Again, English is not my native/first language. If you find an annoying writing error in this story, please email me (instead of mentioning it in a review) and I will correct it immediately.
Author's note: Thank you all so much for the reviews. It means a lot to me. Now for the 3rd and final part…
When the Voice is Quiet
The man kneels down next to his daughter. She's lying huddled up on the grave, her cheek against the cold gravestone. His heart breaks at the sight of her. She looks so fragile, so incredibly vulnerable.
"Sweetie?" he asks huskily. His hand tenderly caresses her long brown hair. "We have to go now." He brushes away a few strings that have fallen before her face. His touch is careful as if she's a precious piece of china and he's afraid of breaking her.
She doesn't move. She's fast asleep. For the first time in a week she looks almost peaceful. No mumbling in her sleep, no sleepwalking, no nightmares. No, she is totally relaxed. Tears still cling to her eyelashes. Her little nose is swollen and red from crying.
She looks so sweet and relaxed that he hates himself for waking her up, for tearing her away, but he has no choice. He can't let her stay here, not with her wet clothes and the cold ground she's lying on. He's afraid that she will get pneumonia and he can't risk that. He can't risk losing the only person he has left in his life. He would give his life to protect her, to keep her safe.
"Darling, it's dark. It's time to go home now."
This time he softly shakes her. He doesn't want to startle her, but the darker getting sky concerns him. All of a sudden a deafening roll of thunder sounds directly overhead them, preceding a flash of lightning that splits the sky. The sound has the effect he tried to avoid. She wakes up with a start.
For a few seconds she has trouble focussing, no idea where she is. Her surroundings are unfamiliar, her 'bed' hard, wet and filthy. Then her gaze locks onto the person sitting next to her and recognition appears in her red-rimmed, watery eyes.
"Daddy?" she asks unsteadily, blinking rapidly to get his blurred image clear. She rubs her eyes with her fists like a little child. Her small pretty face is stained with tears and mud.
"I'm here." He smiles reassuringly. "I'm with you."
She looks away from him and stares over the endless graveyard. There are so many of them. So many white gravestones, so many deaths and so many sad relatives. She has become one of them. She belongs to the group now who will come here to mourn over their loved ones.
Then she looks up to the sky. It's pitch-dark and it has started to rain. Her soaked clothes stick to her body; her heavy hair is hanging in her eyes. She feels miserable, cold and wet. An undeniable longing rises in her. She tries to ignore it, but it's stronger than she is. Her whole body is telling her to go home, to go to the one place she feels safe.
The past week she did extra tasks on school just to avoid going home. Everything reminded her of her mother. The photo's taken at their last trip to the zoo – her father could hardly be dragged away from the enormous ant farm – the forensic magazines on the table, the comb with the three brown hairs and the casual clothes her mother loved to wear, that are now scattered over the bedroom. Everything reminded her of what was no longer with her. Not only her mother, but the loving atmosphere that used to fill their house was gone as well. It didn't even feel like her house anymore. Everything suddenly turned so cold and awkward. With her mother passing away, the house lost its charm and a veil of sadness covered their once so happy, carefree lives.
But now the thought of going home does seem very appealing to her. She wants to lie in her own warm bed with her father by her side, telling her stories, reassuring her that everything will be all right. And maybe, just maybe they will be able to talk about her mother and about what happened to her. She needs to talk about it in order to deal with it.
"Daddy?" Her bottom lip starts to quiver again. "I want to go home."
He sees the tears that threaten in her eyes, and quickly digs up a tissue. Gently he wipes away the tears and most of the dirt. "I know." His hands keep lingering on her cheek. Her skin is still warm and flushed. "We will go home now."
She lets him pull her up. Still holding hands, they both turn to the grave. They have their own thoughts, their own emotions, but the same sorrow. Sorrow for the woman they have lost and will never get back. Sorrow for the times they spent together, but that are now forever gone. Sorrow for the memories that will haunt them on special occasions, such as birthdays and Christmas, every year.
Their sorrow is the same. It unites them as they stare at the grave of the woman they both love so dearly. Their fingers are intertwined; their bodies close to one another.
After a few minutes of standing in silence and reminiscing, she hesitantly pulls his sleeve. "Daddy, can I ask you something?"
"Of course," he squeezes her hand. "What do you want to ask?"
"Do you miss mommy?"
He gulps and for a moment he's caught off guard by her question. He swallows hard, trying to push back the emotions that threaten to overwhelm him. Pain and sadness for his loss and the immense hatred towards the man responsible for their suffering, the same man who is still on the run. There were times the hatred almost consumed him, and if it weren't for his daughter it probably would have. But when he looks into her eyes he knows that he can't give into those destructive feelings. It's not good for her – he's of no use to her like that – and she is all that matters now.
