Snow floated in the air silently outside. Helen stared, momentarily-zoned out in the decent of the flakes.
Big fluffy flakes that barely weighed anything. Sophie used to love playing in the snow, she thought, but long gone were the days of bundling Sophie in snow pants, boots, a hat and mittens. Gone was the moment of zipping up her coat all the way to her chin and patting her on the butt as she clumsily made her way out the front door. Helen clung tightly to the memories she had of her daughter. Even ten years later, she held out secret hope that her daughter was still alive. Helen carefully arranged a bouquet of thorny red roses in a vase.
Statistically speaking, Sophie was dead. Everyone told her so. The police, the center for missing children, other missing children’s parents from her support group. She knew that-but she always believed that a mother knew if her baby’s heart was still beating somewhere out there and Helen had never felt the loss of Sophie in the deepest recesses of her heart. She just felt she was still alive.
Not knowing was the worst. It let the nightmares in. The what if’s and the tortures of imagination could drive a person crazy, especially after a decade of unanswered questions, but Helen reminded herself daily that she had to be strong because- what if Sophie came home? If she showed up and Helen was in the looney bin with no safe home to return to- that would be the ultimate failure as a mother.
“Hey,” Sam said. Helen glanced at the clock. Her husband arrived home just after five pm. At fifty he was still handsome as ever. ‘Easy on the eyes’ as her mother had called him. Tall with an athletic build and a strong jaw but kind eyes. He kissed her cheeks and swatted her rear as he passed her on his way to the kitchen. He had swept Helen off her feet at twenty-three. She had loved that he was a responsible single father of a two year old son- it showed his character. He was attentive and romantic. He’d wooed her with flowers, compliments and simple moments of affection.
At twenty-four they married and by twenty-five, Cora was born. Those early years had been pure joy. Shane-four, and Cora just a newborn, had seemed to complete their lives. Sophie came four years later by accident. A happy surprise to Sam and Helen but Cora, then four and Shane, eight, weren’t quite as elated. In that first year with Sophie, there had been a lot of singing ‘you can’t always get what you want’ to the kids. Now, decades later, Cora and Shane loved to bring that song up and sing it back to Sam and her when the moment was right. Helen grinned at the thought.
“Hi love. How was work?” she asked and followed him to the kitchen.
“Same as always. Me trying to get Dad to modernize- Dad refusing- me plotting his retirement.” Sam winked at her and rolled his eyes. She watched as he set a bouquet of flowers on the counter for her. She loved the way he left flowers for her in the evening when he came home from work.
Since before Helen knew him, Sam was on track to take over the family business. A business that over the years had amassed them quite a fortune. Sam’s father had promised to retire three years ago but was still working full time- much to Sam’s dismay. He had plans to bring the company more up-to-date. He wanted a technologically savvy company, not the archaic one his father started.
With her step-son Shane now twenty-five and living in Boston, and Cora, twenty one and renting in Portland, the house was eerily quiet. Empty nesters. They should still have had a child in their home for at least another year. But it was what it was. Helen spent her days volunteering at Park View Hospital while Sam spent his at work.
Each time Helen witnessed Shane and his father growing closer over the years, each time he went to a father daughter event with Cora, she found herself angry with him for not mourning the loss of having those very same moments with Sophie. Helen felt that pang of heartbreak with every rite of passage that came and went for Cora and Shane knowing that those moments were stolen from her youngest child.
The years had been hard on their marriage. They loved each other, yes, but the loss of a child tore the fabric of their marriage over time leaving them distant. A gaping chasm that never seemed to shrink no matter how much counseling they endured together. Or maybe that was what all marriages were like after twenty-two years. Helen wasn’t naive. She didn’t expect passion to be around every corner but she did wonder if she should feel a more certain closeness to her husband after all these years.
Everyone mourns the loss of a child differently. At least that is what the counselor had told them so long ago. Helen couldn’t help the resentment she felt toward Sam about the way he moved on. To her, she would never give up hope but Sam had long ago written Sophie off. He refused to even speak her name or take a chance on new leads that came over the years with her case after that first year she was gone. To save their marriage, Helen had adapted to his methods. She had Cora to think about. Cora was one of those souls who watched to see what she could do for others, someone who would rather serve in silence. A kind and generous person.
Her step-son Shane was a different beast altogether. He’d been unruly from the start. A difficult child and a destructive one. Helen attributed it to three things. The way his mother coddled him, the way his father, Sam, treated him more like a best friend than a parent and Sophie’s disappearance. Those three things seemed to shape him over the years into a handsome man who was always on edge and had a temper.
“What’s for dinner, love?” Sam asked. He held her hand, brushed his thumb over her knuckles and looked at her as if she were his entire world.
“I don’t know. I thought maybe we could go out,” Helen answered.
Sam smiled and nodded. “Sure. Let me change and we can head out. Any hankerings?”
“Mexican,” Helen said. Sam beamed at her. He loved Mexican food and she knew it would please him that she suggested it. No matter how strange their relationship was now, she still tried. And that was what mattered in the end right?
That they never stopped trying.
Sam leaned in and kissed her softly. His salty lips made her laugh. He was always snacking on salted peanuts on his drive home from work.
K. Larsen (subject to change)