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The Yellow Tie: A Shaffer Short Story

The splinters of the mirror distort my son’s face. An ocean of broken, shattered pieces to sift through. He stretches to see above them, but his little toes only stand so tall.


“I can’t see Dad.”


Seems just yesterday his snaggle-toothed smile shown back through the smudged glass at the bottom, that splinter, an eternity away. Now, he pleads with the end of his cuff but no matter how hard he tries, it stops short of his wrist.


“Do I have to wear this? It barely fits anymore?”


When the wind comes, and it always comes, does it have to be so cold? Would one warm breeze be such an immaculate gift from our Creator as to spoil us? Maybe it would? What a gracious and benevolent All-Mighty he is to place such high regard on our humility. I step between the hollow window frame and my son and let the gust drag its frigid nails across my back.


“Don’t you want to look good for your Mother?”


The chest drags, the dust piles, and my son climbs atop, his tie, a puzzle he’s yet to solve.

“Dad, are you sure She can see me?”


Cheeks of his Mother, that skeptical nature of Hers too. Bright yellow, swinging desperately between his legs, the tie refuses his orders. She’s the only reason I still believe. An angel on land must still be an angel above.


“Of course.”


One can. All that’s left, is one can. Dented on one side, the label nearly worn off. Spiders with feet of glass walk inside my stomach. How it begs for food.


“Are you hungry? We have a long walk, remember?”


I’m disgusted with myself for even hoping he isn’t. He nods and the teeth tear open the metal lid and awful chicken broth cascades, a magnificent brown waterfall, into the bowl. As if God himself prepared this broth and brought it forth saying ‘My child, I give to you the sustenance of life’. Humble and gaunt, the Divine plan, so graceful in its execution.


“It’s not as good cold.”


I know, I’m sorry. The yellow tie, now stained. The metal spoon, licked clean. Now it hangs from his nose, his head tilted back.


“Dad, look!”


The crashing waves of starvation recede slowly. All it took was one giggle from this innocent child. One laugh, one smile, one moment where I know the light that is bearing down on us, slows for just a second. One moment where, he is just a boy, and I am just his father and there is nothing wrong in this world. And our Messiah hasn’t forsaken us, and we’re no longer the forgotten crumbs of humanity.


“Let me try.”


He stands, I squat. From the height of the chest, our brows meet. He balances the spoon, look at his focus. A trait all to himself. Little pats, that’s the sound his tiny hands make as they cheer me on. I drop the spoon from my nose and let it fall helplessly to the ground.


“I win!”


The joy of this fragile little boy is all that keeps me in this world. Water racking my lungs, staring up through the ripples at the midday sun, bubbles trickling from my nose, stillness, fading darkness then nothing… how serene that sounds. But our Omnipotent Master denies me such privilege. His rules won’t let me see my beloved unless the end to my misery is at His willful discretion. Sadistic. A boy needs his mother. A man needs his wife. Why can’t I submerge our heads below the water and let it transport us to that heavenly realm where She waits for us with wings of pristine feathers and all the perfection of Her angelic being? An eternal baptism. But I can’t. So, if we have to remain bolted to this existence, this pain that shreds at my heart will remain foreign to this beautiful little boy.


His focus is back to the tie. Determined is this one. Up, under, over. No. Over, under, over. No. Under, up, over. No.


“I can wear the tie if you want?”


Non negotiable.


“I can do it. Mom said I was handsome with a tie on. She’ll like it.”


The dam that holds me together shakes. Is He watching this? Does He see what He’s done? He watches this and demands worship? The audacity. If I didn’t desperately crave the existence of heaven, I would have no need for Him.


“She’ll love it.”


No buddy, it’s over, up, over, through. It’s just a tie but he must be able to learn. Not just the tie; all of it. Today I have strength. Tomorrow, I may not. For him though, I try. Without him and without Her, breath means nothing.


“Can I bring Her something again? We found that flower on the way last year, remember?”

How could I forget? A moment of sympathy or twisted derision, I couldn’t decide at the time. But he loved it, so I did as well.


“If you find something you think She’d like, of course.”


What kind of father can’t provide his son with a gift for his Mother? The vacant shelves mock me.


“Oh, can we play the game?”


A distraction. It’s welcomed.


“Favorite color?”


“Orange.”


Worn shoe soles nuzzle against asphalt now. One in front of the other. Eyes squinting. How can a sun so bright, be so absent of warmth? Does it laugh at us as well? Like the shelves. And the soup. And the mirror. Pretending to provide and nurture, just as He pretends.


“Dad?”


Ah yes, the game.


“Favorite Movie?”


“Notting Hill.”


My cheeks pinch into a smile. A couch, soft, warm. A screen, a movie, a tub of popcorn. You dig to the bottom. The cracking of kernels against wisdom teeth, they’re Your favorite part. The lavender scent of Your hair inches below my nose, my fingers woven into Yours. Then slow, heavy breathing. You’re asleep. Again. Move and You wake up. You’re too beautiful asleep. So I finish the movie. Still. What a terrible movie. Credits roll, eyes peel open. You say You love that movie. I say I love what You love.


But that was before... Before He……… No. I must be better. He cannot pull You away from me with such ease. He may take You from this land, but never my heart.


“Another.”


His little teeth clatter. Hands hugging his elbows. He doesn’t bother putting his arms in the sleeves of my coat after I give it to him. The seams may rip he wraps himself so tightly. Maybe we’ll get lucky and He won’t be paying attention and the cold will swallow us whole. Hypothermia sounds like paradise. The wind calms, the whistle-less silence telling me He heard me. Well, a man can dream.


