The Anniversary: A Colin and Josh short story.

The Anniversary

Colin had been unusually quiet all through dinner. He responded whenever Joshua spoke to him and smiled when it seemed to be called for, but he initiated no conversation and left the table as soon as he was done eating.

Joshua frowned and called after him: “Colin, do you want dessert? There are a couple slices of pie left from last night and a bit of ice cream in the fridge.”

“Nah, babe, I’m good,” Colin replied. He pulled his phone from his pocket and, as Joshua watched, he hit a speed-dial number as he moved through the kitchen and out the back door to the porch where his exercise equipment stood silent. Joshua heard him say: “Hi, mom. How’re you doing?” Then his voice faded as he continued outside.

“Now that’s damned odd,” Joshua muttered as he began to gather up their dinner dishes. He doesn’t want pie? Since when? He’s been awfully quiet. And now he calls his mom and doesn’t let me talk to her? “Yeah,” Joshua said as he sat the dishes in the sink. “Something’s wrong.”

He wandered to their enclosed back porch and looked out the window. Colin stood in the middle of the yard with his back to the house, still talking on the phone. He spoke for a long time, then lowered his phone and began to turn.

Joshua moved away from the window but was waiting in the kitchen when Colin re-entered. “How’s your mom?”

“Oh, she’s fine. She says ‘Hi’.”

“Why didn’t you let me talk to her?”

Colin shrugged and moved past him. “I dunno. Didn’t think of it.”

Joshua followed him to the living room and sank down on the couch next to him. “Colin, you know how pissed you get at me when you know something’s bothering me and I don’t talk to you about it?”

Colin shot him a sideways glance. “Yeah?”

“Well I’m getting that exact same feeling now.”

“You think I’m pissed at you?”

“Stop it.”

Colin dropped his eyes and drew in a long, deep breath. “Josh, it’s not a big deal.”

“Then you should have no trouble telling me about it.”

Colin coughed out a short, mocking laugh and his head gave a quick flick. “Clever boy.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Josh, it’s…,” again, he breathed out a short, pained sigh, then turned to face his husband. “There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.”

“That doesn’t justify keeping it to yourself.” He grasped Colin’s arm. “Please, Colin. Please don’t shut me out. I’m the guy… remember?”

Colin’s head dropped, but a small smile touched his lips. For a moment he said nothing, simply stared down at the floor drawing in long, slow breaths. Then his head rose, and he met Joshua’s eyes. “Today is the anniversary of Kathy’s death.”

“Oh god, baby,” Joshua whispered. “I’m so sorry. I wish I’d known.”

“Why?” Colin asked, falling back against the couch, his eyes lifting to stare at the oaken beams crisscrossing their ceiling. “Nothing you could have done about it. It’s just a day. I’ll get past it.”

“How’s your mom?”

Colin shrugged. “She’s coping. She’s going out with some friends tonight. But, it’s on her mind of course.”

“Of course, it is.” Joshua pressed his forehead to Colin’s shoulder, hugging his arm. “And you’re wrong that there’s nothing I can do about it. This day is important. It deserves some memorial.”

“Josh, I don’t want that. I just want to get through the day and think about it as little as possible.”

“How’s that working out for you so far?” Joshua asked.

“Not that great.”

“May I suggest something?”

Colin shot him a sideways glance. “What?”

“Trying to ignore days like this seldom works. It’s too big. It’s too much a part of everything you are.”

“I keep reliving it, Josh. Opening that damned bedroom door and seeing…,” he shuddered, and his voice trailed off.

“OK. Let’s do something to honor her life. Then maybe you can stop thinking about her death. Let’s do some small – I dunno – some small ceremony.”

“Like what?”

“Nothing big. Let’s light a candle for her. And… and… I’ll say the Kaddish. The Jewish mourner’s prayer. It’s short. Only take a minute. Kaddish means ‘holy’. Let’s sanctify this day. Let’s let some light into this dark place.”

Colin stared into Joshua’s eyes for a long time, then leaned forward and kissed him. “God, I love you, Joshua,” he whispered. “I love you so damn much.”

“Then you’ll do it?”

“Yes, my love. I’ll do it.”

Joshua nodded, then kissed Colin’s cheek. He rose and went to the kitchen, returning moments later with small, glass candleholder. “This is just a little voltive candle. I keep it in the kitchen in case we lose power. But… it’s pretty. Will this do?” he asked, holding the candle out for Colin to inspect.

Colin nodded. “Of course, it’ll do.” He rose and moved to Joshua’s side as he sat the candle on their mantle.

Joshua lit the small candle, then turned and extinguished the living room lights. The candleholder was adorned with small Jewish symbols and its light danced over their faces illuminating the space around them with a radiant glow.

Joshua reached for Colin’s hand as they stood together before the flickering flame. Then he spoke in a voice as soft and low as the candle’s light.

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

He heard Colin murmur: “Amen.”

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

Both men said “Amen” then for a moment there was silence. Joshua looked up and saw that Colin’s cheeks were damp. He took his husband in his arms and pressed his face against Colin’s chest. “I love you too,” he whispered, his voice fierce in the darkened room. “With my whole heart and soul, I love you.”

Colin nodded, his arms tightening around Joshua’s body, pressing them together until not a molecule could have passed between them. “Thank you. Thank you for this.”

