“We’ll do our best to make her comfortable.” The doctor spoke and the words registered somewhere within Loki’s foggy mind. He nodded, but what else would he do — could he do? They would make Sigyn, his wife of 20 years, comfortable as she lay dying in a hospital bed. Tubes and sensors and monitors all beeping in a lingering rhythm surrounded the woman he loved and would now lose. The beat was at odds with his heart. The tempo off. This wasn’t right. Nothing could be less right.
“Thank you,” he said, though he wished to scream and tackle each doctor or nurse to approach. To demand that they repair the damage done, but he knew — somewhere his logical mind knew that there were no other options. No doctor could set her right. No resurrections were to be made here. Not this time.
After the doctor left, two nurses entered, trading tasks of administering a morphine drip and cleaning up the dried blood that had collected around Sigyn’s nose. Their eyes were focused, but their mouths fell to empathic frowns as they passed Loki, sitting idly by in a chair. Out of the way. Hands fidgeting and twisting at each other. The skin pink with friction and worry.
“Let us know if you need anything. We’ll be at the nurses’ station.”
“Thank you,” Loki said once more. He’d been thanking strangers for not saving his wife’s life all day. What did it mean? What did anything mean and what did it matter?
Loki shook his head and scooted closer to the bed, taking hold of Sigyn’s hand. She wasn’t really there anymore. The accident had taken her from him in that horrid instant. That much he knew. The horse bucked and went wild against all expectation. Sigyn was one of their best riders. It never should have happened. She never should have fallen and broken her—
The voice was urgent and seemed to have been repeating itself. Loki stirred, holding tight to Sigyn’s hand. One of the nurses from before stood in the doorway.
“Yes?” He couldn’t help the annoyed tone.
Loki looked down. It was his mother-in-law ringing. He thanked the nurse and took the call, never releasing Sigyn’s cold hand. Her mother’s voice was stoic as was his. She didn’t let on to any devastation, though he knew this was in part to the children in her care.
“We’re downstairs,” she said. “What’s the room number?”
“3701… actually, I’ll meet you—”
“No, you stay put.”
Mother hung up before Loki could attempt to be helpful. What did helpful even mean? He dropped the phone in his lap and hurriedly wiped the flood of tears that had fallen since the nurse made her leave. He’d never been one to shy from tears. They were natural for him, but Loki had to hold it together for his children.
Loki heard their footsteps before they entered the room, though no amount of preparation could ready him to face his children and mother-in-law. Though he’d done nothing wrong, guilt weighed upon him. Was there something he could have done? Maybe convinced Sigyn to go into a safer line of work? He could have laughed then at such a thought. Sigyn did just as she desired. She was brazed and foolhardy; this was why he loved her.
“Gather round your mother,” were the first words from his mother-in-law. The twins, Nafi and Vali, jumped to their father. Oh, so young and new to kindergarten. Far too young to lose their mother. They were already crying when they pawed at Loki, calling for answers he did not have. Calling for answers he’d asked himself. Their little windbreakers swished and swashed beneath Loki’s grasp as he held them and did his very best not to fall apart.
Sleipnir and Hela, his temperamental teens, kept their distance — arms folded as they stayed back from their parents, watching their mother expire. Loki wished to soothe them, though he knew they no longer looked up to him in such a way. They probably hated him. Blamed him for their mother’s fall from that stallion. Blamed him for everything somehow, and honestly, Loki blamed himself as well, though he didn’t quite know how to make sense of it.
“Dad,” cried Jorgi. He was twelve, just old enough to feel grown, but young enough to call out for his father. “It’s gonna be okay, right?”
“They’re making her comfortable. The medicine is making her comfortable.” Loki wasn’t sure what more to say. His mother-in-law pulled Jorgi into her arms, explaining that the accident was very bad. That his mother had been in so much pain and now she was going to a better place. Was that true? Loki couldn’t decide. His quietest child, the one who reminded him so much of himself so many years ago, bit his nails in the doorway.
“Fenris,” Loki called, reached out to him over the twins at his side. “Do you want to come closer?”
He shook his head, quaking in place. The bed where his mother did lay seemed to frighten him with the truth of losing her. Loki understood the feeling. He’d lost his mother as well, though he was much other than seven. How could a child comprehend this? How could a child move on? Loki swallowed the lump in his throat and took Fenris’s hand.
“She loves you so very much.” The words quivered as Loki struggled to speak with clarity. He needed them all to know this. He wanted them all to hold her hand and speak, though he knew it may not be possible. They were kids. They may not be ready. “And she knows you love her, too.”
The first day without Sigyn felt like a lie. He could pretend she was merely away on a business trip, visiting ranches to teach taming or some such duty. She’d return to him with that same blossoming smile and curly red hair. An energy booming with fervor and zeal.
The first week forced a load of responsibility Loki had not anticipated: planning a funeral and inviting all Sigyn’s loved ones. She had many. She was popular. His mother-in-law offered a hand, but the emotional tax was far greater than the work itself. Loki canceled his appointments and scheduled food and flowers and signed off a wonderful package offered by the funeral home. It would be a beautiful service, but… but what more than that?
