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The Widower


Other Short Stories


Debra Milligan

Copyright 2018 Debra Milligan

Smashwords Edition


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Table of Contents

The Widower

Rainy Dreams

Sound of Goodbye

The Highway

The Christmas Lunch


The Widower

He lived alone. He’d always lived alone. Now, however, the aloneness had become intolerable, after his wife had died, late one blustery night in late November. The fact that the man had been married for a decade had not insured that he’d shared his life. Indeed, his life became even more self-centered after he’d taken his vows.

Cornelia had understood, in her own meek, selfless way. Gerhardt had loved her enough to marry her, or so she’d told herself, countless times. Their love had not produced a child, but she believed it had been her fault, this barrenness that had also doomed their marriage. She died, heart-broken, of an illness that was undiagnosed, in a bed that had not seen her husband sleep with her for months.

At length, he changed the bedsheets, the day after he buried his wife, next to her mother. That woman had been a fish-wife. She’d not deserved the sweet, loving daughter who had taken care of her, this widowed hag who had finally died, old and bitter, after blaming her only child, this devoted daughter, with foul, scathing language, for the misery of her own life. The mother had given birth to this kitten but was unable to love her; she’d then watched her husband die, young, and she’d become a professional widow. The routine had never grown old, but this harsh woman had.

Cornelia somehow did not awaken fully to the truth about her own mother, the woman who gave birth to her. It perhaps would have wounded her too severely, this admission that her mother was unable to love. Had Cornelia admitted this truth, she might have fully accepted the love of a man, but truth and love did not entirely come her way. Instead Gerhardt Schildt came her way. And she loved him, from first sight.

He loved her too, in a selfish, peevish way. Their courtship had been lengthy for Gerhardt, at twenty-five, was unwilling to yield to the will of a woman. Even upon speaking the wedding vows, he was still unwilling to surrender to the life of another person, but he did not admit that truth to himself. And so with each person, man and wife, not admitting the essential truth of his and her life, they tried to forge a life together.

It was, of course, an unhappy marriage, just short of failed. The only reason that the marriage succeeded in fits and starts was that Gerhardt was, at the bottom of his gray-steel heart, a kind person. Even Cornelia understood that fundamental aspect about this man whom she loved without reservation, but not very deeply. She knew that he was courteous and kind, but selfish. At times, his selfishness stung her. At other times, his inability to see beyond his own needs cut her to the quick.

But she said nothing to him. She wished to accept him as he was; this duty was the first and foremost onus of a wife. She took her role as his mate very seriously, to her last breath. Gerhardt only realized this deep devotion after the funeral. And then he wept fiercely, not for her, of course, but for himself.

The death of his wife would not change him: the truth of that sorrow was certain. It would be something more unexpected and uncontrollable that would come into the life of this man and force growth upon his narrow mind, awaken his limited heart to beat with passion, for the first time, and open his soul to the miracle of forgiveness.

A woman? Bah! Why would a woman challenge Gerhardt Schildt to come to his knees emotionally and look into the eyes of another human being and feel the overwhelming power of love that takes away his ego? If Cornelia had been unable to tear down that wall of self-absorption, how could any other woman? She’d been tireless in her faithful love, while he’d been endless in his selfish need.

A week or so after the funeral, Gerhardt received word that the insurance money to cover the costs of his wife’s undiagnosed illness was not forthcoming. How could it be? The illness was undiagnosed. The company refused to pay the claim for a life that ended under such suspicious circumstances. Not only was Gerhardt a widower; he now lived under the cloud of suspicion of having despatched his sick wife.

His dead wife was also under a cloud, a none-too-heavenly cloud, of being a criminal who had defrauded this company. The insult was, Gerhardt believed, more to her than to him, although he felt the insult keenly.

The loss of money had been a jab at his pocketbook, but the indecent act of this life insurance company, impugning the character of his dead wife, and himself, hit this man like a knockout punch. He felt the blow like a vicious stab to his ego, in very much the same way that his limited love had done in his dead beloved. The insurer was, through this financial deprivation, reminding this widower of the emotional privation that he now felt, perhaps even of the starvation of affection that Cornelia had silently borne.

Gerhardt chose not to focus upon this intangible loss. He stared at the letter and honed in on the dollar signs. He immediately resented this financial deprivation, even though he was well off. As an only child, Gerhardt had inherited wealth from his deceased parents, the shrewd publishers of a small newspaper in the small town of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.

That profitable venture had been all-consuming and Gerhardt had, early in his life, determined that he would instead work in accounting in Philadelphia. The job was steady and boring. It was there, in the city of Brotherly Love, that the dapper, almost-handsome Gerhardt met Cornelia Sutton, a flaxen-haired salesgirl at the local dry goods store. The year was 1900.

One year later, they married. It felt like aeons ago to this man as he stared at the rejection notice of death benefits. He was owed. They owed him. She perhaps even owed him.

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