She calls her husband before dawn calls the sun.
“Hello?” he says. His voice is tired. She knows he’s been sleeping.
“Hi, honey.” Her voice is shaky from the caffeine. She normally doesn’t drink so much, but she can’t afford to sleep after her shift. She can’t risk oversleeping on a day like today. “Are you still going to work?”
“Yes,” he says. “I don’t have any time off.”
She frowns as she turns on the car. “I don’t like going alone, Matt.”
“I know you don’t,” he says. “I promise I’ll come next year.”
“I don’t want there to be a next year.” She can’t help that her eyes are wet as she says this. She’s worked too much and too hard with little sleep. “I hate that everyone else goes together.”
Matt sighs. “Liv, you can’t be the only one that goes alone.”
She bites the inside of her lip. Her heart hurts in a way he will never understand. “You don’t know that,” she finally manages to say. “You’ve never been.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” He pauses and she can hear as he shifts to sit up in their bed. “I have to get ready. I promise, Liv. I promise if you don’t find him I’ll come with next time. I promise, okay?”
“It’s been five years, Matt.”
Liv hangs up before he can say anything more and tosses the phone into the passenger seat. The interstate is laden with traffic. On any normal early morning the roads would be sparse, most working adults just rising for the day to take a shower and fulfill their morning routine. Today, though, is different. Today there are cars winding through the predawn elements, through the fog, through the dewy rain. Liv is one of them, barely able to merge behind a semi while the person behind her gives her the bird before throwing his vehicle to the left. She doesn’t look as the couple speeds on past.
After exiting the interstate Liv turns into the Walmart lot and parks in one of the many empty spaces towards the back. She grabs her phone from the passenger seat and opens up her Memorium app and begins sifting through pictures of her child. Her heart hurts looking at the weak and curled frame of her baby boy, the dried blood of the blanket that held his precious body so tight. She pushes her thumb on the same picture she’s pressed every year for five years, the same raw heartache flowing through her as her eyes burn with salt.
A moment later a whooshing noise confirms her payment and she sets her phone down carefully on the passenger seat, as though the picture of her son is still there.
The drive to FlyPrint is as long as it takes her to console herself, a few miles of backstreets and intersections. She knows to avoid the main road and she hates herself for waiting until the last minute to get the picture. Every year she tells herself that Matt can do it, an internal struggle that never quite comes to fruition. She hates the way it makes her feel. It’s as if the words and the feelings can never quite connect, organs and bones failing to work in tandem.
The lot is full. She knew it would be like this. The bright side is that she has given herself a few hours before the event. There should be enough time to get the picture and leave and still be on time.
Liv grabs her phone and opens the door, staring at the seemingly hundreds of cars in front of her. There are plenty of families around, some young and some old, big and small. She spots a young couple under the streetlight as they step out into the darkling morning together. She knows the isolation they feel. They wear it on their face and in their slump as their feet plod in unison towards the front. She hopes they find who they’re looking for. If not, she hopes they at least continue to look together.
The line is long and it winds out of the store and along the sidewalk. A confused light flickers above before going out forever. The line moves and stops and others file behind her. She tries not to overhear the others around. Every story is sad and fresh, save for the old ones that simply stink of rotted hope. When it’s her turn, an hour has passed.
“Number,” the man says, failing to meet her eyes. He’s callous and cold, which is mostly fine to her.
Liv pulls out her phone and reads the number below her picture. “SB-4-6-7-3-3.”
“Alright.” He crunches the numbers before looking at her. A moment later he says, “That’ll be forty-seven-fifty.”
“I thought it was forty-nine.”
The man sighs. “Discount for being with us for five years.”
“Oh,” she says, holding her phone up to the reader. “Thanks.”
Liv watches as he turns around and waits for the humming of the giant white printer to stop. When it does, she cringes as he carelessly grabs the picture and thrusts it in her direction. “Thanks,” he says, looking back at the computer. “Have a wonderful day.”
She leaves the store with the picture in hand, holding it close to her belly so that no one can see. It’s something she’s had to do for two years now, ever since an older couple scolded her on the way to her car.
Save room for those who actually lost someone, the old woman had told her. I had three of those. I moved on.