This is my birthday present for GoSherlocked. How strange to post something without getting comments, smileys and encouragement from you first. Hope you'll enjoy it, dear.
Readers be warned, this little fic is a short story. Yes, not a one-shot, but a real short story.
I wake up. It's Friday. Postcard day.
For nineteen weeks now, that is my first thought when I wake up. What kind of day is it? There are only two kinds, Postcard Days and No Postcard Days. Too few of the first kind. Too many of the second.
What has woken me? Ah, noise from the other room. Unusual, normally I am the first to wake up. Why this deviation?
My eyes fall onto the lighthouse. Built at the end of Wortleblythe's stone breakwater pier. An elegant white cylinder set on a rough cuboid. The clear blue sky in black and white. Two birds flying around it. The first thing I see every morning for nineteen weeks now. This is the most important one. The first one. Arrived just two days after he left. Silent reminder that he keeps his side of the bargain. On the back, our address written in his peculiar hand writing, neat soldier handwriting fighting chaotic doctor's handwriting. Never-ending battle. Next to the address, only one word, "Sorry".
The call that had pulled me out of my disturbing dreams is repeated. Why did I sleep so long? Memories are crawling back slowly. Case. First one in nineteen weeks. Closed room mystery. Never been able to resist. Wish I had.
I get up, my eyes trailing to the second one. Arrived exactly one week after the first. He kept his promise. The same pier, but this time the picture was taken from a different angel. Lighthouse at photographer's back. Shows Worthleblythe, grey city on the North Sea, underneath grey clouds. Three hours twenty-nine minutes away from Baker Street. The only research on him I did during the last nineteen weeks. It rains. First indication of how he felt. On its back, the same message, "Sorry."
Come on, his voice says inside my head, that deduction is not all that impressive. I wouldn't have left if I had been all right.
True. So instead, I listen to the noise coming from the other room. Still time to go to the kitchen first. Now that is a deduction I am proud of. Has taken me some time to figure it out. But I have learnt. We both have.
On the way to the kitchen, my eyes fall onto the bookshelf in the living room. Still fourteen books missing. Difficult to replace. Takes me longer than I thought. Remember how in the beginning I had superstitiously believed that he would return as soon as I have replaced all books that were beyond repair. Once the old state is restored. Now I hope I was wrong.
In the kitchen, I realize that I had not prepared anything. Right, the case. Had hoped to enjoy it. Stupid me. Had only demonstrated the vacancy by my side.
In the kitchen, my fingers start their usual routine. Reaching for the bag. Reaching for the container. Am not even thinking about it any longer. My head starts counting on its own, one – two – three – four – five - six. Remember the first time I went into the kitchen like this, overwhelmed and insecure. Only had to count to two back then.
The most horrific day of my life. One day before that one has been the most horrific of his life, I suppose. I've always been a bit slower than him with things like that.
I remember him, how he was standing in the kitchen on the most horrific day of his life. Was able to watch realization crawling all over his body. I tried to be brave, for him. It worked. Still don't know had tried to go on after the Day Of The Gunshot, but he couldn't. Had tried for ten days before realizing that he couldn't. So typical that for him this realization was more horrific than The Day Of The Gunshot itself.
My body is still working on its own. The routine of nineteen weeks. Water. Check temperature. Mix with formula, but softly. We don't want bubbles.
At the kitchen counter, number six. Had frightened me when it came. The same message as always during the first ten weeks, "Sorry." But on its front, a window of Wortleblythe's cathedral. Jesus, dying on his cross. One week passed in fear, one week of not knowing how far his depression would drive him. Only relieved when exactly one week later, one Friday later, the next postcard came. He was still carrying on.
I'm finished in the kitchen. Listen to the noises. Still no need to hurry. As I go to the stairs, I look at the bookshelf again. I spent a week trying to clean it properly. Had to take out each and every book. Made three staples, spared, cleanable, waste. The last one the highest. Remember his face when walking around the staples to sit in his chair. He had tried to be brave for ten days, but failed.
