The depth of her sorrow submerged my soul. I saw it in her eyes, felt it in her every trembling movement.
Her head hung like a mannequin with its strings cut. There it bobbed like a buoy in an undulating ocean. How I wished to brush that curtain of long, black hair aside and lift her by the chin, tell her everything was okay.
I watched her slender fingers grapple with the hem of her skirt, like ancient ivy wringing the life out of its host. One foot tapped a rapid beat. She built to something, but what?
Time to act. What else was a lover meant to do?
“Can you tell me about it?” I asked, softly.
She shook her head, slow and purposeful.
“A drink? Food?”
Again, the same.
The direct approach was often the best. “You’re in pain.”
“Almost,” she whispered.
“Because you think I don’t love you.”
When her eyes met mine, they were no longer those of a girl, nor even a woman, but something older, feral.
“Because I know you don’t. At least, that’s what I shall tell myself until the pain erodes your memory.”
It happened all of a rush, her standing, the slash of the blade. She never blinked once.
I slumped to the ground, quite dead. All was becalmed.
It came as I would’ve hoped. I raised from myself, like souls do in the movies. In one last exhalation of self, my ghost vacated its shell, and then paused as if unsure of what direction to take. I’d been mostly good. Surely, that was enough.
I wouldn’t say she hated me, or that she was prepared to take God’s word for it, but she was ready for anything. She held the vacuum cleaner hose in one hand and set the suction to maximum with the other.
There is an inherent need in all humans, men and women, to yearn for that tactile embrace of a loved one. There is no comfort like the comfort of another, nowhere safer than when in a lover’s arms. Whilst in those arms, the nightmares seem less real. Life shall be easier than before. This is what they tell us. A gift from our elders, if you will. We will strive for it most of our lives. Yet, it is false. There is another way. I know, though, I wish I didn’t.
When we die, we leave. Simple as. No arguments. No complaints. We are no more, lost to time and eternity’s tides. Some people say our souls, that inner self we ignore too often during life, pass to a better place, one the living shall never know. But what is that better place?
Some say fields of gold. Others claim marble towers and walls too high for birds to crest. Some say a lapping shore where one may dip their proverbial toes and know peace. A rock on an endless mountain. A cloud. The theories expand exponentially as each new generation adds to their layers.
There are even places where these souls don’t want to go. Where they are sent, not requested. Places which mire in darkness, shadows hunting in packs and alone. No one wishes their spirit, their very essence, to inhabit such hells. No one!
There is also the in-between, where those who’ve abused the eternal embrace, though, not too much, reside. They pay their penances in waiting. Simply, waiting. Grey fog whirls and swirls here. The mists form in endless walls of dew. They are quiet places, timeless. But who is to mark the passage of time if love isn’t present or remembered?
This brings me back to better places, or simply, places.
I lost her. I never thought to find her again. Yet, she has found me. Through passion and determination, my once all has returned. She has entered me. I am her limbo. I am her hell. How I hope I’m her heaven, too. Vaporous, she’s been for the longest of times. Now, I breathe her in every breath.
Vaporous embraces are the greatest of all. There is no need for flesh on flesh, for eye to eye, or more. We are one until I pass, too. And then there’ll be no I at all.
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.
The fade from dusk to permanent night passed in shades of doom. I deserved every bit of darkness, most men do, but was ever thankful for the moments before. I think it was a gift, a final farewell, an ‘at-least-he tried.’ And I did in my own way.
I had waited in my bed with the curtains flung wide. The window glass was dirtier than I would have liked, smudges like spectres haunting the pane, unmoving, critical of all I’d done. Yet, these questionable fractions of a life made torrid departed as the sun failed to illuminate them, blending into the background as I had for all my eighty years.
There’s a pivot, a hinging of self, when you realise, it will happen to you, it won’t last. All those years of pretending Death a visitor to others, slumped. Reality hit. An unorthodox life — a good word that, I always thought — for an otherwise pointless existence, was over. I gritted my teeth, said I was ready, glad to go. I was neither.
This moment came at ten o-clock one September evening as a bat whizzed past the glass, looped in a fluttering, flittering arc and came to rest on the outside ledge. It stood there on two legs like the world’s ugliest doll.
