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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2238973-Absent-without-leave
Rated: E · Short Story · Emotional · #2238973
An A to Z story accounting the effects of the absence of a loved one during Christmas
Another Christmas had come and gone, but Jason’s present still remained unopened. For two years now it had sat beneath the tree among the plethora of other gifts, waiting patiently for his return.

Belinda drew a heavy sigh as she put the parcel back in the cupboard. She desperately wanted to move on but part of her just would not let go.

Christen had long ago accepted the reality of their loss. It was in his nature to be pessimistic. Even as a child he had shown a skeptical indifference towards legends, myths and fairy-stories.

“Don’t you think it’s time we put a stop to it?” he grumbled as she shut the cupboard doors. “He’s not coming back you know.”

“Everyone deserves a Christmas gift,” she retorted, wiping her misty eyes “What if he came back and there wasn’t one for him?”

“For Pete sakes woman!”

“Give him time, Christen. He’ll be back one day…I’m sure of it.”

“How long are you going to keep this up? Look I miss him as much as anyone but denial won’t alter reality.”

“I’m not giving up on him until it is proven without a shadow of a doubt…there is always a chance. Slim as it maybe.”

Jason had disappeared one August afternoon. His absence had remained; unnoticed until that evening when he failed to show up for dinner. Patience ebbed into frustration. Anger brewed as they mounted a futile search and by ten o’clock anxiety had caused Belinda to regurgitate.

Keeping his opinions to himself, Christen had sat up all night with her and called in sick the following morning. Neighbours rallied together and searched all of Jason’s usual haunts, including one or two known only to a select few, but they came up empty handed.

Losing Jason took its toll on Belinda and she ended up suffering an emotional breakdown. Her temperament became unpredictable; passive one minute, aggressive the next. She became withdrawn and antisocial and brewed, like a ticking time bomb awaiting a miss-chosen phrase to detonate.

Months past and there was still no sign of Jason; whose name visitors carefully avoided, for fear of yet another quarter of an hour ear bashing on the subject.

Nightmares plagued Belinda. She often dreamt of having to identify her beloved’s fly ridden, decomposing remains. Her stomach seemed perpetually turned and chilled heart refused to defrost.

“One more Christmas,” she beseeched. “If he doesn’t turn up next Christmas I'll get rid of the gift altogether…happy?”

“Promises-promises! You said that last year and the one before…oh all right. Do what you like…see if I care.”

“Quail sandwiches for lunch honey?” she offered, a private joke, dating back long before they were married. Similar to that of an olive branch, it signified peace and was seldom ever denied. This time was no exception.

Raindrops were starting to pitter-patter on the window when Belinda returned to the livingroom. She sat down in front of the television and channel-surfed but could not find anything that held her attention.

Singing in the rain, A Christmas Carol, Earnest Saves Christmas, Christmas Specials, Christmas Circuses and even Christmas on roller-skates with has-been actors. She had seen them all to death.

Television did not seem the same without Jason. Someone to share laughs and sarcastic comments. She felt intolerably lonely without him. What was the point of preparing snacks if she had no one to eat them with?

Ursula had been the last of their children to leave home and despite her assurances she infrequently visited. The other three lived overseas with families of their own. Now with the disappearance of Jason, she only had Christen for company. He had recently lost his job and was home almost 24/7, which caused inevitable friction.

Violence had always been absent throughout their rocky marriage. Despite Belinda and Christen’s propensity to use one another as a whipping boy/girl the thin line between verbal and physical was carefully avoided.

“Why did you have to leave?” she lamented. “I gave you everything your little heart desired but it wasn’t enough. What’s so darn important that would motivate you to stay away from this Eden, this El Dorado of opulence, this family of love.”

Xaviera, one of her closest friends, had painted Jason one afternoon. The portrait still hung in the living room. She often wondered, given the choice, which she would part with first, the painting or the gift? The more she agonized, the less likely it seemed she would choose either of them.

Yuletide had become a time of deep depression. When her optimism and hope was toyed only to end in bitter disappointment. To be hurt by Christen’s “I told you so” gloat. The one time in the year when her family gathered together and exchanged feigned pleasantries, ate her out of house and home, and feuded over bygone misunderstandings. In fact she would go so far as to say she hated it.

Zachary stirred from his slumber and started purring, as Belinda absently stroked him. He had been a good substitute for Jason and had similar markings. She had hoped the two cats would one day become pals. But she knew in her heart of hearts that it was all just wishful thinking. Maybe next Christmas things would be different…just maybe.
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