Alethea chanced a glance at the large clock on the wall. It was ten AM. She had packed the husband off to work and the kids off to school. She had woken up at 5 am to make sure the kids got solid breakfast. They were going on a field trip that day and had to be at school by 7 am, which was much earlier than the usual 9 am.
As she shuffled around in the kitchen packing some extra sandwiches for the ride and her kids’ friends who couldn’t resist her homemade peanut butter and jelly, Alethea’s husband walked in with red swollen eyes. He had had a rough week at work, and it was disrupting his sleeping patterns. She whipped up another pair of sandwiches for him and tried to coax him into taking the day off. And when that didn’t work out, she resorted to making some soup to soothe him.
After making sure everyone she cared about had had a good morning, Alethea decided to clean up the basement. It had been on the to-do list for far too long now. She and her husband had talked about turning the basement into a smaller recreational room, and he had volunteered to do the cleaning himself. However, given the state of his work pressure, Alethea decided to do it herself. A decision she came to regret soon enough. As soon as she opened the door to the basement, she came up with a sneezing fit.
Once the air around her cleared a bit, she looked around at the mess and slapped herself hard on the head. It had been fifteen years since she and her husband had graduated high school, and yet, she still preserved her old school notebooks and scrap papers. It had seemed important at the time, but now when she looked at them, she wanted nothing more than to kick herself. She spent over an hour sorting out her things from her husband’s. They had both been complete idiots, she told herself over and over again. And when the clock struck ten, she knew she needed a break. She picked up a couple of old notebooks from the pile and went up to the kitchen.
Letting a pot of coffee brew, she sat down at the table and opened one of the notebooks which hadn’t had her touch in over 15 years. The pages had frayed in the corners, and she felt them stiffened by the coffee stains of a lifetime ago. One by one, she turned the pages, unable to recollect why she elected French because she had gone on to teach German. She kept turning the pages, smiling as she looked at the little drawings she had done in the margins. She couldn’t contain herself as she recognised a rude caricature of a teacher she hated in school.
By the time she took a large swig of her black and sugarless coffee, she had reached the end of the notebook. She looked at the scribble on the last page and realised her kids’ notebooks had similar scribblings. No matter how many years passed, some things never change, she mused. And then she noticed something. Sketched in the corner, hidden behind a bunch of meaningless pencil strokes, was something she had revered back then. It was her and James’s names written one below the other and the common letters in both their names scratched off. Next to their names was the word “FLAMES” with all letters but “M” scratched out.
James had died in a car crash the next day.