Chapter 1 : Stages
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It’s too blue outside to be a real burial, it seems, and everybody feels compelled to breathe this to her as they stand with their toes pointed around the bushels of roses and the gaping hole in the ground. The rain would suit him better, they say, as if stormy weather would somehow make this more of a tragedy.
The priest asks her if she would like to say something, and as she resurfaces from wherever she has been for the past fifty-three minutes, the hush that has settled around her acts as a stale, stifling blanket. “Marlene?” he prompts. There is nothing she can mutter that could possibly sum up his life or her life, their friendship, their romance, his death. At least, this is what she tells herself as she shakes her head.
Later, when she lies in bed and watches the cars outside cast dark, moving shadows across her ceiling, she is unable to forgive him. Look at what you’ve left me with, you monster. The clock ticks. I have nothing. The floor creaks. I hope you never come back.
And then she regrets it, turning over in her sheets while they smother her and entwine themselves around her ankles. Because if he does return, miraculously, he will be wanted (dearly). “I’m sorry,” she whispers to no one, and listens as the thick night air extinguishes her words.
She is lost in the “what if” statements she has begun to make. What if she had protected him, shielded him from harm? What if he had escaped them, proving to her once and for all that he was more courageous than anyone had ever given him credit for? If only she had known, if only she had done something earlier, if only she had somehow loved him more.
The cracks in her exterior begin to show when she least expects it. When she discovers she doesn’t have enough change in her pockets to pay for a Prophet, she has to wipe at her cheeks with the palms of her hands so that the tears won’t leave ribbons in their wake. “I’m sorry,” she manages murmur to the confused salesman, and he shrugs his shoulders in response. When the food in her pantry dwindles down to nothing and the meals from friends and neighbors begin to fade and finally disappear, she lets herself wilt against the counters and ache.
His picture appears in the obituary, looping over and over as he smiles and tilts his head, smiles and tilts his head. She clutches at the corners and weeps, eyes rimmed and rosy, hair clinging to her dewy forehead.
Her grief drips and trickles out of her, and she cannot begin to patch the leaks.
The cobalt sky returns after the winter fades, and she is reminded of when they stood in black muslin around his grave. His obituary picture hangs framed ablve the mantle, and he smiles and tilts his head, smiles and tilts his head.
She will live.
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