I found this short story written by my younger self ten years ago. It’s interesting how the writing voice develops, and synchro – this story is called ‘Voices’.
He told me he loved me. He told me he’d never leave. He’d stay with me always. Come back to haunt me. Come back to hug me. He’d come back, that was what he said. He always kept a promise, that’s why he was the love of my life. I smile through bitter clenched teeth as I stand before his grave. ‘Still gonna haunt me now?’ A laugh escapes my lips, but it’s twisted, half-broken, dying.
At home, I turn off all the lights. It’s not a fact that ghosts like the dark, but more paranormal things happen with the lights dimmed. I saw that on a ghost documentary once. So I sit in the big armchair in the far corner of the room, in the near-dark of six o clock on an October night. I can see the door, the curtains and the clock from my chair. Yesterday the clock stopped at six. The hands were frozen. And now it works, ticking along oblivious. I think it’s significant. You see, he left me at six. On the sixth of the month. There’s a connection there. I’ve read about this stuff. Connections, coincidences, they all mean something. One night, the curtains moved. Like something was travelling through them, they fluttered from one end to the next. I checked for open windows. Every one was closed. This is why I think he’s trying to make contact. So I’ve made it my ritual, to sit here, before six has come and until it’s gone.
Nothing else has happened other than the curtains and the clock. It gives you time to think, though, all this sitting and waiting in the quiet dark. Sometimes it gives you too much time, and the thoughts get a bit crazy. But I reckon I’m allowed to be a bit crazy, what with the love of my life being snatched away like that. I’m quite comfortable with that – being the crazy lady who longs for her lost love. At least I feel like I’m someone now. Before I was a nobody, a non-personality. Now that I have this, people want to talk to me. They give me stuff. They touch my hand when they speak, tell me to take care.
Maureen from two blocks up gave me a glass angel. She said it had healing properties and that my grief would heal. Katy makes me pies, she says her kids don’t like her shepherd pies so I can have them, but I know it’s just an excuse. See – people making up excuses so they can be nice to me? You don’t get that when the love of your life is alive and kicking. Even Mrs Black, who ignored me whenever I came into her shop, has changed her ways. She comes to my house every Sunday, hands in left over newspapers with the barcodes cut off. Tells me at least I can keep in touch with what’s going on in the world. Doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like going out the now. She tells me stay sad as long as you need to, thinks grief is hard. I think I need to stay sad for a very, very long time.
The nights get darker as winter gets nearer. I try to stay awake longer, sleeping all through the day. Sleeping in for work. I tell the doctor I’m not sleeping at nights and I’m too tired during the day, so he gives me two kinds of pills. Ones to keep you awake and ones to help you sleep. Only I take the uppers at night and the downers in the morning. My work signs me off on the sick, compassionate leave, whatever. I don’t even know. I don’t even care. My life revolves around the waiting. Waiting for it to get dark. Waiting for him to show face.
‘Come on then, coward.’ I hiss into the handheld mirror. It’s long past six. I’m sitting in the big armchair, staring into the mirror. I read somewhere that mirrors can attract the soul. Something about the reflective energy. My face stares back at me, mocking my words. ‘Show yourself, coward.’
Then I see it, a shadow behind me, its reflection caught in the mirror for just a second. I spin round. Nothing there. ‘So…you still want to hide?’
I’m not hiding, a voice says in my head. You’re just not looking hard enough.
I drop the mirror like it’s infected. It’s his voice, no mistaking it. I scramble for the lights. With a flick of the wrist the room is bathed in the instant yellow glow of sixty watt bulb, the first time it’s been so bright in months. I clasp a hand to my forehead trying to dispel the instant headache. ‘Shit.’ I say aloud, trying to unnerve myself. ‘Shit, shit.’ I breathe out a long nervous laugh, then decide it’s probably time for bed. I leave the light on. For once I decide to take the downers at the time prescribed to me. Shake out double the limit of the sleeping pills. My hands are shaking. I don’t know if I was ready for that. What does he mean, not looking hard enough? How hard does he want me to look? I’ve been looking for weeks, months, every night. I pull the covers high over my head until I’m completely hidden.
His voice has unnerved me. It was different – sarcastic, irritated, bored. He had never been any of those things with me. I was everything to him. I was his movie star. The star of his life, the star of his movie. He used to call me that. What’s changed? Before long I can’t think clearly any more, the pills kick in and I tumble down into the great soft darkness that is sleep.
Morning brings memories of nightmares. It’s hardly morning, just gone three pm. I panic, realising I haven’t left myself with enough pills for tomorrow. I make a call to the doctor who sounds unconvinced at my story of dropping all the pills outside somewhere. Eventually he agrees to prescribe me more. I have an hour to pick them up. The urgency to get more pills takes my mind off the nightmares. I focus on the task ahead instead.