The first month saw their home complete chaos. Before, Loki merely dealt with the madness of two moody teenagers, a troublesome tween, a quite seven-year-old, and two energetic twins. Life was crazy and stressful, but manageable. He went to work, counseling patients with addiction, then returned home to the whirlwind of parenthood. Cooked. Helped with homework. Settled into bed with Sigyn and massaged the kinks in her body from all the riding she’d done.
“Will you ever tire?” he asked so many times before.
Sigyn would smile, turning her head to Loki and placing a hand on his knee. “Never ever.” This was always her answer. But could he rest on the idea that she’d died doing what she loved?
The twins screamed every other morning in a fit of discomfort. Their lives were wrong. They were offset. Loki didn’t do — couldn’t do everything exactly like their mother.
“Mom made it better!” cried Nafi over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “I don’t like this jelly.”
Loki sealed the baggies and dropped sandwiches into all six lunch bags. “This is the same jelly mom bought.”
“She made it better,” said Vali, repeating her twin.
“I made your sandwiches.” Was Loki arguing with children? Was he getting just as upset as they were? He rubbed his face to hide the frustration.. “Please be good and eat your sandwiches at lunch.”
The twins didn’t say much more, taking each other by the hand and tearing their lunch bags from the counter.
Loki’s sanity was on the brink as Hela approached. He sealed the bags and took a seat at the dining room table.
“You look terrible,” she said.
“You look gothic as ever.”
“They’re being brats because they know they can get away with it. Mommy died and now they—”
“Don’t talk like that.” Loki ran his hands desperately through his hair, thankful that both Sleipnir and Hela could drive the kids to school. “Do you think you could help out in the mornings?” He ran through getting the kids up and dressed and lunches made. Breakfast had turned into cereal and oatmeal when he once served eggs and bacon. There was no time. Not anymore. He was alone. Alone and failing.
“Just me? Why not Sleipnir?”
“Him, too. I just need help.”
Hela rolled her eyes. “Fine. The living have to suffer the burden of—”
“Don’t.” Loki’s hand shot out and grabbed Hela by the wrist. He wasn’t in control, holding tight and locking eyes. “Don’t talk like that about your mother.”
Hela pulled away and took the rest of the lunch bags from the counter. “Yeah, whatever, I got this. Slep’s probably gonna ditch anyway. He’s not gonna help, ‘cause he sucks. So you want help and it’s just gonna be me.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll talk to him.”
“What’s there to say? He always gets what he wants.” Hela turned on her heel and stomped away. Her long black hair and gothic dress only reminded him of his teenage self. He was just as horrible if not worse.
All their children had inherited his dark hair save for the twins. They were just as red and freckled as their mother. She would live on in their children, wouldn’t they? He told himself that he would never lose Sigyn this way. He told himself this, though he wasn’t sure how or why it made sense. There was no guarantee their children would stay by his side, nor would the youngest of them remember much of their mother. They might not look or act or embody her. And how was that fair? To force remembrance onto his children so that he may never forget his wonderful wife?
“You’re selfish,” Loki spoke to himself in the mirror. He needed a moment to calm down before a meeting with his partner, Tess. “You’ve always been selfish.” He shook his head and dabbed the water from his dampened face. A little had dripped onto his suit, but he didn’t care. Everyone knew he was a widow now. Tess obviously knew. There was no reason to pretend all was well. He’d been a widow for a month. He’d taken far more than the usual amount of bereavement time than anyone he’d ever known, but going back to work felt wrong. It felt impossible and dreadful.
“How are you holding up?” asked Tess, hands folded and calm. Blue eyes swirling with curiosity and understanding all the same.
“I don’t quite know.” Loki cleared his throat. “You see, I’m here to say… that is, I’m here to tell you that I’ll be taking a leave of absence.”
Tess nodded. “I thought you might.”
“Is it so obvious?”
“Loki, you expect far more from yourself than you should. If you have the means, then take the time you need. The practice will always be here.”
“But my patients?”
“I’ll take on a couple interns.” Tess took Loki’s hand from across the desk. “They’ll understand. And if they don’t, fuck ‘em.”
“Right.” Loki smiled genuinely for the first time since Sigyn had left this mortal realm. He was supremely lucky to have the means. He’d come from little and earned a great deal. Their home was lovely. Both he and Sigyn loved their jobs. Perhaps he had been too lucky and all was bound to be lost.
Three months in left them celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas without their matriarch. It was uncomfortable to say the least, though his mother-in-law did a wonderful job of replicating their traditions while creating a new one: returning to the mortuary and lighting a candle for Sigyn at the vigil. They hadn’t been a religious family at all, but the ceremony made Loki feel connected… something that had grown scarce.
“I worry over depending on you so much.” Loki told Freya in confidence. They drank wine on the patio as the cool night air did little to still his worries. “I know you are their grandmother, but still. I feel that I should do more.”
