An Unfinished Story - Boo Walker
BOXING UP THE PAST
St. Petersburg, Florida
“This is our forever home,” David had promised as he carried her across the threshold of their new waterfront dream house shortly after their honeymoon in Bonaire. The word forever was a term Claire had exhaustively pondered, ever since the police chaplain had knocked on the door and shattered her happy world.
That was three years ago today.
Driving the white VW convertible David had given her for her thirty-fifth birthday, Claire pumped the brakes as their house came into view toward the end of the cul-de-sac. Was it “theirs”? Or just “hers” now? Considering she was selling, her question didn’t really matter anymore.
She had the top of the convertible down, and the February morning air was lower-seventies crisp. A flock of white ibises with their long orange beaks flew in a V shape over the house and across the neon-blue sky, which was as translucent as the water and only a shade lighter.
Where were the black clouds, the rain, the thunder and lightning? Today had no right to be so Florida, so epically stunning. You would think three years might muddle the past, making it less sharp to the touch, less invasive to explore. When asked last week by a widow in her support group how badly it still hurt on a scale of one to ten, Claire had admitted that she lived mostly nines and tens, with the occasional waves of happiness that felt more like delirium.
Their two-story house stood on the southeastern tip of St. Pete on the island of Coquina Key. A 1960s design with a white brick exterior, it wasn’t the fanciest house on the block, but the panoramic views of Tampa Bay more than made up for it. Claire had transformed the inside with an artistic, midcentury vibe—the kind of place you never wanted to leave.
Claire rolled into the driveway and paused to revisit their last moment together, between the two pygmy date palms flanking the front stoop as David had rushed off to work.
“You’re really not going to tell me who’s coming to dinner tonight?” she’d asked, crossing her arms.
“Oh, c’mon.” He’d tucked in his crisp yellow button-down, walking backward down the steps. “I thought you loved surprises.” She could still hear his Michigander voice so clearly.
“I like surprise flowers or jewelry. Convertibles even. I’m not sure I like surprise guests. What if he or she is allergic to something?”
“This person will love your shrimp fajitas; trust me.” He’d finished tucking in his shirt and buckled his belt, so skinny after training for yet another marathon. When she’d rolled her eyes, David had leaped back up the stairs and kissed her. “I love you, baby. See you around five.”
“How much do you love me?” she’d asked.
He’d put his clean-shaven cheek to hers, and his warm breath had tickled her ear. “Infinity times infinity.” He’d been on top of the world lately, so infectious with his thirst for life.
Those had been his last words to her. And she never did find out who was coming to dinner. No one had been in the car when it crashed, so Claire assumed David might have planned to pick up the person. Nothing else made sense. Claire remembered smiling as he’d pulled away in his 4 Series BMW—the one that would be totaled by a bastard drunk driver that afternoon.
Some of the widows at the meetings talked about how they wished they could have redone their last moments with their spouse, maybe said something different, hugged them a little harder. Looking back, remembering how connected she and David were, it was as if they had both been saying a last goodbye that morning and hadn’t known it.
Claire grabbed a brown paper bag from the shotgun seat and climbed out of her car. She walked across the crunchy fresh-cut grass to her neighbor’s house, a one-story rambler with the most well-kept yard on the street. Hal must have heard her and called out from behind the vinyl fence on the side of the house. Walking through the gate, she found him on his knees in the garden with a handful of old tomato plants he’d pulled from the soil. Beyond him, the turquoise of Tampa Bay shimmered in the sun.
“Good morning, young lady.” He tossed the plants into the pile behind him. The nearby trees were noisy with birds. “It’s nice to see you so often lately.”
To show respect and to meet his eyes, she momentarily lifted her glasses. “Getting ready for the new season?”