She dies on a Tuesday.
He finds her body bent triple against the bathtub: feet to knees, knees to hips, hips to a head fixed by a stillness that slips frosted fingers along the bumps of his spine. A syringe sits in the palm of her hand. A line of blood slides from a puncture in the crook of her elbow.
The room is full of dead air, and he doesn’t think he’ll breathe right ever again.
He hadn’t been expecting it. Her arms have been riddled with track marks as far back as he can remember. The repeated exposure dulled the edges of the danger that had once struck knife-like between his ribs whenever he caught her with her arm bound by a tourniquet, blood flushed with chemicals. She had been hiding in plain sight, he supposes.
Needles clustered on the kitchen countertop like discarded cutlery. A shock of brown liquid on the bathroom sink like smeared makeup.
Empty balloons strewn on the carpet like remnants of some forgotten celebration.
(but maybe they’d only ever been filled with air…)
He hadn’t been expecting it, but he could have, if he’d paid attention.
It shifts the pain to something infinite.
He spends Wednesday through Sunday buried in the covers on her side of the bed, her photograph pinched between his fingers, convincing himself not to follow her.
Then he plans the funeral.
It hadn’t always been like this, but he remembers little before the strange men that fed her poison like it was candy and the shadows that rippled across her eyes like a slew of burnt ghosts.
Once, he’d taken her to see the ocean.
It had been late in the day, the sun half-sunk into water cast silver and red. They had stretched out on the sand by the water’s edge and let the tide submerge their toes, ankles, knees. The cold had driven her hands beneath his shirt. When he kissed her, he could taste salt on her lips.
Trying to conjure any other semblance of their life together beyond the black haze of her addiction leaves him drained, hanging onto silken strands of possibility that tear even before he can convince himself they once existed.
His dreams are built of images he can’t make sense of. Each lasts for a second split into minute fragments and is as intangible as smoke: His hands framing a polaroid photograph stained cherry red. Coins scattered in an empty guitar case. An unloaded gun with the trigger halfway depressed.
The shape of them dissolves when he wakes, but the feel of them—vibrant like her eyes in the dying light of sunset over the ocean—remains half-melted behind his sternum: Her doppelganger draped across his windowsill. His blood a salty slick in the grooves of her fingerprints. The smell of her on the back of his tongue as he sighs a near-forgotten song.
The funeral is quiet, the cemetery empty besides himself and the priest. The lowering of her casket into the earth is accompanied by soft words of prayer and the soundless slide of tears.
He stays by her side as dusk falls around them and holds tight. Unbidden, the images of his dreams flicker to life in his mind, and he recognises, suddenly, the familiar contours of memory.
A crowd roaring at her feet as he slinks in the shadows. A noose wound tight around his neck. His fist, bloodied; a bruise dappling her cheek. The two of them, always, infinite in their existence.
Written by Shannon Eden