“Into this lonely room so satin and cold
Silent eyes are staring
Voices calling me to be free…”
– REO Speedwagon, Dead At Last
Brently Mallard’s fingertips were colder than his wife’s, even though hers had been bloodless for a week.
The early spring air was biting and sharp, with lips of barbed wire that kissed noses and cheeks a violent pink. Mournful eyes stung against the rough assault of frigid winds, while silver shards of snow fell to sting the backs of necks and ears. The clearing in which the small, black-clad gathering stood was still submissive to winter’s grasp; dry blades of stiff, yellow grass frequented the frost-stung leaf beds from autumn, while the typical springtime song of birds was substituted for a discordant melody of hushed sobs.
It was a day that seemed wrapped in the folds of time, unable to progress forward as other days did. Stark trees glared out from the bleak, empty forest that encircled the clearing. Branches reached forwards as if with sinister claws, the tips of their crooked fingers arched in slow beckons. The dull, pale sun was but a distant orb whose feeble light couldn’t penetrate the cover of glassy, lifeless clouds. Yet it glared at Brently with an accusing eye as he dusted imaginary tears from the landscape of his cheeks.
The funeral was at an end, thank God… only Louise would insist in her will on it being outdoors.
Louise’s death was tragic, of course, but Brently could not force the glass orbs of his eyes to overflow with tears for a woman he had only half-loved for a very long time. Louise’s death was one that he could not grieve for because he knew that without her, he was complete again.
You see, Brently had once loved Louise a great deal. Yet her love for him was had been flawed somehow, incomplete in a way that made her prefer the peace of her own company to the unfulfillment of his. Brently had been left living with a wife who didn’t live for him.
Louise’s eyes would drift away from his, never looking at his face when they spoke. On the rare occasion that she had shown a form of affection towards him- a touch of her hands to his, the meeting of her cold lips to his cheek- it was as if there was an invisible chasm stretching between them.
A once warm, intimate love had withered with the cold of winter. A distance had grown with time, and every time Louise pretended to listen to his words or smiled at him vacantly, Brently’s lungs were punctured with a poker of frozen tears.
Her ignorance of him and her isolation from him had torn apart the fragility of Brently’s love. The wedding band around his finger had never been so heavy.
The anguish was killing him, the distance destroying him… it was unbearable pain to feel that her love for him had died. And his love, every time he tried to wrap it around her cold shoulders, was rejected by a steel wall that Louise had built up to keep him out. She had turned away from him, and Brently was left embracing himself to keep the pieces of his heart together. He wrapped himself away, wrapped so tightly that the asphyxiation was killing him slowly, silently.
And then she had died.
And then Brently Mallard could breathe again.
His heart swelled, rebelling against the confines of his ribcage. Brently knew what it was seeping into his bloodstream, slow and elusive at first. His chest rose with rapid breathing and the pupils of his eyes, fixed at a point in the distance as though in contemplation, dilated with excitement and filled with tears. His pulse, before smooth and slow like the role of a tide, now beat with the rapidity of a river to warm cold fingertips.
“Joy at last!” he whispered, and birds hidden behind tree branches burst suddenly into song.
This piece is a response to Kate Chopin’s short story, The Story of an Hour. While her story explores the ideas of sacrifice and oppression of marriage, she explored them from a feminine point of view. When writing this piece, I knew that I wanted to consider the perspective of Brently Mallard- Louise’s husband- because if Louise half-loved him, feeling relief when she thought he died, what’s to say that he wouldn’t feel the same way, but for different reasons? I wanted to play with the idea that Brently believed his wife had stopped loving him, even though her thin love still existed (overshadowed by the sacrifice in freedom she had made.) Brently, too, sacrificed something- happiness, which he was able to regain in the face of his wife’s death. This perspective was important to me because, in a sense, it had been overlooked- yet Brently made a terrible sacrifice as well that deserves to be acknowledged.
“Splendid Spring Branches with Early Buds.” Splendid Spring Branches With Early Buds Stock Footage Video 3696683. Web. 10 Jan. 2016. <http://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-3696683-stock-footage-splendid-spring-branches-with-early-buds.html>.
“Evil Winter 7072244.” By StockProject1 on DeviantArt. Web. 10 Jan. 2016. <http://stockproject1.deviantart.com/art/Evil-Winter-7072244-214461368>.