Mary held the flannel shirt to her face, allowing the scent to linger for a moment before folding the garment and placing it in the cardboard box. One more shirt packed away, one more memory to be placed in the basement. She didn’t have the heart to throw everything away. Having lost so much already, it didn’t seem fair to see these things hauled off by the garbage truck.
She took another shirt out of the closet and stacked it in the box. Though Jake hadn’t visited in months, she still considered this to be his bedroom. Even when guests would come spend the night, she’d say, “Just make yourself at home up in Jake’s room.” She wasn’t sure if it was possible to change her perspective, even now.
Easing herself down on the bed, she glanced out the window. Snowflakes drifted softly to the ground, covering the outdoors in a thin layer of white. Any other year, the weather would have brought warmth to her heart. It was customary for her to call Jake the first day it snowed. But there would be no cheery call this time. No amusement from Jake’s traditional invitation to make snow angels. No…this year she was alone.
Mary’s eyes fell to the photo on the nightstand. Jake smiled back at her, proudly saluting the camera. His uniform was spotless and each button shone. He’d worked hard at the academy and had endured basic training just so he could serve the country he loved.
Even then, Mary had known this day might come. But she’d prayed against it. She’d asked God every night to protect her son from the horrors of war. She’d sent him letters of encouragement overseas and had helped send the troops love packages. Every once in a while she’d find relief in hearing Jake’s voice at the other end of the phone, reassuring her that he was fine.
It was several minutes before Mary resumed her task. “Missing in action” had been words she’d never thought she’d hear. Jake had been far from the actual fighting. But there had been an invasion. Other families had received the same news about their own loved ones. There had been fifteen presumed dead.
The familiar sensation of tears brought on a quick backhanded swipe to Mary’s eyes. She knew there was no use in crying. Nothing would bring her son back. She slid shut the closet door, the soft echo resounding with emptiness. Her heart felt just as empty.
One last box filled with belongings. One last trip to and from the basement. The steps never seemed so steep. She could remember washing laundry at the lower level and hearing Jake’s footsteps skipping though the house above. Had she known what his choice of occupation would be, would she have steered him in a different direction?
Reaching the kitchen, she sank down in a chair. Though her body was tired from the afternoon’s work, the weariness came from much deeper within. Even the hugs and words of encouragement from friends and family at the memorial service hadn’t reached her heart. It felt as if the only thing keeping her going was the thin strand of faith that her soul was clinging to.
“Dear God…” Her prayer came out as a whisper. “I prayed so many times for my son’s safe return…”
The doorbell roused Mary from her groggy state. She took a moment to get her bearings, having no idea how long she’d been dosing at the table. The doorbell sounded again, pulling her back into reality. Slowly getting to her feet, she trudged to the door, bothered just a little by anyone who would call on her today.
Opening the door, her heart almost stopped beating. The snowflakes blowing in around her slippers went unnoticed, the chilling wind completely ignored. Her mouth moved, but any words seemed to become entangled in the strange mixture of confusion, doubt and joy.
The soft blue eyes that greeted her twinkled with pleasure. “Hi, Mom. No one could get through with the news before we got shipped back.” A wide grin made its way across his tanned face. “Want to come out and make snow angels?”
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