Bacon sizzled and popped in the pan. Leslie hovered over the stovetop, watching the bacon’s translucent pink transition to a deep, crispy red. She forked the strips out of the pan and onto a plate lined with a paper towel to trap the grease.
She cracked half a dozen eggs into a bowl, scrambled them with the same fork she used to flip the bacon, and poured them into the hot pan. She cooked robotically, not fully aware of her own movements, working on muscle memory alone.
She hadn’t slept at all the night before, tossing and turning until almost four in the morning, while next to her Antonio lay completely still but for the rise and fall of his chest under his heavy breathing. She envied how quickly he descended into sweet slumber, mere moments after kissing her goodnight and laying his head down on the pillow.
She had to coax herself into sleep. After hours of fruitless efforts to get comfortable, she clicked on the lamp by the bed and retrieved her Bible from the top drawer of the nightstand. God was keeping her up for a reason, and she desired to know why.
She opened the Bible to her favorite psalm, 121:
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help / My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. / He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber / Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep…
She stopped, prayed, “Lord, why have you kept me awake? Why do you refuse to grant me sleep while you work on my behalf?”
She didn’t expect a response. He rarely answered her prayers, especially when she question His motives. She used to be embarrassed by that. She’d been saved since her undergraduate years in college, nearly three decades, but she had never heard the voice of God.
It was on their second date, when the conversation had turned to salvation and whether or not they both had a relationship with Jesus Christ, that Antonio assured her there was nothing wrong not being able to hear His voice. He doesn’t always speak to you, she remembered him saying. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, like butterflies in your stomach when you talk to your crush. When He wants you to do something, it’s like you get dizzy, and you can almost see yourself doing it in your head. Some would call that a premonition, but it’s not; it’s the Holy Spirit leading you. “That’s how I came to give my life,” he’d told her. “I saw myself walking to the altar even before I did it.”
She waited for that feeling, that vision, to see herself fast asleep, and then to lie back dizzy, pull the covers up to her chin, and actually sleep. But God startled her that night, His voice like thunder filling the room.
And she could hardly keep the Bible steady enough to read, her hands shaking uncontrollably. She laid it across her lap, stuttered through the words as she read aloud. Her ears still rang from hearing him for the first time, and her voice sound minuscule in comparison, like those squeaky little cartoon chipmunks she used to watch on television as a child. But she kept reading as instructed, whispering low to herself the entire psalm, down to the last two verses.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul / The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
And as if by the snap of His mighty finger, she was asleep.
Antonio’s cold hands curled around Leslie’s shoulders, jolting her back into the present.
“Morning, beautiful.” He kissed her neck.
She shuddered out of his embrace. “Honey, your hands are like ice.”
“That’s because I don’t have you to keep me warm.” He wrapped his arms around her waist, rocked her side to side, and slipped one hand underneath her blouse to caress her stomach around her belly button. She closed her eyes, rested her head on his shoulder, and he dipped down, lightly pressed his soft lips against hers. After twenty years of marriage he could still swoon her off her feet.
“Ugh, get a room!” Tony said from the kitchen table behind them.
“Watch who you talking to, boy,” Antonio snapped. “And last time I checked, every room in this house belongs to me. Unless you want to start paying the mortgage.”
Leslie hadn’t even noticed the boys were already at the kitchen table waiting to be served their breakfast before school. Tony slumped in his chair. He returned his attention to something on his phone’s screen. Leslie hated they’d even bought him one. He was a teenager, growing more and more distant from his family, and a cell phone only expedited that, but he needed a way to contact them whenever there was an emergency. She was reluctantly forced to compromise. At least she could still control his minutes. Limited text messages and no phone calls after 7 PM.
Next to him Gregory wrote in a thee-subject spiral notebook. Across the page he had written out the multiplication table, up to 20. He had a math test that day, and she was proud to see him studying. She wished Tony would follow his little brother’s example, since he was at the moment failing History.
“Boys, make sure you have everything together for school. Breakfast will be ready in a minute.” Leslie cut the heat off the eye of the stove and stirred the eggs with a whisk. Some of it had begun to stick to the pan, and she sighed in frustration.
“You ok, sweetie? You seem tired,” Antonio said.
