her into teasing him.
He pulled the rickety door open, expecting the warm smell of breakfast to pour out. Instead he was met with silence.
On the few occasions, late at night, when he briefly allowed himself to imagine this scene before pulling her closer towards him, he had never imagined that thundering silence.
It roared at him, warning him of what was to come as he entered the kitchen.
A pained, aching sound escaped him, shattering the quiet as he saw her lying face down on the floor, the newspaper still clutched in her hand.
He finished his coffee right as the paper boy sped by, a dark hooded blur. Eddie's lawn caught the paper with a gentle thud, the only yard to receive a paper that morning.
Eddie shifted in his wooden chair, eventually finding his way to his feet.
He had brought the newspaper to the kitchen table each morning since July, some part of him hoping that one day he'd find her reading it again, waiting for him to join her.
That day hadn't come yet.
He pulled it from the plastic sleeve and laid it, gently, across the table.
As he was turning away to pour his leftover coffee grounds out, he noticed across the top of the paper in large, skinny letters, the word "O B I T U A R Y".
He stared at the paper, trying to determine which local had passed to warrant the full front page of the news:
Edward L. Willis: March 23, 1937 - December 21, 2009
Edward's mother was a colorful painter, contributing her talents to the war effort while his father fought overseas.
His father never made it back home, leaving behind his widowed family to struggle and grieve their way through the 50's. Edward grew up watching his mother paint her way into...
He didn't notice as his mug slipped from his fingers, falling against the floor, sending blackbirds into hiding beneath kitchen cupboards.
His mouth hung open slightly as his eyes made their way through the paper, through the journey of his life.
He read about how he had always been something of a loner, a shadow perched in the background; about how he had met a colorful girl at a college he hadn't wanted to go to,
a Kansas girl who dreamed of a world beyond those endless fields of wheat; about how they had both dropped out to see that world, moving from one VW bus to the next,
living anywhere that would have them; about how he'd bought Betty a painting set after they settled down, him playing music as she painted afternoons away.
Line after line, all the way up until a few months ago when he had found his wife, lifeless on their kitchen floor, her skin as colorless as the white tiles that cradled her.
The last line told of how Eddie had tragically died from a blood clot rushing through his veins, ambushing his circulatory system on a cold December morning.
Air was trying to make its way into Eddie's lungs, but it couldn't seem to get past his closing windpipe. Tears ran down his weary face, his heart barely beating.
He felt a sharp pain drive through his skull, like a headache that pounced on him. His hand shot up, reflexively reaching towards-