“You are going back to work soon. You’ll have to listen to the problems of others.”
“Yes, but that is the burden I agreed to. You never—”
“This burden… you may not think of it, but you have agreed to it as well. If something were to happen to your children, you would do all you could. So I’m here doing that.”
“I don’t want you to feel that I’m taking advantage.”
“I do not.”
“I just feel—”
Loki sighed, abdicating the argument to this mother-in-law and wished for a brief moment that she had been his mother. Farbauti was anything but giving. Taking the wine glass to his lip, he thought back to the impossible happiness he’d shared. Sigyn must have been amongst the stars. Did she look down? What did she want for him? Was he doing well by her standards?
“Sleip! Sleipner!” Loki shouted from the stairwell. “I’m not asking again.”
Hela hollered in unison. “Sleip, stop being a dick! Dad’s calling you!”
He took ages to make his way down the stairs, clad in flannel and denim, smelling of god knows what… Sleip didn’t care about anything. Hadn’t cared even before losing his mother, but it had only become worse.
“You’ve been ditching nearly everyday,” said Loki.
“So? You’re a senior. You need to graduate.”
“Need to? Or is that what you want me to do?”
“Sleip, what is your problem? Let’s talk man to man. What is so awful that you can’t go to school and graduate at the bare minimum?”
Sleipnir scoffed and ran a hand through his dark hair. “Because school is shit. It’s just gonna be some piece of paper that means nothing.”
“You don’t get to live here without effort. Either you go to school to better yourself or you get a job. That is it.”
“Wow, so you’re kicking me out? What would Mom say about—”
Loki snapped. He shot forward, standing face to face with his eldest son. They were the same height and build. They were equally matched and equally pained.
“Don’t you dare use your mother’s name against me.”
“No. Don’t apologize. Just make her proud.” Loki pulled back and dropped his head into his hands. “You’re eighteen. You may do as you please, but you own those consequences.”
Hela had stood by to watch the argument. She said nothing and disappeared before her father could speak to her.
Loki returned to work soon after. His client base had shrunk, but he was glad for it, able to take his time at a steady pace. Tess knew him so well. But with this free time, he did waste a bit of it floating about on the internet. He liked how dull and numb and dumb it made him. Thinking of nothing was perfect. Thinking about life made him want to die.
“No, don’t say things like that,” he said to his mind. The therapist in him refused to allow the obscenity of his emotions. He hoped to be better than that. Trained and prepared for all situations that send people over the edge. That’s what everyone had to be thinking. Look at this therapist who can’t get over his dead wife. What a failure , he thought. How pathetic.
It was during one of these wasteful moments when Loki came across his high school reunion.
“Twenty years,” he grumbled, feeling older than dirt. “I can’t believe…” His mind trailed off, looking over the planning committee. The ASB (Associated Student Body) from all those years ago had gathered together to plan this get together. He would have laughed if he could. Scrolling through the names and pictures, in search for one in particular. Then there it was: Thor Odinson, President.
Each portrait was a side-by-side, comparing current and high school photos. Twenty years ago, Thor looked like a jock and a surfer at the same time with his long blond hair and perfect tan. He was a god back then. One of the most popular boys in school if not the most. When elections had gone out for ASB president, Thor won by a landslide. Everyone loved him. He was just the sort of person to attract love. His smile radiated positivity. And when you interacted with him, Thor had this uncanny way of connecting with you deeply… on a spiritual level.
“Maybe he was a burgeoning con artist.” Loki chuckled to himself in surprise. How dare Thor excite him even now? After all these years.
After all these years.
After all these years.
“Did that promise mean anything?” Loki wasn’t sure that any promise made by a seventeen-year-old boy was worth its salt, though he wondered whether Thor still thought of it. He’d made Loki promise to meet at their high school reunion.
“I’ll go to every single one until I find you,” he’d said. The ten year reunion didn’t go so well, canceled during inclement weather. It had been rescheduled, but Loki’s hectic life got in the way, even with only three children at the time.
Loki traced his thumb over the screen, wiping fingerprints from the glass to get a better look at the present-day Thor. His hair was cut short, slicked back. He was sharper, longer, and worn. There was a full beard and scars. What had he been through? The service perhaps? Loki bit his lip, feeling dreadful for the emotions welling up in his throat. How dare he think of another? Desire another? A man who was a stranger to him after twenty years? Sure, Loki and Thor had been together once, but that was ages ago. Sure, they never meant to part, but school got in the way. Life always finds a way to get in the middle of everything. But if not for losing Thor, how would he have found his Sigyn? That brassy girl from Biology who dreamed of raising horses and riding horses and training horses and running a ranch someday. She would never own a ranch. Loki knew that now, though he believed her when she told him that she would.
How dare he think of Thor and Sigyn? How dare he live on after Sigyn left this realm? Loki palmed his face as the clock ticked by. He had no further clients for the day. The paperwork could wait. He would go home early.