The worst night of my life wasn’t the night of my wife’s death. The worst night was every night since.
I barely remember the actual accident. The phone call that sounded like a foreign language — swerving in and out of traffic on the way to the hospital — the surreal florescent lighting in that timeless waiting room: it’s nothing but a blur. All I remember afterward was the surgeon who couldn’t make eye contact with me, then sitting in my driveway for an hour and staring at the dark windows of my house.
It was a dream, almost like it was happening to someone else. Like it could only happen to someone else, because I couldn’t understand how my life was supposed to keep going without her. People keep telling me that things will get easier with time. The longer I wait the more letters she writes though, and I don’t know how much longer I can hold it together.
I recognized her handwriting immediately when the first one appeared. She’d written my name on the outside of a folded yellow paper which had been unceremoniously buried under a stack of junk mail. Inside, all it said was:
It’s so quiet, but I can still hear you breathing. It’s so dark, but nothing is hidden from me. Did we both die that night?
Cleanly printed in the same handwriting was “December 12th”, the date of her accident.
It doesn’t hurt, if that’s what you’re wondering, she wrote in a second letter which arrived a few days later. Not how things used to hurt anyway. Before when something hurts, you try to get away from it. Pull your hand away from the sharp stick, spit out the boiling tea.
Now pain feels more like being alive. When will you join me? I know you must be thinking about me because I can feel your thoughts race through my body like electricity in my veins. It gives me the strength to hold on, so I hope it never stops hurting. Is that how it feels for you too?
– Love M****
The written date was December 12th again, frozen in time. I stole from death each time I read and re-read those precious words. If pain was all she needed to feed, then she would never go hungry with me.
People have begun to disappear. Not all at once, but details and features keep slipping away until I can’t even remember their names. Sometimes I’ll call to the doctor and not notice until he turns around that he doesn’t have a face. Conversations will sound normal in the background, but if I really focus I realize that the words are just random sounds that don’t make any sense to me.
And the smell? Spoiled eggs. Festering meat. Rot and must so thick I can feel it trickling down my throat when I breath. It doesn’t matter where I go, the smell is always the same. If you haven’t smelled a flower today, do it now for both of us. What’s it like? I can’t seem to remember anymore.
– Love M****
You probably think I’m going crazy, don’t you? I must be crazy for wanting to hold onto the comfort of this illusory connection. It wasn’t the letters that were driving me crazy though. It was the smell which began to linger everywhere I went.
Spoiled eggs and festering meat were gentle words for the relentlessly condensing atmosphere. From the moment I woke up, air as thick as oil began slithering into my lungs. I’d wash myself with a rough sponge until my skin was bright and raw and burn incense night and day, but nothing ever cleared the vile intrusion of my senses.
Coats and hats are walking around without people in them. Whole neighborhoods are simply gone, replaced with a random clutter of empty buildings and blank earth. It’s as though I’ve forgotten what goes there, but somehow my mind is desperately trying to cover up its own errors with a hodgepodge of things it steals from other memories. Every day the world becomes more “could be” and less “is”.
I’ll forget them if I have to. I’ll forget where I was born and where I went to school. I’ll forget all the places I’ve gone and the people I’ve known. I’ll forget my own name, I don’t care. As long as you keep reading these, then at least you’ll remember. As long as I keep writing them…
Please don’t let me forget you too.
– Love M****
The smell is getting worse. I didn’t think it was possible, but I can’t even breathe without gagging. I haven’t left the house in three days so I don’t know if I’m the only one who notices. Everything I eat mushes into decay in my mouth and I can’t sleep at night. I just lie awake thinking about what the next letter will say.
You did this to me. I don’t know why, or how, but I’m trapped here because of you. The light that bleeds from your eyes is blinding me. Your thoughts are so loud that I can’t hear myself think. Why does your house line every street of every block in the city? Why does your face peer from behind every door?
Why does it make me sad when you look through me and turn away?
The space between life and death had never been so thin. Tenebrous silhouettes are always squirming in my peripheral vision these days. Shadows behind furniture linger for a full second after the light has been turned on. I hear footsteps in empty rooms and I’m positive that I’ve closed more doors than I’ve opened. Then late at night when I’m laying awake in bed, I’ll hear them open again.
And always always the pervading rot, so real and present that I need to constantly check myself to make sure I’m not the one who is decomposing. That’s the only explanation that makes sense to me. Knowing that she’s rotting while I must endure — it’s killing me. I didn’t think she understood that until the next letter.
When you’re gone, there won’t be anything left to keep me here.
If I thought putting a bullet in my brain would have helped her move on, then someone would have been scrubbing my brains off the walls by now. I just don’t see how something as measly as a bullet is going to make me let her go. Or maybe I’m a coward and that’s just an excuse. I couldn’t go on living like this, but maybe there was something in me that wanted to keep living somehow.
I went for a walk that night, but I couldn’t find cleaner air anywhere. Not even in the cemetery where she was buried. It’s odd, because I distinctly remember thinking how pure it felt here during her funeral. The whole world is painted in shades of gray, but graveyards are only white and black.
The smell only grew stronger while I was digging. The laminated casket was harder to break than I expected, but I wasn’t in a rush. The enduring rhythm of my shovel pummeling the lock was like the heartbeat of this place, and the pain which drove the blade was its blood.
Between my pain and the lock, the lock proved less enduring. There was a sheet of blue velvet covering her body, but I didn’t need to see her as I poured the gasoline on top. The wretched odor will burn clean. Her rotting mind will burn clean. I will…
I emptied the whole gallon of gasoline and tossed the match. Not exactly how I imagined saying goodbye, but there was something cathartic about watching the flames rise from the gutted earth. As long as there was a body, I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was that body. Now she was the smoke and the sky and all the vastness of space. Now she was free.
That’s why I didn’t expect a final letter waiting for me when I got home in the early hours of the morning.
Profane desecration. The defiler will burn.
The shadows don’t have the decency to hide their intent anymore. The doors don’t wait until I’ve left the room before they taunt me with their opening. More worrying still are the doors that won’t open even when they’re unlocked, and the sparks which have begun to breathe smokeless from the electrical sockets.
Whatever remains of my wife isn’t my wife anymore. She doesn’t even remember me. I hope she recognizes me when we’re together again soon.