Ava stood up and walked closer to the altar. It had only been a few weeks, but it felt like her wedding day was forever ago. She held her breath, stopping briefly to cross herself and close her eyes in prayer.
That simple movement, that single moment, one she'd done so many times before. And yet - this time - it meant so much more.
She glanced around, surprised at how few people had stayed after the service. Was it because she was there? Was it because of what happened? She shook her head softly, as if to brush away something. Those intrusive thoughts, perhaps. Or something else. The feeling that had been with her since the accident. That gnawing sense that someone was with her at all times. The reason that she turned around so often, open and expecting. Only to find herself alone, just as she had been moments before.
She continued to walk up the aisle. Spread out in front of her like blood, a red scroll of carpet lay leading her to the front of the church. She stepped timidly. Staring down at her white shoes. The rug leaped up at her, as if a splash of liquid. She flinched quite often, stopping to lean down to touch her shoes. To check and make sure she was imagining things.
And she was.
She made her way to the candles, each flickering in prayer for someone in pain. Someone hurting. Someone losing a battle with life. Each candle an example of someone who loved them. Someone who thought enough and hurt enough to stop and take a moment. She felt nervous. Anxious. Overwhelmed with the non-existent scent that wafted up from them. This was wrong. Shouldn't candles have a flavor to them? She felt herself smile. That's what they'd always said.
She leaned over to light one quietly. Quickly. But not quick enough.
"You don't belong here," she heard. A voice booming from the back of the church. Her skin prickled. She turned around to face her accuser.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'll go."
Eyes just like his stared back at her. Brimming with tears. From behind those, a second set. Different, and yet the same. Softer. More welcoming. Flowing tears, streaming down cheeks. Her brother-in-law. He put his arm around his mother and turned her into his embrace as they began to walk away.
She wanted to run after them. She had so much to say. She wiped her eyes with her hands. Her nose. And there it was. The blood. Again. Just like that morning. She took a deep breath and felt her body give out from under her. But then strong hands, arms, pulling her back. Keeping her from falling.
"Father ..." she whispered, as he led her to the pew.
"I'm so sorry, Ava. I'm so terribly sorry for your loss."
"I know," she whispered. "I know." Shaking her head she tried to form a sentence that would make sense. That would relieve her from this horrible pain. "It's all my fault," she cried out. "It's all my fault." Her sobbing drowned out anything he said in response. She did not want to hear his reassurance. His sympathies. His support. It was all her fault.
This week's Red Dress Club Prompt encouraged us to write about what we DON'T know ... and so ... I did.