I wrote this short story ten years ago and thought I would share it this week. I hope you enjoy.
The Fix-It Box
by Kelly Gamble
Poker in hand, I watch as the small fire burns in the fireplace. I can attack the logs and attempt to stir the flames, or I can let them die naturally. This is my first fire, and I'm not very good at it. Frustrated, I lie in the middle of the floor, small bicycle parts surrounding me, strung in every direction. With Christmas morning only hours away, I am considering giving up. I am not much of a single parent, and would have never chosen to be one. But David made that choice for me.
Slowly, the fire burns, hanging on to what life it has. I try not to focus on the dancing flames. They entrance me and keep me from the task at hand. As is typical of this time of year, my mind is flooded with memories and although I am trying to focus on the assembly of my son’s bicycle, I am overwhelmed by the thoughts of those who have tried to help me over the past year.
My family has tried to convince me that I am not to blame. They tell me that I should get on with my life and try to forget the past. My father calls David a coward; my mother never mentions his name. Jacob, my brother, at a loss for anything else to say, simply reminds me in his cheerful tone to ‘keep my chin up.’ None of them will be over for Christmas this year.
I look at the directions again, this time attempting the Spanish version. I don't speak Spanish, but it sure can't hurt. My anger grows as I realize what a waste of time this is. I at least need tools, but I can't bring myself to go to the shed where David kept his fix-it box. That was his place, and I'm not ready to enter it.
I have talked to three counselors. They wait while I voice my questions, then wait again for me to answer them myself. If I had the answers, why would I spend what little money I have on them? I have quit going to therapy, quit trying to make sense of the nonsensical. There are no answers. He left no note, he showed no sign that he was unhappy. Although I have never considered death a choice, it is the choice David made.
I consider throwing the directions in the fire. There are too many pieces; the puzzle is too much for me. Instead, I regain my supine position amongst the parts and cover my eyes with the paper.
I try not to think selfishly, but it's the little things I miss the most. Someone to change the light bulbs, to fix the television, to make sure the oil is changed in the car; someone to put a bicycle together for our eight-year-old son. Jimmy. He's now the man in the family and tries to protect and comfort me. It's hard for me to look at him sometimes. I can't remember when I last saw him smile.
As I lay among the pieces, I scream. "I hate you for what you did to us!" Then I curl into a ball, crying myself to sleep as I often do; missing David's smile, his scent, his touch.
I wake when I feel a cold chill as the front door opens. I turn as I hear it close, and see my husband, dressed for the weather, standing in the entry. As he removes his coat, he looks at me and forces a smile. I cannot speak. Closer, closer he moves toward me and sits with me amongst the puzzle. He looks into my eyes, and touches my cheek.
"I'm sorry," he whispers with finality, as if there is nothing more to say.
I have no way to respond. I watch silently as he begins putting together the bike, using the tools from the fix-it box he thought to get from the shed. He talks as he works, showing me how to use the many gadgets that are in his precious box. "You can fix just about anything with this stuff," he says as he begins replacing the tools in their designated slots.
"But not everything," I manage to whisper.
I want to know why he chose to leave us, but I am afraid to ask. More importantly, desperately, I just want him to stay. Without looking into his face, I say, "I can't do this without you."
He leans toward me, gently kisses my forehead and traces the tear that runs down my cheek. "I will always love you," he whispers as he stands and turns to leave. As I feel the cold chill of winter rush in again, I realize David has no answers. There is no reason, no resolution. If he cannot account for his actions, why do I continue to expect an explanation? I cannot continue to allow myself to die inside because he chose not to live. Suicide was David’s choice; it is not mine.
I wake Christmas morning to the sound of Jimmy running down the hall. I'm sure I look a fright, still in my clothes from the night before, but Jimmy's eyes are focused on the bike: or what resembles one. He kisses me on the forehead, just as his father used to do, and says “Merry Christmas, Mommy.”
It is our first winter without David. The laughter that had always filled our home on Christmas Day isn't present this year. I go to the restroom to clean myself up and take a long look in the mirror. I am here, I am alive, and I can do this. I dress and comb my hair, and Jimmy and I make the best of our party of two.
The gifts are all open, but one small box remains under the tree. Jimmy picks it up and hands it to me. "It's for you."
I tremble slightly, holding the small gift in my hand. "Open it," Jimmy urges.
Inside the box is a small key, one that I recognize. I pick it up, hoping its weight isn't more than I can bear.
"It's the key to Daddy's fix-it box," Jimmy says softly. "If we learn how to use all that stuff, maybe we can fix some things, too." He glances briefly at the bicycle, and then lowers his eyes, cautiously waiting for my response.
I gently take him in my arms, feeling a tear trace the same path that it had the night before. "Thank you, Jimmy. It's perfect."
As I rock my son, I clutch the key tightly in my hand, wishing the items inside the box could fix everything. I glance at my fire, which struggled through the night but survived. I have to smile.I have the tools. It's time to learn how to use them.