Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An Extra Little Note

A Song in the Night
Short Fiction
by Delia Latham

She lay atop the covers, wrapped in a blanket of smothering darkness.

Tears moistened her cheeks, and her heart weighed like a stone inside her chest. Outside the open window, an army of crickets played a maddening symphony of joy. Why would God give a million insects such happiness, yet leave her alone in her sorrow?

Sighing, Sarah swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up. Fumbling in the darkness, she found a match and, with a quick flick of her wrist, created a tiny blaze in the dark room. The flame burned halfway down the stem before she finally touched it to the wick in her mother’s old oil lamp, bringing shadowy light into the small room.

Turning her head wearily, she stared at the smooth pillow next to her own. Jake’s unruly mop of black waves would never again rumple its cushiony surface.

Rising from the bed, she crossed the room to stand under a beautiful quilt displayed on the wall. It had been a wedding present from Jake’s mother ten years ago, and Sarah never wanted to risk its crisp perfection by actually sleeping under it. Now the colors in the intricate pattern mocked her with their cheerfulness.

Beneath the quilt, a framed photo rested atop an elegant table with graceful, curved legs and clawed feet. Jake’s somber visage stared back at her, his clear eyes eerily light in the black and white tintype. She wrapped trembling fingers around the frame, bringing it closer to her gaze. A tear plopped onto the glass even as a bitter smile curved her lips slightly upward.
Jake Michaels without a smile looked every bit as unnatural as a fish trying to swim in a sand dune. Why did photographers insist that their subjects wear such stern, sober expressions? Especially people like Jake, whose smiles transformed them, made them almost too beautiful to look upon.

“How will I ever go on without you, my love?” Her broken whisper blew a mist of breath onto the glass, making her husband’s handsome face appear ghostly for a brief few seconds. She shuddered, though no hint of chill touched the room.

Her only answer was the incessant chirping of the crickets. A hoarse sob tore past her throat. The photo slipped from her trembling fingers and hit the floor with a sound like a pistol shot.

Sarah blew out the lamp, dropped back onto the bed, and gave vent to the hopelessness that overwhelmed her.

An old bonnet shielded her eyes from the worst of the sun’s glare. Kneeling beside a mound of grassy earth under a huge oak tree near the cabin, she buried various seeds which she pulled from her apron pockets. Within a few weeks, they would turn the spot in which Jake had rested for nigh onto three years now into a gorgeous display of bright blooms.


Sarah rocked back on her heels and turned toward the house. Her heart swelled with a love so strong it pained her. After ten years of heartbreaking failure to conceive, Jake had left her with this final gift—a perfect little piece of himself.

A tousled disarray of dark curls covered little Jakey’s head, and tiny fists dug at his eyes. He yawned, then grinned, seeing her eyes on him.

“Jakey awake!” He ran to her and wrapped his tiny arms around her neck. “Ya makin’ mud pies, Mommy?”

Sarah laughed. “I’m planting flowers, little one.”

“Fowers for Papa?”

“Yes, darling.”

“Will Papa see ’em? Huh?”

She smiled, imagining Jake’s teasing laughter at the idea of her bringing him flowers. “I think he will, Jakey dear. I really think Papa will see them."

“Jakey pant a fower too, Mommy?”

She showed him how to dig a little hole in the soft earth and drop in a few seeds. As he patted the soil back over them, a small black insect landed on the ground not two inches from his pudgy fingers.

“Oh!” The tot jumped backward, both short little legs churning.

Sarah soothed him with a hand in his curls. “It’s okay, Jakey. It’s just a cricket.”


“An insect. A friendly little bug that makes beautiful, happy music.”

Jake’s eyes widened. “Kwicket sing?”

“When his heart is happy, he dances,” she told him, smiling and opening her own eyes wide. “His legs move very fast, and they make a happy song. Perhaps it’s a song of praise for God, little one. What do you think?”

Jakey’s clear blue eyes—so like the father he had never known—gazed in awe at the little creature, which chose that moment to spring away. The child’s face shadowed, and his bottom lip trembled. “Jakey want him legs sing to God.”

Sarah smiled a little. “Well, they sing best when the world is dark, darling.”

Her hands moved deftly among the seeds and weeds as she remembered the dark night three years ago, when the crickets tried so hard to tell her she would feel joy again. In the utter darkness of her sorrow, their music had filled her world. How she had resented their sweet melody! The depth of her pain overwhelmed her, burying the message behind the crickets' song. But they continued to sing, night after dark, lonely night.

And little by little, their song worked its magic on her heart.

Then she discovered the gift Jake had left her, and before long, she could sing too, and her broken heart began to heal. Losing him hurt, and she missed him with every fiber of her being. Still, the little life within her brought some magic back into her heart, and little glimmers of light began to shine once more in a world she thought had gone permanently dark. For the first time since Jake’s death, Sarah believed that morning might come, after all.

She pulled Jakey into her arms and kissed his pouting lips.

“Tonight, son, when the world is very dark, Mommy will wrap you in Grammy's pretty quilt and we'll come outside for awhile. You'll like that, won't you?" Jakey's eyes lit up and he nodded vigorously, setting his soft curls to bouncing. Smiling, Sarah brought her fingertip to her own lips, then touched it to the tip of her son’s little turned-up nose. “The crickets’ will sing, and you, my sweet boy...you will hear their song!”

(Copyright 2008 by Delia Latham)

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