Things are just different now, Beth thought, sitting down at her desk.
She had planned to work for a few more years; she had planned, in fact, to work as long as possible, because retirement sounded so boring. But when Harry had gotten sick, it seemed prudent to consider an earlier retirement, so that she could stay home and take care of him.
And then he had died.
Coming to work alleviated the sadness of the empty house, and kept her mind occupied. After Harry was gone, it felt better just to work, and work, and work. But things at the office weren’t as cheerful as they used to be. At first she thought that was because she was grieving, but as the months wore on, she realized that the changes coming down from the top were not particularly changes for the better. They seemed to be more the kind of changes people make because they want their superiors to think they did something. No one around her was happy anymore, and it had been that way a lot longer than some ordinary adjustment period. No, things at the office were not likely to ever be happy again.
But how would the house feel if she was there all the time?
Well, I wouldn’t be, she thought. I could go anywhere, do anything. She had plenty saved up. She wouldn’t have any worries.
And she wouldn’t have Harry.
They had had a thousand plans for their retirement. A thousand dreams of travelling and seeing the world, of relaxing on beaches and skiing in Europe. They would sell the house and buy a motorhome, or maybe they’d just buy a lake house somewhere and visit it in the summers. Or maybe both. They’d take dancing classes, or open a candle shop, or just sit in the garden and watch the world go by.
It was all over in an instant, and now those dreams all sounded so hollow and pointless.
The garden didn’t seem sunny anymore; the road to anywhere seemed desolate. Every destination would bring the same result – a bed without Harry in it.
No, she should stay here, working until she couldn’t work anymore, working and keeping her mind off things she didn’t want to think about anyway. It kept her busy, kept her thinking, kept her from getting lonely. What difference did it make if things weren’t being run the way they used to be? It wasn’t like it was her responsibility to keep the company in business; if they made too many mistakes, it would be on them to fix it, not her.
Her friends were here, almost all of them. She had grown up here. The house was one she had shared with Harry for forty years. If she retired, she’d be obliged to leave it all behind.
Why? she asked herself. Why would I have to leave?
Because spending even more time each day in that big, empty house would be intolerable.
She sighed, and looked around the office. It was all so different here now – there was an air of stress and irritation that had never been there before. It did take her mind off things … but it didn’t take her thoughts anywhere happy or good. And at the house, forty years of memories of Harry were inaccessible to her behind the smothering weight of silent rooms and mourning. That house was not the place to remember Harry – he would be best found on the road, his spirit sitting beside her as she lived out all of their plans.
“And I certainly can’t put up with this place anymore,” she said. She reached out and picked up a pen, scribbled her signature at the bottom of the letter of resignation she had been staring at for an hour. She folded the paper and tucked it into an envelope; she put the envelope into her bag next to the empty coffee mug and the stack of family photos she had kept on her desktop. The desk was clear now, as though she had never been there.
She shouldered the bag and left her cubicle, stopping by her supervisor’s office to slide the envelope under the door. “So long,” she murmured. She crossed the lobby and pushed open the large main door. That’s interesting, she thought. It’s not nearly as heavy as it seemed this morning. She walked through the door and headed for the parking lot.
She didn’t look back.