Seven years. It had been seven years since she had seen her little boy. She'd seen photographs, of course, but it had been seven years since she'd actually been with him. The memories were still fresh in her mind, crisp and clear as spring dew.
It was June in upstate New York. It was one of the rare days that the sky was clear and blue, nearly cloudless. She was in a small town, centered by a clean and simple church house. The steeple pierced the hilly skyline the way the word of God was said to pierce the wicked, and the sun was painfully bright against the white clapboard walls. Around the church, the lush greenery seemed too colorful, almost inappropriate and over-bright. Flowers in vivid yellows and soft purples grew everywhere. The sticky and hot humidity was overbearing. It drowned the unfortunates left outside.
Linda was walking through town. Her small, high-powered sports car had ran out of gas just a little ways out of the town. Due to her rushed schedule, she hadn't paid any attention to her fuel meter, and hadn't bothered stopping at a gas station. Thankfully, there was a convenience mart with gas pumps about a mile away.
The store was small, with red words on a white wrap-around strip at the top of the store. In the windows were neon signs displaying several kinds of alcoholic beverages, cigarette brands, and other items available within. Linda walked in and was immediately greeted by the ringing chime of a door bell, alerting the acne-faced teenage boy at the counter of her presence. She gave a tight smile in his direction when he looked up at her, then asked if she could buy gas in a container for her car. Stuttering, the boy directed her the back of the store, blushed, and looked down. She quickly found the right amount, and purchased it under a false name.
Linda stepped outside into the blinding light and started walking back towards her car, waiting for her eyes to adjust. Across the street she noticed a few mothers and several children having a birthday party in a park. They were seated around a grey concrete picnic table, and the birthday boy was wearing a cone shaped hat with tinsel-like streamers on the top. Presents were stacked on the table in brightly colored paper and a cake sat in front of the young child. His mother was taking pictures as the boy blew out the birthday cake candles. His father beamed proudly at his son, and all the other children clapped and cheered.
The scene struck a nerve, and tears came into Linda's eyes. She turned away and started walking stiffly toward her car. Seph's birthday was in a week, and she would not be there for it. She imagined him sitting there just as the boy had, surrounded by friends, happy - and unaware of how much she sacrificed to keep him that way.
Reaching her car, Linda poured gas into the tank. As she drove away, tears ran down her face. She knew that Seph would never know his mother. The permanence and separation was nearly unbearable.
The feeling reminded her of the way her mother had described losing a loved one. Her mother had told her that while the pain dulls over time, things come up that will stir up the same feelings of loss. It was always unexpected, like seeing the seasonal candy they loved to buy during the holidays, or receiving mail in their name.
Linda agreed. Loss and pain were horrible when brought up again. But those were not the worst feelings; pain and loss dulled, as her mother had said. The only feeling worse than pain is regret.