“Favorite animal? Get down from there buddy.”


This will stump him.


Wool shears as he jumps. The tail of the coat snagged on the rock. Suit coats look odd in two pieces. I’ve never seen guilt manifested so clearly. He may never look up again.


“Sorry...”


One piece is a now a scarf, the other is a shawl. My thumb’s wet. Even his tears are cold.


“Hey, all better see?”


His chin tilts, snot blown into the scarf coat. If it wasn’t ruined already…


“Kangaroo?”


“Kangaroo what?”


“Her favorite animal.”


“Oh yes, the game.”


The sun grows weary of teasing us. The horizon eager to devour the liar.


“Trick question… I don’t know her favorite animal.”


“You don’t?!”


The asphalt concedes to a dirt path. Stalks of massive pampas grass arching overhead. Tunneling us to her. He always hurries ahead when we reach the tunnel. I always slow down.


His voice fades as he disappears beyond the bend.


“Hey Mom!”


It’s an arrogant curve. It sits there taunting me. Doubting I’ll have the courage to face what waits around it. At times, I think it’s right. I’ll try to move but my feet will join all the other things that laugh at the misery that rots my soul. But You wait there. And nothing will keep me from You.


Time was supposed to make it easier. Our Lord had other plans. Every year that passes, the pain calcifies. Throbs, drawing all of my sensation to it. Some days I wish to wake up and be cured of Your hold of my heart. Then, I grow so angry with myself for wishing it, I…


“Come on Dad!”


I have no tie to straighten, my boy wears it. Shirt is tidied, hair is matted, lip is bitten. Deep breath. I step.




Hello angel.




The tunnel opens. A meadow. Dandelions and sunflowers. A creek. Smooth stones. Trickling falls. And one tree. An oak. Watching over You. Protecting You. The way I couldn’t. The way He didn’t. And as the oak’s shadow flees, stretching over the field, there You lay. Grass now grown over your resting place, sharing the same soil as the carved stone that reads your name.


Mother.


Wife.


Angel.


Our son already kneels by the stone, sharing with You his world of wonder and joy. I envy him. Sorrow doesn’t know this boy’s lips. He speaks as if You sat right there under that oak, his head in Your lap, Your fingers running through his hair. With nothing but the joy of the love You filled him with.


I can’t do this anymore…”


Of all the words, those have to be my first? My head hits the stone too hard as I sit back against You. I couldn’t have said anything else first? What is wrong with me?


I miss you so much.”


Tell Her you love Her, you fool. Tell Her how amazing our little boy has grown to become. Tell Her that a minute doesn’t go by that you don’t think of Her.


“I’m so scared.”


Eyes sealed so tightly I think I see her. Searing light. Your face. That smile. Perfection.


“Dad what do—?”


Words don’t belong on tongues so broken. They stagger from my lips.


“Stay on your side, ok buddy?”


How desperate I am for this stone to be Your flesh. My forehead on Yours, not lifeless marble. The soul of mine, waters the soil below, pouring from my eyes, in silent, devastating sobs. You ask me to still believe. How? He took You from me, from us. How can I still believe?


“I wore the tie; I hope you like it? I tied it all myself this time.”


I break. Lungs gasping. No mortal strength exists to conceal this pain. Earth under my nails, if only I could claw my way to you.


“Dad?”


Eyes peer over the edge. A boy cradles his father.


“Don’t cry Dad.”


Weeping.


“When I talk to Mom, She tells me She can’t wait to see us again. She tells me to listen to you and be a good boy.”


Love filled laughter bursts through sucking sobs. I pull him in close. Tears streaming into the corners of my smile.


“Your Mother would never tell you to listen to me!”


That puzzles him.


“It’s just a joke buddy.”


Though, You know You never would..


“Do you want to pray with me, Dad?”


Pray…


“Are you not mad God took her from us?”


That puzzles him even more.


“Took her? He didn’t take Her from us… He gave Her to us.”


The tie wiggles loose, slipping over his head. He folds it neatly atop the stone.


“Wouldn’t you be sad if you never met Her?”


Devastated. The thought alone is too much to bear.


“When Mom and I prayed at night I would say thank you to God for giving me such a great Mom and Dad. Just because She’s not here anymore doesn’t mean He didn’t give Her to us. Do you not tell Him thank you for giving you Mom and me?”


That strikes at my heart. I don’t… at least not anymore.


Yet, there is nothing I’m more grateful for then the love of these two. I could have the world and it would mean nothing if these two were not in it.


“But she’s gone.”


“We’ll see her again.”


Dandelions stick from the fold of the yellow tie. He searches for more, unaware how profoundly his young words hit me. He’s far stronger than I’ll ever be. We created something splendid my angel.


“How’s it look?”


A shrine. Her favorite tie. Worn by both her boys. Decorated with pedals and wild flowers. I stand. Eyes red and irritated. Frost streaming from my breath, but heart warm.


“It’s perfect.”


His arms over my shoulders, legs around my waist, head resting on my back. He’s tired.


“Go ahead buddy.”


“Dear Lord, I pray that Mom is having fun in heaven. Sometimes I wish She were here, but Dad told me She’s an important angel, and You needed Her there so I know She’s doing a good job...”


His words dissolve into a muted blur as he continues on.


My fingers to my lips, I press the kiss to the stone.


I love you.”


Past the meadow, through the tunnel, back on the asphalt, my sleeping son, draped over my shoulders, heart full of the memory of the incomparable woman He gave me, I begin the journey back.


I feel a fraud, but I try.


“Dear Lord…………………. Thank you.”

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©2019 by Richie Shaffer Stories.