In Memory of the Brightwell Family
It had been a full year since Robert Brightwell last set foot inside his grandparents’ house.
Aunt Linda looked up at him from the turkey she was cutting. “It’s great to see you finally made it.”
“Yeah, what kind of job keeps you late for Christmas dinner?” his grandpa asked from the kitchen table.
“I don’t even remember anymore,” Robert said. He walked to his grandpa and kissed him on the cheek. “Merry Christmas, Grandpa.”
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“Ma’s in the bedroom helping Karen change Little Bobby’s diaper.”
“I know,” Robert said. It didn’t matter that he expected it; he started to choke up.
He waited for the bedroom door to open. Karen walked out, not looking a day over twenty-three. “I thought you’d never come,” she said with a grin.
“Karen,” Robert said. He limped toward her, cursing the fact that he couldn’t run instead, and embraced her. He held her for a few seconds, wishing it could last forever.
He let go just as Grandma came out of the room carrying Bobby. The one-year-old held a small, wooden train. “Hello, Robert. We just had to let him open one present early.”
She let the boy down. He ran toward Robert shouting, “Da-da!”
Robert’s back creaked as he picked up his son. He had to push away the memories of a time when that didn’t happen; he had the rest of the year to remember that. He clung to the little boy, no longer bothering to fight the tears.
They celebrated Christmas together. He made sure to kiss Karen under the mistletoe. He discussed the Cuban Missile Crisis with Grandpa and Aunt Linda. But mostly, he played with Bobby.
But before long, things were already fading.
“No,” Robert yelled, picking up Bobby. “Please, just give me more time.”
Seconds pass, and he sees the falling snow through the walls of the house as they fade away. His grandparents are soon gone. Karen and Aunt Linda vanish away with them. And then Bobby is no longer in his arms.
He stands in the empty field, watching the snow for a few minutes. He bends over and picks up his cane from where he had left it before entering the phantom house.
He brushes the fresh snow off of the stone and reads the inscription again: “In memory of the Brightwell family — December 25, 1962.” If he hadn’t been late that night so long ago, the gas leak explosion would have taken his life with theirs.
He reaches into his pocket and retrieves a gold chain. Along with the toy train he is holding, he places it on the stone. “Karen and Bobby. If only I was there with you. I’ll see you again next year, God willing.”
Robert leans on his cane and begins walking back to his car.