The curtain danced on the summer breeze and sunrays slipped through. She squirmed as her face shied from the light. The covers shielded her eyes and she drifted into sleep again. The warm morning didn’t draw back at this rebuttal. It wanted her. It kept shining, hitting her midnight hair with memories of the moon. Then the breeze ceased and dark reasserted itself. And silence, too.
When the heat became unbearable, her head wiggled out of its hiding place. She faced me with a peaceful expression, cheeks slightly flushed, hair flying every which way. Charming as ever. A little bit of mascara had escaped yesterday night’s cleaning and stained her closed lids. I couldn’t care less. She was my vision of perfection.
As she scooted closer, she moaned in her sleep, catching my scent. Tenderness rippled through my chest. The perfume of her shampoo reached me and I lingered in its caress. I would never forget the fresh cucumber and mint scent married by a splash of grapefruit. It was hers and no one else’s.
I longed to kiss her, to reaffirm the memory of her lips; soft, warm and citrusy like a lovers’ weekend on the beach. She always tasted like citrus. It was her favourite chewing gum. She popped a piece every time she drank coffee to chase the aftertaste. And she loved coffee. And I loved her.
My hand moved on its own will, bent on touching her cheek. I stopped it just in time. What would happen if I went through with it? Would my touch break this perfect moment? Would it wake her up?
I was scared. I did not want the mirage of peacefulness to ever be broken. I did not want reality to crush us again. I needed this moment to last forever. Selfishly. Lovingly.
Cruelly, the alarm clock rang and the magic dissipated.
Hanging between sleep and awake, she patted my side of the bed, searching for the morning’s cuddle. Her hand met air but kept scouting. Not finding me there sent a flash of disappointment and as she felt it, her eyes snapped open. Truth had found its way through slumber: I would never be with her again. The peacefulness was gone.
Her face morphed and tears swelled. She shook nervously and yelped in pain. I looked at her arm, going straight through my chest and looked at her again. I laid there, helpless. She did too; prey to the grief and forever out of touch.
She snagged my pillow – what used to be my pillow – and breathed deep in it. I knew my smell still tainted it, lending colourful memories. She curved around it. She cherished the souvenir of a body held dear. And she wept for it too.
She did that a lot lately, crying. I was restless by her side: flattered I meant so much to her, angry I put her in that state, desperate to hold her against me and dead. Most of the time, I just felt dead, inside and out. I watched her suffer through the day and I felt as dead as she did. Numb. And empty. And lost.
“Cut-throat” described some jobs long before witches became accepted members of society. The difference was that now, with “natural death” spells available on the black market, “cut-throat” hit a whole new level.
My wife was a publicist and a good one. She carefully avoided making anyone too jealous, which basically involved proper advertisement of herself. Her best efforts were bound to fail, eventually. I paid for it.
I got home that day and a message awaited on our answering machine. She was asking me to cook supper because work would hold her until 7. She rarely demanded my help for a meal. Cooking calmed her and she amused herself with spices and new recipes she drew inspiration from but never quite followed. She loved it so much she had started a cooking club at her office. Everyone knew how much she cooked.
She often came home late so I just munched on vegetables until every thing was ready, whatever the hour. When she asked for my help, it meant she hadn’t eaten lunch because of a meeting, a crunch time, an errand or whatever reason an international client conjured up. She would be starved and about to collapse on arrival. My simple meals weren’t half as good as her worst recipes but it was palatable. I always made pastas.
I browsed through the fridge and found some shrimps and scallops in the freezer. I took out broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, onions and mushrooms and added them to my loot on the counter. There were some weird exotic fruits and vegetables available but they scared the hell out of me. I liked them when she used them in her recipes. I couldn’t figure out how to cook them even if my life depended on it.
I pondered my sauces options: spices and tomatoes for a more Cajun sauce or a cheatingly simple French-inspired sauce made from mushroom cream and white wine. I decided to mince the onions while I imagined the tastes to figure out which one I wanted. I grabbed our favourite kitchen knife and felt dizzy.
My heart contracted painfully. I downed to my knees. Pain shot through my chest again and my left arm became unresponsive. On all fours, I tried to reach for the phone. The pain intensified until it felt like a train rode my chest. I collapsed on my belly. The pain ceased. I laid on the floor.
