My first death hurt the most, not from the pain, but from the injustice. The second came as the biggest surprise because I was still dead from the first. A kiss spurred my third departure, a faint fluttering of the heart. My fourth death was so subtle, I didn’t realise until the fifth. There were more, many more, but death becomes as boring as life.
My deaths came in many forms, at many times and places. There was no preempting it. Experience of the thing failed to give a single heads-up. Apparently, having died a multiple and often inexplicable number of times counted for nothing. I was a duck in a pond just waiting for the sharpshooters to strike.
There were benefits to my ailment, this legacy of mind. They might not have counted for much, but for something. I grew hardened, cocooned, insulated against death. My resolve strengthened. My will hardened.
I approached my many deaths differently upon this magical realisation. I expected them, thus the events themselves became less torrid. No longer would I toss and turn at night, clutching at my heart and sweating profusely. No, sir, I was a changed man. Well, boy.
The last turned me down before I’d even opened my mouth. ‘Not you,’ she sneered. ‘Not you.’
That was the last time I died. It didn’t bother me then, as now. Although, the woman with the scythe and the ebony eyes is grinning as though it should.
There’s something about the cello that ruins the soul. It’s as if whoever first built one had fallen from grace, and in so doing, torn their heart from their chest and strung it from ear to toe. Before bleeding into the land, into history, into nothingness, they’d picked up a twig and begun to play. Death was not an option. Only a life of unending sorrow remained.
I recite this story to my secretary as I sit here and play. The notes rise and fall with her breaths. My fingers rest only when she blinks. I pour my everything into this most personal performance, not to impress, but to explain.
The closest we came to forever was the moment in which we gave up. Our breaths held and never really returned. The moment drew out to seconds, to hours, to more. Your eyes dimmed like exhausted candles. Mine were already black.
The closest we came to forgiveness was that moment we met at the wake. Dressed in black from head to toe, I barely recognised you. I said Hello and you almost said it back.
The closest we came to something was that moment when we both said, I do. I remember how it felt, not how it sounded, as those three tiny letters sunk beneath my skin and slipped off your well-oiled own.
The closest we came was closer than most but never close enough for me.
She had no status, no place in this world. She barely had a life. Then again, neither did I.
We met one Easter morning and had married by tea in an unorthodox ceremony involving a stray cat who fussed our feet like catnip. It then peed on the floor. We laughed like hyenas. The pastor didn’t. The next day became our anniversary, and the next, and the next. Not a great legacy but something. We all must have something.
We left the city for the coast on an empty bus, a move in direct opposition to the latest trends, and got off at the last stop because the driver made us. He smiled as he did so like a man in the know.
We found a tiny house with a bed, a toilet, a door, and a view. This was all we required. This and each other.
It began soon after.
She forgot my name by Halloween and my face by Christmas. My voice went last. Perhaps it reassured her? A somnambulist by day, worse still by night, she wandered. I wandered with her when I could. It was only a matter of time.
New Year’s Day. I found her mangled body upon the rocky shore. She’d stepped from the cliffs as though them our lawn, whilst the sea fret tickled her eyelids and vindictive gulls egged her on. I was sad, but not inconsolable.
I buried her deeper than I ought, marking her grave with a simple cross of two bound sticks. There, I scratched the message: To My beloved Wife.
Later, when malicious gossip made the pastor aware of my situation, he visited one gloomy afternoon.
“It’s untitled, anonymous!” he exclaimed.
“What is?” I replied.
“Her grave, man. Her grave!”
“As was she.”
“Because she had no name?” he ventured, calming at my obvious heartbreak.
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