With a serious expression in his eyes he cups her chin and looks her straight in her big brown eyes. "I miss her with all my heart, honey."
He wraps his arms around her small body and holds her close. It feels good yet unfamiliar. They never were very affectionate, probably because of his own reservations. He can count the times he cuddled her on two hands. But now he feels the desire to hold her forever. It comforts him and he hopes that it's comforting for her as well, that maybe she can draw strength from it.
He tightens his arms around her when he feels her shiver and with his chin on her soft hair, he whispers again: "With all my heart."
A single, silent tear runs down his cheek. Yes, he misses her. He will always miss her. She was the one who taught him to love. With her compassion and particularly her patience she helped him to open up, to let her into his life. No one was able to do that before. She was the first woman he didn't scare off.
He tried of course, but she was persistent. She taught him that there was nothing wrong in sharing events and feelings with someone else. She showed him there was more than just work, more than the corpses in the mortuary waiting for him to listen to their stories and find the one responsible for their suffering. For all those years the victims were his life. His work was all he could think of, until she showed up.
And he gave her a hard time. He pushed her away when she tried to come closer and he hurt her. He hurt her many times with his indifference. The thought of that still breaks his heart, because he never meant to do her harm. He hurt her because he wanted to protect himself from getting hurt. He was so afraid of opening up, of being vulnerable. Then again, so was she.
They both had a difficult past, a past that mold them. So many secrets, so much pain and hurt. But together they talked about it, and gave it a special place. They would never forget, they could never forgive, but together they could at least handle it.
Together. He can still remember the day that changed everything.
His eyes widen, bewilderment clearly written in them. He expected everything but this. When she told him she wanted to talk to him in private he thought that maybe she was ill or maybe she needed a few days off to set things straight. But this…
"You're leaving," he repeats, hoping that he misheard her. "You mean a leave of absence?" Trying to dismiss the real meaning of her words and the determination in her voice, he starts to shuffle his papers, searching for the right form. "You can take a few days off, or more if you need that."
She shakes her head gloomily. "Just listen to me for once. I'm leaving, really leaving. For good. I've been offered a job in Chicago. I won't be coming back."
He freezes as the words finally get through to him. His face doesn't display any emotion though. It's almost as if her comment didn't even affect him. However, she doesn't know that his appearance is far removed from the truth. Her announcement has actually evoked many feelings in him, both confusing and unfamiliar. He's startled and shocked, but like always he doesn't show it. He can't, not even now.
As he softly closes the drawer, he asks in a neutral voice: "Why?"
She turns around, avoiding his questioning eyes. She doesn't want to see his hurt and disappointment in her, or the lack of it. It would only make it more difficult than it already is.
"I can't work with you any longer." She raises her arms in a helpless gesture. "You're not that blind. Even you have to admit that this doesn't work."
"What doesn't work?" His voice betrayed his confusion. Deep down inside he already knows the answer, but he needs to hear it from her.
His ignorance, his inability to see what drives her to resign, only proves her that she's doing the right thing. She sighs impatiently. "You. Me. Us. I can't take it anymore. We twirl around each other, but we never get anywhere. I don't know what you want from me. All I know is that this has taken too long. We have to stop it now. There's nothing left for me here."
He takes off his glasses. His mind is working overtime to come up with a satisfactory response, a response that will make her change her mind. "You have your work here, your friends. Everyone would miss you."
She snorts. "Everyone? Who is everyone? Why do you always talk about everyone else except you? Is it so hard for you to admit that you would miss me too?" Frustration lashes bitterly in her words. She knows that she's revealing more of herself than she intended to, but she can't stop the words from gushing from her lips. "Can't you see what's going on? I can't be around you any longer. I want more than you can obviously give me. That's why I have to leave."
He remains silent, listening to her words and studying every move of her body. She is serious. He can tell by the way her face sets. This isn't a threat anymore – not some desperate attempt to get his attention – she is deadly serious. And if he doesn't do anything soon, she will go away.
He's about to lose her. It's as simple as that. He knows that he has to make a decision that will change his life entirely. He hesitates, not sure what to do, weighing the pros and cons. On the one hand he's angry with her for making him choose, but on the other hand he can understand her despair. However, that doesn't make it any easier for him. He has to choose between a life that's simple and secure – the life he's so used to that he doesn't know if he wants to give it up – and a life full of insecurities with her.
For a few seconds the room is veiled in silence, and for her that's just a second too long. "That's what I thought," she says defeatedly. "I will send you my resignation with the mail." She puts down her gun and her pass on his desk. "Goodbye."
