The Gray Child is a 500-word, horror flash fiction piece about the trauma of losing a child.
Content Warnings: Death, death of a child, and mental illness.
The Gray Child
Mary fell into a willow-like sadness when she lost her infant child. With the tragedy only a few weeks fresh, she prodded her breakfast and stared at the uninspired food. Her husband made her pancakes, hoping to lift her spirits before a work requirement that would keep him away for the full weekend. But he only saw emptiness in her downturned eyes. Her husband ate what he could and kissed her in the silence. He stopped at the door to watch her as she jabbed her fork against the plate, and he frowned as he left for work, leaving her to dream of a life she lost. Her eyes shot to the door the second it closed behind her husband.
Mary sat at the table all day, tapping her fingers to the rhythm of the ticking clock against the wooden surface. Her food grew cold and dry as the hours passed, and the more she watched it, the more her teeth clenched, and suddenly, she couldn't stand it anymore. She burst from her seat and went to the garage, and she pulled a shovel from the wall next to a line of gardening tools and loaded it into her car's trunk, fitting it between unopened baby furniture.
After arriving at the cemetery, she waited until the sun fell. In the darkness of the moonless night, she stood above the small grave like some dark revenant tasked with resurrecting the dead faithful. She dug and worked as hard as she'd ever worked, matched only by the labor of the child she sought to reach in the ground below her. She threw dirt to the side of her in piles and went uninterrupted through the ceremony. When she reached the small white casket at the bottom of the fresh pit, she stared at it like a curse. Mary touched the casket's warm surface with her cold hands, and she dreamt about the missing life within and the life the world missed. She cried from both pure joy and sadness, and she’d laugh at times to confuse it more.
When her husband returned late Sunday night, she answered the door with a smile and a hug that made him smile too. He placed his suitcase near the door and surveyed the clean kitchen, smelled the sizzling food on the stovetop, and watched her near-sway and hummed movements. He considered then that things might be alright after seeming so impossible. His smile faded as he heard the frantic noises of cartoons from the den, and he walked from the kitchen to the large, open room, and looked around. The sweet cooking smells gave to the rotting dankness of something unearthed. There, he saw the gray child in a brand new high chair. Its dead, white eyes took on a false life as the cartoon's bright colors reflected in them. Mary hugged her husband sweetly from behind and whispered against his back.
I love you, she said in a voice of chimes. We're whole again.