What If?

What If?

By Ken Rosburg.

I folded the comic section of the Sunday newspaper and dropped it on the floor. Nothing had made me laugh. Martha continued knitting but slowly turned her head, giving me one of those looks over her reading glasses. I picked the paper off the floor and set it on the coffee table. Thirty-six years of marriage taught me not to argue, not to ignore and not to disobey these simple, silent requests. I rose to leave. The phone rang. I froze. Martha held her knitting needles in mid-stitch. The ringing of the phone still brought back horrible memories of The Phone Call we got four months, one week and three days ago. We dreaded getting more bad news. Irrational? Probably, but we’re different now. The answering machine announced the message which was from a church deacon reminding me about the council meeting tomorrow. I continued living. Martha continued knitting.

“Hey, I’m going to the cemetery. Want to come?” I said.

“Is the headstone up yet?”

“Yeah, they called and said it should be up by now. Sure took them long enough.”

“Long enough?” Martha didn’t even look my way. “Harold, you only ordered the thing two weeks ago.” Knit one, purl two.

I walked to the door, reached for the doorknob but paused. “I just can’t believe she left.” I almost choked on my words.

Martha lowered her knitting to her lap and turned to look at me. “She left.” Knit one, purl two.

Her voice sounded dead. Was that a question? A statement? An accusation? I opened the door and left.

I tried to appreciate this idyllic scene, this final resting place. Majestic oak and elm trees stretched heavenward. Their lush green leaves blocked the harshness of the summer sun but still held raindrops from the morning rain. Dandelions added their rich yellow to the expanse of green grass. The air was fresh and clean. Peaceful… yet painful… so much pain hidden by a carpet of damp sod. Here, some found solace. Others found closure—I don’t know what closure means. I only found confusion in this sea of garish, granite stones. The grass softened my steps, but it hid the anguish that lay below, and the stones told too little of those who rested here. I didn’t belong here. I couldn’t possibly deserve to be here.

I knelt beside our new stone and searched for answers. Is this all there is? Just my daughter’s name, her birth date and death date? She can’t really be here—it’s the wrong order of life. I should be down there; she should be up here. I felt the dampness of the earth seeping into my slacks. Or was I pouring myself into the sod and becoming part of this burial ground? I put my hands on the burial stone and touched her name. It burned my eyes. I looked away.

A dandelion. Just a weed but look at its beauty. A honeybee drinks its nectar.

Where did I go wrong? A father’s job was to keep his daughter safe. How could I fail? Did I fail? I saw her crumpled car, but I didn’t get to see her body—the coroner said I wouldn’t recognize her. That, he said, should not be a father’s last memory. But her friend lived. Maybe my daughter is still out there, broken but alive. It’s possible… No, no it’s not.

The honeybee was focused on her singular task to gather life-sustaining nectar.

What should I have done differently? Could I have avoided this pain? What if I had not moved my family here? What if she had attended a different school? What if we lived in a different town? Could I have altered her future? Or was this her fate? Was it my fate to suffer such anguish no matter what I did? I closed my eyes and tried to picture her face. No image appeared. Impossible. Was this my fate—a blank picture frame?

Did the honeybee see the beauty of the blossom or did it just stop, take what it wanted and leave? Why did it pick this blossom out of the hundreds in this field? What if I had not allowed the bee to land on this flower? I batted the bee away with my hand. It buzzed around and landed on the same flower. I batted it again. It stung me.

Pain, awful pain.


KEN ROSBURG is a retired US Air Force fighter pilot and a retired American Airlines pilot. His new passion is creative writing. He has had poetry published in the award winning publication SandScript, and nonfiction published in a cultural exhibit chapbook. He is back in college to hone his writing skills—one is never too old to learn. He lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife of forty-seven years.

Photo by Franco Folini

1 Comment for “What If?”

Rosemary Cacolice Brown


What a beautiful piece, poignant in the telling and rich with detail. It speaks to all of us who have ever been traumatized by the sudden lose of a loved one.

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