“Couldn’t sleep.” She thought to ask him if he had heard anything last night. Those two words God had spoken had been so loud, so clear, but while she could barely contain her heart, pounding through her chest, Antonio didn’t even flinch. The message was meant only for her. If God had wanted her to share it, he would’ve woken Antonio too.
“Here, go sit down. I’ll finish up.”
Leslie couldn’t help but chuckle. Breakfast was ready, all that was left was dividing it onto four plates, but if Antonio thought he was helping, she wouldn’t refuse him. Chivalry was far from dead when it came to their relationship. She only hoped her boys would inherit their father’s same kindness and respect toward women.
She sat next to Gregory and smiled. “Ready for your test?”
He closed his notebook and stuffed it in his bookbag on the floor. “I think so.”
Leslie nodded. “Confidence, sweetie.” She turned to Tony across. “Put that phone away at the breakfast table.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Keep rolling your eyes like that, and they’ll get stuck there.”
He sucked his teeth. “Whatever.”
Leslie stood and was about to reach across the table to pop him in the mouth, but she heard a loud crash behind her. She spun around. Antonio was no longer standing in front of the stove. She rushed around the kitchen island and found him on the floor unconscious, the hot pan on his shoulder next to the oven, the scrambled eggs split all over his chest.
“Oh my god!” She fell to her knees, cradled his head in her lap. She slapped his face repeatedly. “Come on. You’re alright, you’re alright.” She swiped the tears from her cheeks. “No, you’re alright. Come on. Come on!” she pleaded.
“Mom?” Gregory and Tony had followed her. They stood at the corner of the stove next to the fallen frying pan. She looked up at her youngest son, and all her fear transferred into his eyes. They curved downward like almonds and welled up with tears.
She shook her head and pushed his legs back. “Call 9-1-1!”
“I-I don’t—” He looked over his shoulder at his brother behind him.
“Tony!” Leslie screamed. “We gave you that phone for emergencies like this!”
He scrambled to tug his phone out of his front pocket, suddenly tight around his hand. He finally ripped it out but dropped it on the floor. Leslie snatched it up. On her third try, she got the operator—the first two times, her fingers moving too fast, she dialed 9-0-1-1 and 1-1-2-9.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“Get me an ambulance!” She panted heavily, tried to swallow back the sobs and mucus building at the back of her throat. Her voice faded in and out as she tried to speak, her chest bouncing in rythm with the fluttering of her racing heart. She was too flustered even to remember their address. “It’s my husband,” she stammered
“Ma’am, try to calm down. Can you tell me if he’s breathing?” His voice was steady, smooth. He spoke at the same level as he had when he first answered, not raising even half a decibel. He was probably used to this, trained on how to handle frantic callers like her, deescalating as much as he could over the phone before the police and paramedics arrived.
Leslie squeezed two fingers against Antonio’s neck, but she couldn’t feel a pulse. The phone fell from her ear, and she fell facedown across Antonio’s stiffened chest. “Please, God! Please don’t take him from me!”
And again, He answered her. Two times in under six hours after twenty-seven years of silence.
“Remember what you read.” He was preparing her for what was to come, a trying of her faith in Him, like when He commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Could she trust Him to be her only source after the love of her life was taken away from her? Job tore his clothes, fell prostrate to the floor and worshiped Him when he lost everything. Could she do the same?
The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…
No, she couldn’t accept it. “Not this, God. Anything but this!” She prayed unceasingly, knowing He wouldn’t change His mind, but she continued anyway, while Tony and Gregory stood over her, frozen, and watched. Their lives were about to change catastrophically, and while she knew that all things worked together for the good to them that loved Him, in that moment, as she prayed and prayed for Antonio’s healing and deliverance, she wasn’t sure she could say with tenacious zeal that she truly loved God over the man who lay dying in her arms.
It is Short Story A Day May, and all this week the prompts are geared toward novelists! Today’s prompt comes from Lisa Cron and asks us to investigate a turning point in our protagonist’s past. This was the perfect opportunity to explore more backstory for my NaNoWriMo novel, “Lost Boy.” Last month, I used the April A to Z Challenge to plan out the novel. If you missed it, read it from the beginning here!