The darkness engulfed her and she reached out for him involuntarily. She expected her cold, fragile fingers to grasp onto flesh, heat, life. But when she met the cold starchy sheet, her heart immediately began pounding in her chest. Frantically she rummaged around under the covers, their weight increasing with every swipe she made. After a few seconds she sat straight up in bed and begged her eyes to adjust to the absence of light. She saw bright white spots in her vision as her eyes strained to take in her surroundings. For a panic filled moment she couldn’t even remember the layout of her own room. It took a few moments to regain her bearings and recollect where she was. Then she began searching the room, looking for him. Had he gone to the bathroom so early in the morning? Maybe he’d run to the kitchen for a cold glass of water to help wash away the heat that a few hours’ sleep can bring on. Or maybe the dog needed to be let out and he’d return to her in a few moments.
She strained her ears to hear every miniscule sound that came in the dead of night. She heard the buzz of the electricity coming from her alarm clock and the whir of the fan overhead. She picked up the ice falling in the freezer and even the dull bass of a passing car. She could even hear her dog’s soft snores from the corner of the room. That ruled out the walk she thought he might have gone on. Slowly she shifted her weight and allowed her legs to fall to the ground beside the bed, her toes softly embracing the thick carpet as they made contact. Her eyes scanned everything in front of her and for a moment she feared the worst – there had been an intruder and he’d been injured; she was going to find him lying dead on their living room floor. But as she rounded the corner of the hallway, she was met with an emptiness only a still, silent house can possess. Empty. Still. Silent. Nothing.
Where was he? Had he run to the store for some midnight craving? Had he went outside with a phone call so as not to disturb her? She made her way through each room of their home, eagerness and fear coming out of her in the form of shaking hands and sweaty palms. She could literally hear her hardened pulse in her head and feel it taking over her temples and throat. She swallowed hard, unsure how to handle these irrational thoughts swirling through her mind. She told herself to calm down, get a handle on her emotions. She yelled at herself to think logically. She stood in the middle of the living room and ordered herself to be still. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. When she opened them again, a picture on the wall caught her attention. As the light from the streetlamp outside cast itself upon the glass of the frame, reality came tumbling over her. She stood face to face with her husband’s picture – him in his service uniform. She crumpled onto the sofa and curled up into the fetal position, letting sobs and sadness overtake her.
Of course her bed was empty, her house only holding her human form. She was alone and he wasn’t there. He couldn’t be there. He wouldn’t be there. There was no late night trip to the store or quick sip of water that had taken him from her bed. It was his job, his duty, his life as an airman.
After a little while, her cries fell silent and her momentary lapse in memory resolved. Reluctantly she made her way back to her empty bed, no one awaiting her return. And as she crawled under the covers and sent up a silent prayer for strength, she whispered, “I love you” and closed her eyes, ready for sleep to take over and erase the night.