Just when she is about to leave his office, and step out of his life, something snaps in him. And for once in his life he lets his feelings take over, deciding not to take the easy way out or choose what's safe. Instead he stands up and says the words he thought he would never say again, the same words he swore he would never use out of self-protection.
His voice is soft, barely a whisper, but she hears it nevertheless. Her hand keeps lingering on the doorknob. Then slowly she turns around – hesitant almost as if she doubts whether she heard him right – to glare at him with her arms folded across her chest. She gasps in surprise as she finds him standing right behind her, only inches from her.
When she sees the panic written all over his face for saying those words and the warmth in his blue eyes, she doesn't need to ask him if he really meant it. He doesn't have to say anything; she already knows the answer. A sigh of relief escapes her lips and she conjures up a trembling smile. She never wanted to leave; she just didn't know what else to do to make him understand. But he stopped her from doing the exact same thing.
"I don't want you to leave," he says again, this time with more conviction. "I want you to stay."
In a sudden impulse he caresses her cheek, briefly just like she did some time ago. Back then it was only dust, but now it's something more, much more. And when he takes her into his arms, he knows that he has made the right choice, one he will never regret.
A melancholy smile curls upon his lips as the memories come flooding back. He knows that he wasn't an easy man to fall in love with. He bottled and still bottles up everything. Every emotion, every problem. Maybe in that way his daughter is just like him. His little girl. The most wonderful gift, the greatest of all, she has given him. The one he's holding in his arms right now.
He was shocked when she told him she was pregnant. The look on her face was a mixture of happiness, anticipation and even a spark of fear, probably for his reaction. But all he could do was stare at her, unable to utter a single word. For once he didn't know what to say. He never thought of himself as a father. To be quite honest, the whole idea scared the hell out of him. He didn't know whether to be delighted or to run away as fast as he could. It was only his fear speaking of course. He was afraid of becoming a father, afraid of making mistakes.
But when he held that tiny little person in his arms all of his doubts disappeared into thin air. His own flesh and blood was the one who changed him the most. Her charming smile, her beautiful big eyes, the cute little bubbles she blew and her unconditional love, crumbled the wall he built around him so many years ago, the same wall of which his wife already took away a few stones.
They raised her together, each an equal part in her upbringing. He taught her to be curious and to be well read. They read almost every book in the library together and soon she knew them by heart. Now she can even quote Shakespeare, Lord Byron and all those other writers and poets he admires. It makes him so proud of her. His wife only laughed when she saw the two of them being totally wrapped up in a book or solving crossword puzzles. She taught her daughter to be caring and passionate about people…and animals of course. A good combination. Now it is all up to him to raise their daughter.
They keep on standing there for what seems like hours, both in the comforting arms of the other. Then he slowly breaks away from his daughter and looks at her. He's struck by the resemblance. Her face is almost an exact copy of her mother's. She has the same brown hair, the same broad smile and the same sparkle in those brown eyes. In that way she will always live on and she will always be close to him, not only in his heart, but also in everything he does because he knows that it's all thanks to her.
"Let's go, darling. We're going home."
He wraps his arm around her shoulder and gently guides her to the parking space. The girl looks round for one last time before stepping into the car. She knows that she will come back. Every day, and when she's older at least once a week. To tell her mother about her life, to look after the graveyard and to lay down new fresh flowers. In silence she makes that promise to her mother. It's a reassuring and consoling thought.
As the car drives off, the cemetery becomes smaller and smaller. She turns around to stare through the back window until the graves are nothing more than a white spot and then they're beyond her sight.
The raven settles on the grave. It sees the man and the child leave the cemetery. It is happy that they're gone. Everything is quiet again, just the way it's supposed to be. The scream of the girl just now almost startled the bird to death. Normally the humans only cry. Sometimes they talk. It often wonders to whom they're talking, since there's no one there.
The bird hops on the pile of soil again. Everything is wet. The dirt clings to its paws, but the bird doesn't care. It holds his head slantingly and with curious and glinting eyes it looks at the gravestone. It can't read what it says, but it understands that it's the reason for the girl's scream. It's the reason for everyone's sadness. He doesn't know why. It's just a rock, the ideal place to sit on and observe the graveyard.
Losing interest the raven shakes the glistening raindrops from his shining, black wings. Then it flies away, looking for a good place to spend the night.
Now the graveyard is really deserted. And as the night is falling, the letters on the gravestone lighten.
Sara Grissom – Sidle
Beloved wife and mother
1971 – 2014
I hope you liked my story. You must be very angry with me now for killing off Sara, but take comfort in the fact that Grissom and Sara did get together and even had a daughter in my story. I know, little comfort. I just couldn't help myself. I'm so sorry, please forgive me!! : )
Please write a review to let me know what you think of this final (and devastating) part. Thank you!
- Karin -