"Forgive and Forget" - Shannon Hebbe

He began walking through the abandoned corridor of the manor intent on finding his way back to his room. However, he became so enthralled in the idea of propping up against the headboard and nodding off that his destination changed to the library. Careful not to alert the slumbering with his midnight escapades, he shuffled quickly by the candlelight. Though it appeared he was not the only being disturbed from his slumbers.

Eyeing the shard of light spilling from beneath the oak door, he cautiously pushed it open to reveal the dimly lit library. Flickering shadows stalked across the numerous shelves of leather tomes from the raging fireplace. Expecting to hear only the crackling of the smoldering embers, the almost indistinguishable whimper made him pause. He waited, believing his mind to be playing tricks on him. A whimper never came, but he could swear he heard a rustling of… something. He glanced to the dark, ominous corners of the library before moving to the hearth.

Assuming whoever was present would be on the furniture, he was surprised once more to find the cowering figure shaking by the hearthstone. Curled in on herself, she gently rocked back and forth trying to find comfort in the motion. Rolling ringlets of grey shielded her face from view while gently grazing the glowing thread of the rug. Unsure of how to approach, he quietly made his way around a leather armchair. He did not, however, notice the claw-foot of the end table and cracked his toe against it, effectively toppling over a picture frame and shattering the fragile glass.

The response was immediate. The woman lurched up from her crouch and whirled round on him. He could discern her slight outline beneath her worn cotton nightgown as she stood in front of the fire. Her skin had a lifeless murky grey quality. Trails of tears streamed down her blotched cheeks from glassy eyes of dull sage slightly sunk back into her head. The look of pure agony mixed with horror ripped through his heartstrings as he gazed upon his friend.

“Oh my dear,” was all he could mutter.

Fresh tears began to leak down her face. Her lips trembled dangerously as she struggled to maintain a semblance of composure. But a single sob burst through the barricade as she flung her hand to cover her mouth in an effort to stop further sobs from escaping. Wrapping her other arm around her middle, she started shaking and slowly sinking back to the floor resuming her earlier position.

Never having been one for providing comfort, he stood for another moment watching his dear friend collapse before him. Slowly, he approached her. Careful not to touch her, he lowered himself to the floor just off to her left. Tentatively, he softly placed his hand on her shoulder. His attempt at comfort, however, was shoved off, and her shaking became more pronounced. He waited.

She attempted to speak through her grief. “I… can’t.”

It was a long moment before she found the ability to speak again. He patiently waited for her. Still shaking, she said, “H-he, he… I, I need… I need him h-here… I need h-his… I never… n-not before… b-but now… I’m tem-tempted… ou-our… I c-can’t.”

She was gasping now, albeit quietly. Her head was now in her hands, propped up by her elbows, still rocking back and forth. He could see the tear drops splattering about the rug beneath her. His entire being screamed for him to touch her, to transfer his affection and love through something tangible; but each time his hand reached out to her, he drew it back for her sake. He couldn’t possibly know. Not from what she’d been through.

“I n-need him…” she whispered.

Still he waited. He could feel tears of pity gathering. They wouldn’t fall; he refused to let them fall on her behalf. She didn’t need pity, didn’t want pity. Minutes passed before her gentle rocking slowed to a halt. Head still in her hands, she continued to shake from grief.

She murmured, “He’s gone…”

His moment of comfort had finally presented itself. “Only physically, my dear.”

She did not respond.

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he continued. “We are not gone until we are forgotten. He will only die when you allow him, when you no longer can feel him.” With that, he reached out. When she did not shy from his touch, he moved to crouch next to her. Bending so his face became level with hers, he slowly began rubbing a large circle across the span of her back. Leaning towards her ear, he breathed, “All you have to do is remember.”

And she shattered. The sobs she had been smothering burst forth in a thunderous storm. Her hands gave way as her head fell to the floor, tangling in her hair. Gently, he embraced her crumpled form, gathering it into his lap. He planted soothing kisses to her hair, much like he used to. Her shaking had slightened and sobs no longer raked her body after a long moment of agony. A shuddering breath would escape occasionally.

Without notice, she leapt from his embrace as if burnt. He watched as she turned from him to stare into the dying flame. He understood. They had danced this tune many times before. Even now, the outcome would be no different. She wouldn’t, and he couldn’t. Unable to do anything else, he rose from the floor and drew his dressing gown further about him.

“Goodnight, my dear,” he whispered before slowly exiting the library, his midnight reading forgotten in the shelves.

Upon hearing the click of the door shutting, she let out her final shuddering breath. Tears still cascaded from her eyes, though they no longer burned of anguish. She gazed into the fire. When the flames had died enough to leave unattended, she rubbed the slippery trails from her cheeks. Turning, she spotted the broken glass scattered about the fallen picture frame. Fresh tears formed as she crawled over to pick it up.

They stood looking over their shoulders at her. One’s face frozen in a hearty laugh with squinting eyes and a smoky haze emanating from his hand on the mantelpiece. The other’s lit up with a multitude of emotions emanating from him. He wore a smile, but his eyes. His eyes held the deepest melancholy, a desperate cry for affection. Her finger slowly traced his image and she glanced towards the door. The faintest of smiles crept into the corner of her mouth. She closed her eyes and inhaled. Placing the frame back on the table, she hugged herself tightly and padded her way to the door.

She stopped just as her hand reached for the doorknob. Looking over her shoulder, she spotted the faintest wisps of smoke billowing from the fireplace. Rays of moonlight washed over the library as the fire extinguished creating a hazy atmosphere in front of the fireplace. The wisps swirled into a dense pocket just in front of the hearth. A laugh of approval floated through the draft of the fireplace. She blinked, and the smoke dispersed and drifted towards her. Gently inhaling the ashy scent of burning wood mixed with the unexpected, though thoroughly pleasant, scent of tobacco, a peace washed through her.

“Thank you,” she breathed.

The room cleared of the smoky remains of the fire, and she turned to open the door. The scent lingered as she left the library.

Shannon is a sophomore majoring in English with a certificate in Classical Studies. Her biggest dream is to one day have a rolling ladder in her personal library.