Empty Space

by Foster Trecost

Close to a dying fire sat Mason, moving only his eyes. He read the lines slowly, as if for the first time, unable to recall he had read them before, many times. He closed the book, and placed it on the mantle, signaling an old hound to stand and stretch.

A table in the corner pulled a frown from beneath his beard. Half bore the markings of an eaten meal, but not the other; there, fork sat upon folded napkin, the plate filled with food. He called in the direction of her bedroom: “Not hungry?” His hound cowed toward her door, and scratched the wood. Mason cleared the table and retired to the second bedroom, which had become his, and his alone.

Before sun, he crept from slumber. A thick fog kept him in bed until it began to clear, which it did eventually, but only in patches. His hound whimpered at his wife's door. “Let her rest,” he said. “Maybe she'll have breakfast when we get back.”

They stepped onto the porch; fresh snow covered the ground, and everything was white. He grabbed the handles of a push sled: “We need wood." Mason and his hound headed for the trees.

When wood chops reached his waist, he turned towards home. Soon they entered the clearing, his cabin at the bottom of a gentle slope. He gained a slight bit of speed as he passed beneath a great oak, but the sled struck something solid, spilling the chops onto the ground. Mason walked round to the front of the sled, and brushed away flakes, revealing a large stone. A collection of letters had been chiseled into its surface, but the fog had returned, and kept them from making immediate sense. He stared down the slope at the cabin, at the chimney, it was not smoking, and the words on the stone came into focus.

Mason's mind had mostly left him, but hidden all around were reminders of the past; whenever one found him, the pains of yesterday lived like new, and then they were gone again. He looked back at his cabin, and this time understood, for the moment, that no one awaited his return, no warm fire, no breakfast. Just an empty space that used to be his home.