I squinted like the old fool I was, as if in doing so, the bat would disappear. But it didn’t disappear, not yet, anyway. The leathery creature tapped a tiny claw upon the glass to a perfect percussion, and then waved its almost transparent wing like a thrown shroud. I’d have ducked if I’d had the energy.
I was a skeptic and always had been. Omens were for others, and fate didn’t apply. I was beyond such things. People told of the ridiculous to bring false amazement to their otherwise inept existences. And, yet, here I was with such a story to tell, with no time to tell it and no one to hear it screamed.
The bat grinned as I shook my head, and then flew away.
I was a goner. I was about to meet my maker, or his darker self, if I was realistic. Bats did not do what the little one had, and chests only felt this much pain before they burst.
I contemplated pulling the telephone closer, stabbing those three particular numbers in an effort to save my skin, but instead, pushed it off the sideboard.
I settled into my pillows as best I might and watched the last light fade.
Everyone knew that dusk came in grey and left in black. There was no reason for any different. Still, I wanted to die with my eyes open. Closing them would give whoever found me something to do.
There was a mountain in the distance and a forest I couldn’t see. I imagined it all spiky haired spruces and pines, all ancient oaks and weeping willows.
That’s when the tears came. All the years I’d lived there, or rather inhabited the place, as I never really lived anywhere, and I’d never walked among them. What a pity. What a waste.
Every saline drop hurt to shed. Every slug-like trail stung my skin. Until it didn’t.
I woke with a start and a stab to the chest.
I was still in my bed and, if judged by the rasping breaths ghosting across my bedroom, alive. And yet…
Magenta moonbeams blazed from outside, filling my room with unnatural light. The night cringed at its brilliance, as did I. All those things, all those bits and pieces of paraphernalia accumulated in a tedious lifetime, be they sat upon shelves, the carpet where I’d kicked them, even the posters on the wall, shone in that rarest of colours. Not red. Not purple. A brilliance somewhere between what was never really seen in real life, yet everyone knew. This magenta moment was mine and mine alone. It was my colour. It was my gift.
There was no reason for it other than unadulterated joy. The magenta light pooled in my eyes, coursed into my open mouth and into my lungs, streamed around my veins. There were no golds, no blacks, no lava reds, none of those colours associated with the world beyond. There was only magenta. There was only me.
They came through that bruise in forever, all those I’d known. They came because in age and befuddlement I’d forgotten, twisted, corrupted a life well-lived. I was never worthless, dangerous, useless or the rest, just long-lived, too long for the rest of them. There was my father, mother, brother and sister, too. Rebecca was laughing; she always laughed. There were classmates and colleagues, brothers in arms, sharers of medals and more. And somewhere at the back, there was you, Alice.
She wore magenta lipstick, my Alice. It accentuated her lips, distracted others from the beauty that was the rest of her. But not me. Not ever. I’d remembered it until the day I died. Just like I promised.
Over the clover fields and far away Beyond the rolling hills Where unsettled horizons pulse and stir And a roiling ocean caresses the sky Blowing kisses, day and night White lips pursed to darkening blue Always touching, just Sea spray and stars, they meet in love Aside a jilted moon
Fingers entwine like November branches, The chill offering pleasurable release; There’s no benefit to being overly warm. We swish amongst the decadent leaves Raining down in shades of gone: Ah, the bliss of the festering mind. A moment in the meadow is a lifetime on the sea; Translucent waves like polished glass Revealing only an inverse night. The hole looms like a collapsed bed, And I can’t wait to draw the obsidian sheets high. A raven rattles a warning, or a joyful dirge, Flapping wings to dispel the buzzing bats; They’ve already consumed the flies. She bends low like an avalanche Destroying all I’ve ever known, been, seen. I welcome it, her, this unmarked legacy, One colder than my heart. The impossible shades of an afterlife found Embrace this shell and pop out a nutlike soul. And though I wish to scream ‘come back’ She spins a maelstrom, shifting time and tide for me, Only for me, always for me, as she ever has and ever will. For though our cold, cold love is abhorrent to most, The universe has just gained two more stars.