At first, I fumed. I paced the floor next to my body restlessly. I was angry about my death and the fate that had me pick up a knife that was meant for her. We always doubted the security of her job but she wanted to do it and I wanted her happy. I cursed her for it.
For a couple of hours, I walked to and fro, yelling my hatred at a world that could no longer hear. Then, she walked in.
She unlocked the door and called out my name. I froze. God, no. She dropped her purse on the corner table and hung her coat, still calling for me. She expected a “welcome home” kiss.
“Have you started cooking?” She smelled the air for the hints of tonight’s meal. There was nothing to tease her taste buds with. She frowned, a little worried. God, no.
She walked in the kitchen. I would have given anything to keep her from taking those steps. Anything.
She found my body and her face broke. She rushed forward to touch my already cold hands. She didn’t even call out my name. She knew instantaneously that she was far too late. She rose and backed up under the shock. She reached for the counter for support and her hands swooped my washed vegetables to the floor as it slid on the water they left behind.
She collapsed in a hard thump, crushing mushrooms under her as she sat by the feet of my corpse. She started crying in her ruined gray suit for her dead husband on a dark day, surrounded by colourful vegetables that disrespected her pain.
My body was buried now. Watching her take care of all the arrangements tore me apart. Heart attack, they said. She had her doubts. She drifted through the motions anyway, unable to find proofs and too tired to fuel vengeance against she couldn’t know who.
I watched her keep a straight face for the public and collapse at night, alone. I watched her holding the bed sheets in a bundle and stare at the washer, wondering if she should wash away all the traces of me or linger in them some more. She had put the sheets back in place without washing them. I watched her trying to move on with her life and failing.
I failed too. I should be looking for a doorway to the souls’ dominion. I couldn’t bring myself to move on either.
She grew dull and mechanic. Numb and empty and lost. She hadn’t worked for days. I walked in her steps. She avoided every feeling to push the pain away. On some occasions, like in the morning, she couldn’t help it. And I could only watch it.
When she finally made it out of bed, on this beautiful summer morning, she pulled open the curtains and stared at the light for a minute. The sun shone on her face, infusing her tears with sparkles. She wiped them with the back of her hand and squared her shoulders. The light invigorated her by the second. I knew it to be an illusion but understood why she tried so hard to hide the grief.
She headed for her dresser. I stayed by the window looking outside. She gasped and I spun on my heels.
“Frank?” She stared at the mirror where the light from the window shown bright… bright against my silhouette. Mirrors. Doorways to the soul. I turned to the side so my profile would be clear on the mirror and nodded. She giggled sadly.
I walked toward her slowly, concentrating on appearing clearer in the mirror. The light against my back kept my body obvious and I managed for my face to show itself. I stood by her side. Tears flowed on her cheeks, forgotten.
We were silent. She couldn’t speak. I couldn’t be heard. We stared at each other and shared the same ache. Minutes passed while we cried.
In the corner of my eyes, I caught a movement in the shadows. As it sipped behind me, she saw it in the mirror. She expired loudly as if punched in the middle, scared and hurt. The black cloud could only be one thing.
“Let it take me.” She said with a newfound resolve. I shook my head.
“We could be together.” She knew, as well as I did, that the chances of that happening were next to none.
“I love you” I mouthed and turned around. She stood and yelled. She cried. She threatened to kill herself to reach me anyway. She wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be here to be reached.
As I walked toward the black cloud, I heard her sit back in her chair linking the “I’m sorry” and “I love you” in a long pain-woven string. I glanced back once. She was watching the whole thing, stuck in her request for forgiveness and her worded love.
I wouldn’t show regret. I had none. I wouldn’t show pain. I was beyond it. She would live. She would quit her job. She would find someone else. I’d die for her. I’d do it twice.
The first one was an accident. A lucky turn of fate. This one was my choice to make.
I jumped into the black cloud, a death curse targeted at my beloved wife. I merged my soul with it, losing myself in its violence. It wanted to push me to kill her. I heard her yell as the man I was dissipated in the cloud.
She punched the mirror and harmed her fist. The smell of blood stirred the violence in the curse. In me. But I wouldn’t kill her.
With what was left of my soul, I willed the death curse back to sender.