I stop at the first step. Had been standing here when she wanted to go upstairs that night. Been standing next to his chair first, but a loaded weapon exposes our priorities just as well as fire. I had moved into her way before she finished saying, "I will take her with me now."
On my way upstairs I look at the ones I had put on the wall there. A series of five, the ones that followed the cathedral window. All with "Sorry" on their back. Their fronts showing his slow descent from depression to indifference.
Wortleblythe's harbour barely visible in thick fog. Then the frigate from the side, a picture so common that it reflects his indifference very well. Then the town hall on an insignificant summer day. Indifference perfected. Then a boring mixture of common pictures. He is fading. Then another wild mixture of common pictures. He will soon be fading completely.
I reach Maddie's room. It has stopped being "their room" at some point during the last nineteen weeks. Good or bad? I don't know. A wooden sign on the door says "Maddie's room". Present from my parents. Don't know why I told them that I am calling it "Maddie's room" now. The parcel with the sign arrived only two days later.
Never thought of it as "Madelaine's room". Never think of her as "Madelaine". He hates the name, so I hate it too. She told it to the midwife during labour when he wasn't paying attention, and before he could do something, he had a daughter called Madelaine. Her last but one cruelty.
I open the door. Remember the two weeks my parents have spent with us. The week with the historical picture of children working in Wortleblythe's old coal mine and the week of the storm flood at Wortleblythe's harbour. Three weeks after he had left.
They stood at my door one day without prior notice. My own personal task force. After three weeks of taking care for her on my own. Three weeks of sleep deprivation, of forgotten meals, of thousands of bottles, of thousand of nappies, of a million of dirty burp cloths. They looked around, then shared a glance in silent agreement. Father hushing me into the shower, Mummy taking over Maddie.
Father took over cleaning the books too. A nearly hopeless project. "I like nearly hopeless projects," he said. "The one thing we have in common, you and me." I disagreed, but he just smiled, "You are waiting for him to come home, aren't you?" Point proven.
When they left two weeks later, Maddie slept through most of the night, had gotten some solution against the air in her belly prior to every bottle and I could tell angry wailing from hungry wailing and tired wailing. They saved us from utter chaos.
I open the door and am greeted by happy gurgling. There is no better sound in the world. Remember the first morning I was greeted not by angry hungry wailing, but by a smile. The week of the town hall in summer.
I fish her out of her bed and we sit down on our arm chair. Opposed to it is the best one of all. Exactly the same picture as on the first one, the same lighthouse, the same two birds. But in colour. On its back, the first change after ten weeks, "Thank you."
When she starts drinking, I see a small note next to her bed. Must have lost it there yesterday. Address of a good second-hand book shop. Its owner can probably get me a copy of "The Origin Of Tree Worship". One of the books lost forever on The Day Of The Gunshot.
It has been a lovely spray pattern, by the way. Had I not been there to witness it, I could have told exactly where she had been standing and how close the gun had been and what kind of gun it had been just by looking at the pattern of blood and brain mass on my book shelf.
If the book seller can get me a copy of this book, there will still be thirteen books missing.
Maddie takes her time drinking. Enjoys the quiet time in my arms. Can't help remembering when I held her for the first time. She was one hour old. The game changer. Before, all he wanted to do was to forgive and to hold on and to make it work. After she shot me, after Christmas, after the faked Moriarty case got solved. Now he was standing in front of me at the hospital floor, that little bundle in his arms. His body flooded with hormones of happiness and bonding and responsibility.
"I should have read the AGRA stick," he whispers. Well, I did. Not sure if he forgave me that, but he was listening intensely when I told him everything about Ava Geraldine Regina Andrews. Remember how he paled. "She will never lay hand on my daughter," he said. Presses Maddie into my arms before I could protest because I would drop her or smash her or hold her the wrong way or forget to hold her little head, and went straight into her room to tell her it's over.
The last time they have been in the same room until The Day Of The Gunshot. I heard her swearing she would come and take back Madelaine by force if necessary and how she would kill me in front of his eyes and then him. I still heard her swearing in my head when we packed his stuff with Maddie on our arms and my flat became our flat again.
