She had always expected grandchildren. She had expected, even as a young girl, to live deep into her twilight surrounded by chittering, smiling faces. Even before she had thought of having children or even knew what that meant, she had expected grandchildren. She had expected full tables at thanksgiving and long lists of names at Christmas.
She could always see it so vividly.
Sitting next to a man who would have looked remarkably like a potato whose skin had gone loose after too long in a cupboard. She would have borne the years with more grace and would have had tight skin that shone like a mirror as it stretched across her forehead. She had expected to buy him little sweaters that he would have worn as he sat in front of a typewriter, or sat in his favorite chair reading the paper or a book that he loved. The sweaters would have always been soft against her face when he hugged her unexpectedly in the middle of a frigid morning.
They would have gotten dogs as their children left to go about their lives. At first they would be big dogs to replace the big people in their lives. She had always wanted a pair of Danes or Irish Setters, but he would have wanted a Bulldog so they would have gotten one of each. As they got older the dogs would have gotten smaller so they would have had less to do.
She would have planted a garden with both flowers and vegetables. He would have had a tree or two that would have borne fruit. He would have brought her the bright, ripe fruit wrapped in a paper towel, as though they were precious gems wrapped in silk, and presented them to her to bake into a pie or some other treat that the grandchildren would have sniffed out like bloodhounds when they had arrived. They would have had a sense of when the fruit would be ripe enough for pie.
Late in the evening they would have sat in the den, he in his chair, and she in curled into the elbow of the couch with a small blanket and a dog at her feet. They would have read to each other and laughed when they were funny or awkward, or just sat in silence when they were somber or painful.
When they would have gone to bed, in a bed that was too small for two people to sleep without touching, he would kiss her with his crinkled lips and smile before pulling the string that turned out the lamp. She would have always known he was close by, even in her dreams.
She sat thinking of all of the things she had expected as she looked down at the list of names and addresses. The snow had begun to fall outside and she heard the tired old furnace struggle to sputter to life. She still had some heating fuel left, at least she could stay warm. The list of names was not long. The page they were written on was yellowed slightly. She had had it for a few decades. Beside each of the faded names was a date in much fresher ink. She hadn’t remembered writing each of the names or addresses individually, but she remembered filling that last date into every one of the names. Most of them had the same date. April 7th.
They were shouting again outside, they always started shouting when the sun went down. Since the bombs had gone off and the lights had gone out, it was as though everyone went nuts in the dark. It reminded her of those National Geographic specials about the Amazon or the Congo. The animals always lost their mind when the sun went down.
She grabbed the stack of cards, each with a glitter covered snowman wearing a scarf and mittens on the front and walked to the front door. Her mother had always taped the cards she had gotten every year to the back of her door. Showing off how many people loved her. She always got excited when the first one came and she would put it up after announcing it to everyone.
She had written all of these herself. There had been no mail for months now. Each card had a small note inside. One for each name on her list. She taped them to the thick boards that covered the back of her front door.