She had been gone eight years, almost to the day. We didn’t fear the worst anymore, we knew it and we felt it, even in our constant numbness, in the faint and hollow beating in our chests. She wasn’t coming back.

It was a weekday, and early winter had already turned a novelty into an ordeal. Gloves and scarves were now an unwelcome hindrance. The car’s engine spluttered to a start at the expense of the antifreeze, the chamois pads, and of course the fuel, which now burned in direct contrast with the apparent value its weekday destination. But it kept us going, it paid the bills and we could watch movies together and walk the mall at weekends, buy the odd t-shirt he seemed content with while his peers paraded their new gadgets. He was good like that. We’d been told back in therapy such a kind reticence may be part and parcel of the loss. Or it could go the other way. We were told to be careful and caring, for although we weren’t everything to each other, we were the most important things, things we should be able to trust and find strength in.

I noticed him watch a young couple walking hand-in-hand through his passenger seat window. My front teeth bit into the light stubble below my bottom lip as we waited for the light to change to green. The avenue trees, naked and skeletal, looked out at the world with frozen disinterest, while the cloud cluttered sky at the end of a tunnel of roads and buildings seemed withdrawn into its own kind of seasonal apathy. He sensed me watching him watch them and turned his eyes to meet my own. He knew. A horn blast from behind jolted us both back to quick life: the light, the rear mirror, gas, movement, gear, gas, automatic movements, passing people, passing cars, people, cars and destinations.

In the dream she walked towards us in a brilliant-white, knee-length cotton dress, her long brown hair glistening like a commercial. A shining smile matched her serene blue eyes as she took unhurried and graceful steps forward. I glanced down at him transfixed with her, his red snowman hat, his gloved hand connected to my own. The airport was busy with business people, holidaymakers; people drinking coffee in front of small digital screens, groups drinking beer and talking with the excited anticipation of elsewhere. The morning sunshine began to creep its way in through the constant window looking out over parked airplanes.

He walked past the kids playing soccer and straight in through the glass double doors. Where he went and what he did from there I’d never really known. He didn’t like to talk too much about school and my only information were the words studious, conscientious, and thoughtful which often came up at parents’ meetings before or after a ‘but’ about his less than scholarly grades. They knew he hadn’t moved on and at times I could feel them thinking this was because I too hadn’t moved on. Perhaps if I was able to date someone, remarry, this would fill the void somehow. But the truth was I felt nothing towards other women, I had nothing to give and nothing to receive. It would only be strangers, empty handed under a Christmas tree with no lights, and no mistletoe.

Gloria blinked and smiled as she handed over the Lubrix file and I thanked her in return. I knew what they were thinking: Isn’t it such a shame? He’s so nice but so damaged. And it’s been so long but he just can’t seem to get over it. People didn’t look at me, eyes crept cautiously upon me. Talk was never natural, talk was contrived and overenthusiastic. Work itself was in one way pacifying, in its distraction and its distaste for the procrastination I employed in all other parts of life. It kept me busy. But sometimes, often, as I sat there, at my desk, in my cube, I saw only the lies. I heard only secret lies which believed in themselves. I watched only deceit flow through every word and every action and reaction. At those times I knew full well that if he wasn’t around then neither would I be.

He passed me the salt and I noticed tears welling up in his eyes. It had been a while now but we both knew it was coming. I’d thought of taking the calendar down, planning activities, something to avoid the inevitable. I’d thought. His face began to tremble and he pushed back his chair to get up and leave the table. I grasped hold of his arm as he sunk and shook his head in shame, tiny tear droplets now falling from his nose to the floor. I pulled him towards me and he stood upright with his other arm loose and ragged by his side, his nose rested on my chest. I had no words for him at that point, only my chest and my hand. He sniffled in short bursts and exhaled sadness and worry and incomprehension through quiet, intermittent whistling. After a minute or so his breathing began to steady and silence. With one last deep breath he released his hand from mine and turned to take his seat back at the table. I looked down at my plate and him at his.

The impossible world was my most prevalent thought and the one I fell asleep to that night. I could believe in death only as much as I believed in life. I could believe in light years of darkness only as much as I believed in our own gravitational isolation. And I could believe in God only as much as I believed in nothing. But it was nothing I believed in, nothing beyond him and his journey and the fear that I felt for his path. As I closed my eyes the dead past in my mind selected a memory of a tractor ride on a summer trip a year before it happened; and then of the first night whispers, those perfect whispers which now howled through my black inner universe. And then an abstract picture of two people: speeding excitement and lights lulled abruptly to a slow dance and the end of an old song and then doors locking shut and then the photograph again. The photograph, the one I couldn’t face, presented itself to me in a grand frame in the empty ballroom of a huge palace. The precious burning photograph again and again.

In the dream she raised his hat and pressed her lips to his forehead. He didn’t know who she was but he knew something was right. She pulled him tight to her chest and whispered the words into his ear. She stood and turned her gaze to me. She was young again. It was the first time we had met. She looked at me with that same knowing coyness, that fated moment of unavoidable truth and future. Our paths had crossed and the path ahead was only one. We knew it, right there and then. He looked up at her first and then across to me, and we broke our moment, her and I, we already knew, and we both looked down at him. His was a smile at first, then a grin and then laughter, tickling laughter the kind you have no option but to laugh along with. And so we laughed, the three of us, as people hurried by checking their watches and glancing at numbers on giant screens. The sun had crawled across the floor and found us, lighting up the space and the morning with the promise of something intangible, something so specific that words or actions have no power to describe it. She motioned to us that it was time to go. The three of us, without words, as a camera on the roof caught our image, the three of us, walking hand-in-hand-in-hand, destined for the morning sky.

She had been gone eight years, almost to the day. She had no regrets; she had known all along that the decision was final. Even in her fractured delusions of loss, in the distant and shallow cravings which sometimes seemed as blistering and audacious as emotion, she knew that she would never be going back. He called her from the balcony and she turned to see him standing with a bottle of red wine held aloft. The waves rolled  gently in, one after another. The water began to kiss her toes as she sat on the sand with her knees pulled up to her chest, staring intently out at the darkness, fascinated by the void.

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