Maddie takes her time drinking, but finally the bottle is empty. I heave her onto the changing table. There are three more postcards saying, "Thank you" hanging on the wall. The three weeks after the coloured lighthouse. People repairing the harbour after a flood. Tells me that he is slowly feeling better. Then, the small chapel near the beach. He has found a source of new strength. But then, the frigate at stormy weather. Relapse. Broke my heart once more.
Changing diapers should be an unpleasant thing to do, but it isn't. I love taking care of Maddie, who would have thought. But today my mind is occupied. Postcard day. The last few postcards showed a steady healing of his soul.
The beach at very early sunrise, a tiny reason for hope after the relapse. A little nearby waterfall. The town hall in spring time, the flowers in front of it in full bloom. The lighthouse, with a sky that says early in the morning on a sunny day in spring.
What will today's postcard show?
When I come downstairs with Maddie on my arm, I can't help but look at the bookshelf again. There were only five books not covered with blood or brain mass. Father restored another seven. Twenty-eight were replaced by Mycroft, before I could even ask for his help. I have found three in second-hand bookshops. Still too many holes in the shelf. I sigh.
I place Maddie at the baby blanket in the middle of the living room. He has been standing here on The Day Of The Gunshot. She has been in front of the bookshelf. Had to swing her gun from him to me and back again that way. His weapon hidden in the kitchen. Too far away. Maddie up in her room. Not far away enough. I blocked her path without thinking. Loaded guns expose our priorities just like fire does.
We both sit on the floor now. Maddie coos at her blue cow. I never figured out why it is blue or why she loves it that much. Probably because of the annoying moo.
He has been standing right here when she fired. A gun exposes our priorities. That's why his head swings around and he looks at me, frightened, checking my body for the bullet hole. Just like I check his. Our eyes meet. We are both unharmed. And we both see, finally see what so many people have seen all along. We both see how much we are loved.
And we are both unhurt. But the bullet hit flesh and bones, judging from the terrible sound right after the gun shot. I look back at her and see her sinking to the ground. His glance follows mine. She is dead already, judging from the spray pattern of blood and brain mass on the bookshelf. But her body convulses, and being the best and wisest and kindest man he is, he takes her into his arms and speaks softly to her until her body finally stills.
I was standing on that first step all the time, frozen, not sure if his heart really broke more than mine that day. He tried to go on, but after ten days he realized that he couldn't. Barely brought himself to ask me to take care for Maddie. Promised in return to send me one sign a week to show that he was still carrying on.
He never broke that promise, not even in the week of the dying Jesus.
There is a sound from downstairs, the one I am waiting for every Friday. The postman. Swing Maddie over my shoulder and go downstairs with her. Past the place where we slept on his stag night. Past the point where we laughed on our first day.
It's Friday. There will be a postcard from Wortleblythe. There was one every week, eighteen weeks in a row. Today will be number nineteen. I open the postbox -
and freeze. There is a postcard. Number nineteen. But it is not from Wortleblythe. It is London's only lighthouse at Trinity Quay Wharf. White clouds on a bright blue sky. Two birds flying around it. On its back, one single word. The first and apparently last with this specific message, "Tomorrow".
"When will you be back?" I asked him when he was standing down here, bags packed, cab waiting.
"When I'm able to love you again," he said.
Again! Remember how my cheeks flushed. Remember his curt nod. Remember the feeling of missed chances. Then he was gone.
I fly upstairs, taking two steps at a time. For the first time in nineteen weeks. Maddie giggles against my shoulder. In the living room, I come to a sudden stop. Look at the bookshelf. And suddenly I realize the mistake I've made those last nineteen weeks.
"Mrs Hudson," I yell. Hasn't she said something about spare packing cases? Fourteen holes in the shelf. Most of the books just looking like the old ones. Mere covers. If I hurry, I can have the bookshelf empty and out of the flat in the afternoon.
Because there is no need to restore something so utterly broken. We will build something new together.