“Thank you for letting me do it,” Joshua replied. He led Colin back to the couch. “Do you want the lights on?”

“No,” Colin said. “Let’s leave it like this for a little while.” He lifted Joshua’s hand to his lips and kissed it. “Hey, did you notice that your mourner’s prayer doesn’t say one word about dying or death?”

Joshua laughed. “It’s a weird thing,” he muttered, then glanced at his husband. “But you know how weird Jews can be.”

Colin laughed. “Yeah, I learn something new about that nearly every day.”

“Kathy brought her own special blessing into the world, her own special holiness. And it’s hard to heap praise on God after he’s taken that special holiness away from us.” He slid his thumb across Colin’s damp cheek. “The prayer changes our perspective. It turns our eyes away from ourselves. From our internal grief and anger… from our inner darkness and points us outward toward the future, toward the light and the blessings of God. And in that light, there is redemption and healing.” He shrugged. “Or at least that’s what my grandfather taught me.”

“Samuel,” Colin murmured.

“Yes. Samuel. He said the Kaddish five times a day for all the people in the camps who didn’t make it out like he did.”

Colin nudged Joshua. “Turn around.” He drew Joshua across his lap and into his arms, then nestled them close together, kissing his hair and then his lips. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet him.”

“And I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet Kathy. But I honestly feel like I’ve come to know her through you. And you know gramps through me. We carry them both inside us. They’re part of who we are.”

Colin made no reply, simply held Joshua closer in his arms, staring in silence at the flame which danced and flickered on their mantle. “I liked the part about creating peace for us.”

Joshua nodded, his head resting on Colin’s chest. “Peace is the opposite of grief, I think. It comes with the last stage of grieving. Acceptance.”

“I’ve felt guilty about that part… the acceptance. It’s like not caring that she’s gone.”

“No, my darling, it’s not. It’s accepting that she’s gone and that you may always feel sad about losing her, but at the same time realizing that her spirit moves forward with you as long as you remember her. That’s why little moments like the one we just shared are important.”

Colin squinted down at him. “Thank you, Dr. Josh.”

“Hey,” Joshua huffed, elbowing Colin’s ribs. “It’s not bad advice just because it comes from a psychologist.”

Colin chuckled softly. “I never would have believed it,” he murmured against Joshua’s hair. “That on this day of all days I could feel peace. And even a little joy.” He lifted Joshua in his arms until their eyes met. “But I do and it’s because of you. Because you’re wonderful. Because you’re loving and giving and wise. You take me to places I could never, ever reach without you.”

“Colin,” Joshua whispered, his voice choked.

“It’s the truth. Your love has done more to heal me than any amount of therapy could ever do.”

Joshua touched Colin’s cheek and kissed him tenderly. “Thank you. My love – my life,” he whispered. “But the therapy is still a good thing.”

“Maybe,” Colin murmured, nuzzling against Joshua’s dark hair. “But it’s sure not the only thing.”

“Did Kathy like pie?” Joshua asked.

Colin snorted out a laugh. “That’s a damned weird question.”

“Well we’ve already discussed Jewish weirdness so…,”

“Yeah. She loved pie just like I do. We’d ask for birthday pies instead of birthday cakes which drove our mother nuts.”

“Then let’s finish off the pie in her honor.”

Colin nodded, his face still pressed against Joshua’s dark curls. “If you like.”

“Makes me nervous when you say ‘no’ to pie.”

“Well, I don’t want that,” Colin said, then lifted Joshua in his arms. “OK, bud. Get up and we’ll go polish off the pie.” He got to his feet then turned to Joshua and took his hand as they stepped toward the kitchen. “I think you want pie,” Colin teased as they walked, “and you’re using me to get it.”

“As you already pointed out, I’m a clever boy.”

They sat at their small kitchen table as they ate their pie and ice cream.

“Feels odd,” Colin muttered.

“What does?”

“Celebrating this day. I’ve always kind of felt like it was my…. I dunno… brotherly duty to feel sad on this day.”

“And I’m sure you do. So does anyone who remembers what happened to her on this day. But is that what you think Kathy would want? For you to be sad? For you to turn away a moment of joy and peace? For you to turn down pie?

“No. She wouldn’t want me to be sad. And she REALLY wouldn’t want me to turn down pie!”

“Then here’s to Kathy,” Joshua said, lifting a forkful of pie.

Colin echoed his gesture. “To Kathy,” he murmured. Then he cocked his head and stared at Joshua, his gaze thoughtful. “Tell me, Dr. Josh. Do you think she’d mind if I ended this day by making love to the one I love more than life itself?”

Joshua smiled and took his hand. “Well, I didn’t know Kathy. But my educated guess is that she’d be happy you had someone to make love to who you loved more than life itself.”

Colin stood and used his hold on Joshua’s hand to draw him to his feet. “Then let’s blow out the candle and go upstairs,” he said, his voice barely a whisper as he drew Joshua close to him. “Because what I’m feeling right now is a ton of gratitude and a very powerful need to make someone I love very, very happy.”

“I doubt you’ll have to look far to find that someone,” Joshua whispered in reply.

They moved together toward the stairs and as they passed the mantle, Colin blew out the candle. “G’night, sis,” he muttered. “I love you.” He slid his arm around Joshua’s waist, and they moved up the stairs together.