Title: Grandma's Stew
This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
She had tied her hair back primly from her face. The smell of a thick, dark and rich stew filled the cabin air as she worked hard over her stove. Maybe the smell of the stew would get her son to eat, or get the boy's attention. She snuck a look at the two of them sitting motionless by the window and cracked her spoon against the pot. Not a flinch or movement from either of them as the sound resounded throughout the cabin. Setting the spoon down on the stove's spoon rest, she turned to pick up an oven mitt. The fresh bread inside was doing nicely. She fanned the wonderful smell towards the window.
Her husband stepped up next to her and gave her a tired smile. His reading glasses set low on the bridge of his nose as he closed the book he had been reading. "They're going to be all right. Dr. Jacobs said it'd take time."
Martha Fraser gave her husband a piercing look. "Well, that's as maybe. But the young doctor isn't the one watching the one's he loves fade away, is he? Last night was the third night running little Ben tried to crawl into Robert's arms. Third night running Robert pushed him away. Robert either clutches that boy so close he can't breath or pushes him away. And they both won't eat."
Pulling her to him, her husband sighed in frustration. "I know," he almost cried. "You watch them helplessly and I watch you grieving inside. We all have to say goodbye to Caroline. That's what Ben and Robert can't do."
Laying her head on his shoulder, she let a few tears fall from her eyes. She suddenly pulled back and looked him straight in the eye. "I'll not say goodbye to our Caroline either. I will miss her and wish with all my heart that she was here, but she's not and through no fault of her own. Maybe it's time Robert knew we hurt too." She moved away from her husband and stirred her stew.
Sighing, he turned to look at his son and grandson. Perhaps Martha was right. Tears welled behind his eyelids as he pulled his lean frame tautly up and went to put a hand on Robert's shoulder. "Robert, boy. Come walk with me."
Robert Fraser looked up and realized his father was talking to him. His father seemed older somehow, though Robert couldn't put a name to what had changed. He rose somewhat reluctantly and followed his father out of the cabin. The two men wandered off down the forest path. Martha watched them from her window by the stove.
When the men were out of sight she turned to check on Ben. Listlessly the boy held to the same position his father had put him when he brought him out from the bedroom that morning. The small boy's dark curly hair framed his startlingly pale face. But his eyes were dull, almost glazed over looking. All Martha could think of was what Dr. Jacobs had said, "Give the boy time."
"Time" Martha muttered. "Time to sink further away from his family, perhaps to die like his mother. No, by God, no Pinsent or Fraser was going to do that on her watch." She wiped her hands on her apron and approached the boy.
She stood watching him for a moment, then ran her hand over his hair. She picked his thin child's body up and sat down with him cradled against her. Moving softly, she rocked him in her arms as she had when he'd been a mere toddler. "There's nothing to hide from here." She whispered in his ear. "Frasers don't hide. We might retreat a bit at times, but we don't hide." She knew the words sounded harsh but went on anyway. "Your mother loved you. Your father loves you. That can never be taken away from you." Her arms tightened harshly about the boy.
Ben felt the tight grip and responded to it by cuddling deeper into her arms. The slight movement he made caused her to grip him tighter for fear she had imagined it. But again as she griped him harder, he moved a little closer in her grasp. She used one hand to tilt his tiny chin towards her so that she could see his eyes. There was the faintest of flickers in the depths of those eyes. Nodding with a satisfied jerk of the head, she held on to him with a hold she knew must be hurting the boy. Again he snuggled a fraction closer to her.
"Ah, you're starting back to us are you? We're waiting for you boy. Your father needs you. Your Grandpere needs you and so do I." She heard her stew beginning to bubble too boisterously and thought of putting the boy down. Ben felt the cessation of her vice-like grip on him and made a small mewling sound. She involuntarily crushed him closer to her before loosening the hold again. This time Ben let out a cry of such pain that the sound literally ripped along the nerves of her body. His little hand clawed at her as he tried to hold on to her. When he couldn't get a good hold on her, his head shook and he started to kick out with his feet. Soon it was all she could do to hold him on her lap.
Ben finally screeched out the word, "Mother!" through lips too long silent. "I'll be still, I won't move." The shaking stopped and Ben became still again. But his eyes darted about the room and were no longer vacant looking. He had the look of a startled young thing caught in a trap. The pupils of his eyes were large and sat darkly in his pale face.
Martha held him to her less tightly than before. She wished Robert would come back in; he needed to be the one holding Ben safe. She listened and knew that wasn't going to happen. She rose and tried to put Ben back down into the chair. The boy clung to her like a limpet. His small hands clasped over her wrist until it hurt terribly. "Don't leave me, mom. Please don't leave." He cried.
"Hush, child. It's Grandmother. Let me put you in this chair." She tried unsuccessfully to move from the boy, so she picked his small frame up and held him tightly to her as she went over to the stove to stir the stew. He planted his small curly head on her shoulder and lay there sobbing quietly his legs wrapped tightly around her thin frame.
She was a woman used to heavy work without a complaint. Working around the kitchen with the boy stuck to her was like carrying a full sack of grain over her shoulder. She didn't mind, she could somehow feel the boy coming back to her, to them. She wondered how many more sleepless nights they would endure before things got better. She hummed as she worked and felt him relax a little bit more.
The two men returned to the cabin an hour after they had left it. Robert followed his father inside. His hair was bushy and unkempt and he was unshaven. Robert's eyes felt like he had been in a sandstorm for a thousand years. He headed back to his chair by the window and sat down never noticing that Ben was not still sitting in the opposite chair.
Martha turned to face her husband as she laid a hand gently on the boys back. He mouthed the words to her, "Is he all right?" She lipped back to him, "Not yet, but he will be someday."
Suddenly the boy pulled back from her shoulder and flung both his arms around her neck in an almost choking hold. "I want my mom. Please, where is my mom? What happened to her?" he asked in the tiniest of voices.
God, she thought. He doesn't remember. He doesn't remember being there. Was this a good thing or bad. She knew only time would tell. Oh dear I've burned the stew.