It is the shadow that lingers, hangs thick around me in the air. It is the weight on my back, pressing down and weakening me. It is tide rising, as though the moon is drawing closer. Her face appears before my eyes, like mist on a cold winter’s day. I am suffocating, sinking. I think I know what I want to do.
She had lived only a short walk from my house when we were children. I would run to her house, or she would run to mine, and we would leave together to play in the orchard – weaving between the trees, ducking to avoid low branches. As we grew up, we would talk for hours about our hates, our fears, our dreams, whilst taking refuge under the trees from the heat of the afternoon sun or the wildness of the rain and wind. We would eat the apples, sharing our anecdotes and laughing loudly with each other. Over the years we grew inseparable. The look on her face when I asked and she said ‘yes’, eyes wide and her face beaming, was to be forever woven into my memories.
I remember that she was the centre of attention that day – she always had been, to me at least. It was difficult to take your eyes off her. Her slender figure draped in a long dress, pearls hung around her neck with the diamond displayed proudly on her index finger. Her dark hair had always fallen in loose curls around her shoulders, and this time was no exception. I remember her pale complexion, her high cheekbones and full lips. People gathered around her, wishing her well before turning to me and doing the same- tears often filling their eyes. I remember how eerily still she was. I remember when they closed the lid – sealing her away forever – and I remember when they lowered her coffin into the ground. With my jaw wavering and tears dominating my face, I knelt over her grave. In the loudest of all silences I cried my goodbyes – but it was too late for goodbyes. She was gone.
We had waved goodbye to friends and family and stepped tentatively over the frosty ground to the car, piling our engagement presents into the back seat. She sat in the passenger seat and I drove – on our way home from our celebratory night out with those we held dearest. Grey skies turned to black and soon darkness engulfed the car. Wind howled through the lattice of braches of the trees that lined the single-track road and snow began to swirl, adorning their limbs. Flakes danced in front of the windscreen in a hypnotising display as they fell to coat the road. The road took a sharp left but I noticed only a moment too late. I fought to control the wheel as we skidded around the bend, left side of the vehicle slamming into the tree.
The rooms are frozen and empty, stripped of colour and devoid of comfort. Her perfume still seems to linger in the air, intoxicating my mind and haunting me wherever I go. Her makeup remains on the dressing table; the teddy bear we’d won together at the fair sits on the shelf, its eyes stalking me. The numbness has spread, stretching out through every fibre of my being. Eternal emptiness buries itself in my gut, my chest is hollow and loneliness boasts me as its best friend. Sleek black feathers blanket my brain, becoming thicker and thicker, their colour diffusing into my thoughts.
It had been months since I’d met another person. I tried to force myself to leave behind any memories, but this is impossible to do. And it’s not fair to her. I could never forget. I have only myself to blame. I’d lost my job, cut off my friends and family. I spent my days fuelling my own dejection and being ashamed of my hopes that I might one day live without it. She occupies my mind – the frame of the car crushing her. Her face sometimes shines in red, the liquid dripping down to her clothes. Then she is clean, lying in her coffin. Disturbing images outweigh those of comfort.
The embers of days gone by seem to always fall around me like snow on a mid-winter’s day, accumulating at my feet and serving to only make each of my attempted steps forward increasingly laborious. Encased in my own thoughts, stuck within the same four walls, everything staring back at me seems to declare me insane. My existence was once mapped out with coloured ink, but is now sketched out with charcoal. The desert of my mind holds no oasis and my suffering binds me to the conscious world. Pictures accompany me on my walk down the hall, a timeline of our lives displayed in snapshots – but any photos now would be bare without her.
A week after her death I had left with a handful of seeds and a shovel, making my way to her field outside the orchard. I dug a small hole in the ground, planting the seeds above her grave. She had once mentioned that that was how she wanted it; nothing more than a passing comment but I, of course, held on to her every word. From her loss of being, there grew a symbol of life. I continued to meet with her in her field every day. I spoke with her, ate apples with her and cried for her. I watched the tree flourish over the years. It watched me crumble.
It was the shadow that lingered, hung thick around me in the air. It was the weight on my back, pressing down and weakening me. It was tide rising, as though the moon had drawn closer. Her face is fixed before my eyes, like mist on a cold winter’s day. I have suffocated, I have sunk. The shadow is not around me, it’s within me. I know now what I want to do – cut the apples open and extract the seeds. Weigh the seeds, blend them and drink them. Quickly. Quickly or it won’t work. I have to ensure there is enough – there are no second chances. There is no time for sub-lethal doses.