(This piece was submitted for my Creative Writing coursework. Inspired by Raymond Carver’s ‘I Could See the Smallest Things’)
A car alarm started going off outside. Her eyelids were heavy, so she tried to ignore it. But then she wondered if it was her car; it was only a few months old and she had never heard the alarm before.
The clock on the bedside table said 1.55 A.M., though Ellie hadn’t adjusted it since the transition to spring nearly three weeks ago. Other things occupied her thoughts of late.
She climbed out of the cold side of the bed. Oh, how she missed the warmth from last winter.
She stumbled across the untidied laundry and opened the curtains. It was an ordinary view of parked cars and streetlights, terraced houses and a city somewhere behind them. She rubbed her eyes and looked to her car. Its headlights flashed and the horn blared.
She put on her dressing gown, slipped into her unlaced trainers and rushed downstairs. A charity collection flier fell from the table by the door as she passed it, landing near the black bags in the hallway.
She unlocked the door and went outside, tapping the lock button on the keys. The lights blinked off and the street was quiet again. With the bite of the morning air, she wrapped her arms around her waist and went over to inspect the vehicle. Only up close did she notice someone kneeling at the side the vehicle, reaching for something underneath.
“Hello,” she said.
A man looked up. She knew him. He lived in the neighbourhood.
She said, “Mister King, are you alright?” She wondered if he might have fallen over. She moved closer. “Mister King?”
He put a hand on the side of her car to lift himself and the alarm started again. Ellie tapped the button again and helped him to his feet. Mister King must have been around ninety years old. His arms were slender and his movement clearly strained him.
With a glance in her direction, he said, “I’m ever so sorry, Ellie. I’ve dropped something and it went under your car.”
She said, “What have you dropped?”
He said, “I don’t mean to be a nuisance, but could you help me? I don’t want the alarm to go off again.”
She knelt down and reached for a small photograph. She handed it to him and he kissed it. It was a picture of an elderly woman.
“Thank you, my dear,” said Mister King. “It’s the only one I have.”
She said, “Why are you out so late?”
“I was at the cemetery. I wanted to say goodnight to her,” he said, slipping the photograph into his wallet. “I go whenever I can.”
“I didn’t know,” she said.
He said, “Two months ago.”
She said, “Let me walk you back home.” She tucked her arm around his and continued down the street to the house two along.
“Whatever happened to that young man of yours?” said Mister King.
“He’s gone,” she said. She could feel her arm tighten around Mister King’s, but took a few breaths until it loosened. He placed an unsteady hand on her forearm and gave her a smile as if to say ‘it’s okay.’
Mister King let himself in, but insisted he could get himself to bed.
“She knew when she would go,” he said. “I hope I’m right.”
Ellie didn’t understand what he meant, but offered to check on him in the morning to which he replied, “There’s no need.” He took in every detail of her face – as if for the last time, and closed the door.
Ellie hurried back inside, shivering. She picked up the flier on the floor and checked the date. She would remember when they came this time. Deep down she knew she had been putting it off.
She climbed the stairs and halfway across the landing, she stopped again. She understood what Mister King was talking about. It was a sad thought if she was right. She envisioned Mister King’s goodnight to his wife. Less a goodbye, rather a ‘see you soon.’
She kicked off her shoes and climbed into bed, still wrapped in his dressing gown. She knew she wouldn’t sleep now. The whole bed was cold. How she missed the warmth. Only the warmth.