By Rumaysa, Year 7
Disrespectful sun. It’s too cheerful today. He wishes the sky would send down torrents of rain instead to extinguish the living hell he knows today will bring. Unlike every day, he can’t just bury himself in his mundane, repetitive work and pretend he doesn’t feel her. Today, she’s in the corners of every room. Demanding his attention. Watching. Judging. Not even twelve hours, Patrick? Won’t you give me that?
He struggles out of bed, wondering why he can’t sleep, and wake when the day’s over—or never, either works. He grudgingly freshens up before traipsing to the kitchen to religiously boil the kettle for his morning cup of coffee. He’s reaching for a mug when the telltale bells of expensive bikes amidst raucous laughter pierce his ears. Then a smash, and the shattering of broken glass. Someone yells, “Damn, was that his bedroom?” Ill-bred, vicious kids. He swears loudly and stumps in the direction of the shatter. The rock lies innocently on his bed like a large, neatly wrapped present.
As he cleans up the glass, he carelessly cuts his finger and reaches for a bandaid. Catching his face in a shard, he’s confronted by those deep, mean lines and harsh eyes. I am dead, he thinks. I’ve been dead for the past thirty-five years and I’ve barely realised it. He tears his gaze away. No wonder those kids hate him so much. Emmeline would be horrified.
He sweeps under the bed for the last pieces of glass and his broom hits something. The box. A sudden desire tugs at him. He pushes it away but he can hear her again: Open it. Don’t leave us like this. He pulls the box out, sits on his bed slowly, bones creaking. He can’t remember the last time his fingers traced the grooves of their initials, carved into the wood. He takes the key from his bottom drawer. Inserts, turns.
There’s the photograph, like it always was, him and Emmie at Ruffey Lake Park. Young, and clearly in love. Anyone could see that from how they tilted slightly like they were the only things keeping each other in place, like orbiting stars. Bound together for almost eternity before they finally consume each other.
He remembered they’d had seared duck for lunch afterwards, lounging in the cool shade of what Emmeline told him was a pine tree. Nature wasn’t something he’d paid attention to before he met Emmeline, but simply knowing a dandelion from a daisy wasn’t good enough for her. She’d loved nature, especially drawing it. She’d had dreams of travelling the world. All around Australia, first; then Spain, Turkey, Morocco…
The doorbell wrenches him back. He scowls down at the photograph, tosses it back in the box. There’s no travelling to do when you’re buried six feet under, and there’s certainly no good dwelling on the past. That’s what drives everyone mad, like Old Samuel in the house two doors down—he’d seen too much, heard too much. Now he wanders up and down the street ringing doorbells, just wanting a simple conversation that no one’s kind enough to give. He shuts the lid and kicks the thing back under the bed, fuelled by a sudden surge of spite.
At the door is that blingy girl from across the road with the usual muffins. He wonders if she gets paid for doing it, then doesn’t care because either way, the muffins are good. For the first time she’s brought lilies, which used to be Emmie’s favourite flower. ‘Used to be’. He finds it almost funny how quickly he got used to thinking about her in the past. Ironically, the past is where she never seems to remain.
He drops the lilies into a vase and puts them into a back room where he won’t have to look at them but can still smell their sweet scent. He reboils the kettle, pours out the water, sits down at the kitchen table and tries to put the box out of his mind. Focuses on the tea. It’s hot but he takes a sip anyway. Emmie used to—
He struggles to push her out of his mind and tries to focus on the tea, but it’s useless. Almost irritated with himself, he plods to his bedroom and pulls the box out, turning the photograph around in his hands again. Patrick and me, 1985. A year before…
He pulls his mind away again and sifts through the other stuff in the box—more photos, scraps of paper, books, pressed flowers—right to the bottom, to the Letter.
He has a lighter in the kitchen. A shredder at his office. He pictures letting the ashes fall prey to the wind. Out of sight, out of mind…
Except it wouldn’t be. She’s been gone exactly thirty-five years and she’s still a constant presence.
He should just read it, get it over and done with. Don’t leave us like this. But it wasn’t his fault—she left him, not the other way around. It had all happened so quickly: the headaches, drowsiness, confusion. Heart attack. Hospitalisation. The doctor had said, “Brain herniation…cardiac arrest…nothing we could do.”
His voice, dazed, cracked: “Can I see her?”
And then the crisp white sheets, her weak hand in his, and the Letter on the table beside her; and the nurse was saying, “She wanted you to have this, said you should read it when you’re ready. We think she may have known about the tumour…” but he realised her hand wasn’t weak it was lifeless and cold, and her chest wasn’t rising and falling, and her heart wasn’t beating in the patterns he’d memorised, and she’d gone and left him and taken his entire life away with her. He’d planned out his whole life with someone he’d end up saying goodbye to when he wasn’t even thirty—actually, he didn’t get to say goodbye at all; he couldn’t even remember what he last said to her: “It’s okay”? “I’ll wait here”?
That was him now. Waiting. Stranded on the pier watching the boat disappear over the horizon, knowing all his love would never bring her back, waiting till that damned thing came for him.
And he didn’t even say goodbye.
Later, cradling the delicate white of the Letter in his hands, the nurse’s words sank in. We think she may have known. How else could this Letter have been written?
We think she may have known.
Emmie. Emmeline. Mrs Hawthorne, Mel, Eli. He would never have imagined that any of them would lie to him. She was selfish—selfish for knowing and never telling him because now their time was up, and all those moments he could’ve, should’ve savoured if he knew were long past, and the words long saved for the perfect moments to be uttered were never spoken, and he didn’t say goodbye—won’t say goodbye.
A grey flower blooms. He doesn’t bother wiping his tears from the paper, or his face. He can’t move if he tries, just takes deep breaths. The envelope is becoming more translucent, slowly revealing a single word inked onto the Letter hidden inside. Sorry.
Life flows back into his veins. She was right; he’s left it for too long.
He takes a deep breath.
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