Outside is bitter and biting. The wind is a shock to my just-washed face, and my ears sting with the frost. You can smell it in the air. Maureen passes me in the street and asks me how the glass angel is. ‘Do you keep it under your pillow, lass?’
I lie, because I forgot about what she said. ‘It sleeps there every night.’
‘Good lass,’ she smiles, her old face creasing. ‘It will heal your grief when you sleep. And have you heard anything from the police?’
I shake my head and frown as an involuntary shudder runs up my back. What is she talking about?
‘So they’ve still no-one for his murder then?’ She shakes her head along with me. ‘A shame. A real shame.’
Oh, the murder. I don’t like to think about it. Especially on a day like this. I try to forget he was killed with a slit to the throat, that the last minutes of his life were probably full of gurgling pain and fear. And I certainly don’t want to think about who could have done it, definitely not, no way.
‘Maureen…I’m sorry, I can’t… really talk about…that.’ I’m suddenly out of breath, my words coming in short bursts. ‘Have…to go…’
Maureen watches as I stumble away from her – I think it’s just the pills, nothing more than that. Her gaze is fixed, as though she is concentrating on my every move. ‘I’m praying for you, lass,’ she mutters so quietly, it leaves me certain I’m not supposed to hear. I try to shake her off by turning into a side street and making a detour to the doctors. I keep shaking my head, shake out all the nasties that are trying to creep to the front of my mind.
She thinks you’re crazy. His voice is in my head again.
‘She does not.’ I say automatically.
Yes she does. Crazy lady. Crazy baby. Look at you, talking to yourself in the street.
I have to slow down, slow the breathing, suck the air, blow it out. I’m going to miss the doctors. Why is he doing this? Why has he changed so much? I try to block him out, try to ignore him, put on an untroubled face as I enter the doctors’ clean, warm building. The receptionist routinely tells me to take a seat. She looks tired too, so it’s not just me. As I sit down the legs start shaking, like I’ve been running. Have I been running? I’m not even sure.
Look at you, waiting. Waiting for your drugs. Druggie, junkie, pill popper.
‘Shut up!’ I hiss, loud enough for heads to turn and eyes to peer over magazines. ‘I need them.’ I mutter almost incoherently. I close my eyes, block out the looks. Why must people stare? Don’t they realise what I’ve been through? He was the love of my life, can’t they assume I must be trauma stricken instead of mad?
The doctor calls my name, thank Christ for that. I’m up and off like a shot, prescription written, pills collected then out the door I came in, no more gawking eyes. Only a voice that follows me like a cloud over my head. Looming and imminent, it tells me I’ve started something I can’t handle.
You brought me here, he tells me. You did this, you asked me to come. Can’t handle it can you, the thought of me.
‘You’re different.’ I say, back in the shelter of my flat, holding the mirror once more, looking at myself, talking to his voice. ‘You’re not the same.’
What’s different? he asks.
‘You sound like you don’t love me any more.’
He takes an eternity to answer. I bite my lip hard, my words hanging in the air.
Did you really think I wouldn’t find out? Did you think I would never know about what you did?
Now it’s my turn to be silent. My faces burns with a guilt I buried long ago.
I know that you slept with him, I know how long it went on for.
‘It wasn’t long…’ my voice trails off in weak defence.
And I know that you care more about the attention my death brings you than my actual death at all. You love it, don’t you? The weeping widow, you deserve an oscar now. You really are a star.
I fall into silence, a silence so huge I feel it may take me days to break out of.
I knew about you and him. I knew before I died, you did know that didn’t you? I still hold onto the mirror, hands trembling slightly. I can see shadows behind me move, but this time I don’t want to look. You do know why they’ll never catch my killer?
I get up, I’m pacing the room, shaking my head, holding my hands over my ears.
I’m far too clever for them. Made it all look like some tragic little murder.
I run up to my room, find the glass angel, put it under my pillow. Won’t help me now though, my own mocking voice tells me, won’t help me now.
Guess I’ll be wiped off their agenda pretty soon. I didn’t leave them enough clues you see. He continues to talk in my ear, as if he’s sitting right next to me. How can that be? How can he be everywhere and nowhere at the same time?
Do you know what happens to people who take their own lives? He asks. They stay in limbo, they never find a way to leave. Caught between this world and the next. Looks like I’m never leaving you, baby. Just like I always said.
I’m crying tears now, just soft ones. But they’re there, and they’re new. They’re definitely new. I haven’t cried since…since a long time. Since he was alive.
What do you do, he asks me, if the voices in your head are real?
I shake my head, don’t know.
You can’t convince them you’re sane. You can’t tell them the voices are real, cos they’re only real to you. So how do you cure it? How do you make it stop? How do you get yourself better? I’ll tell you how…you don’t. You’re stuck with it, for life.
He’s right. He’s said it all. My tears blur my vision, but not my mind. For once, I see my future clearly, I see what I have made for myself.
This time I’m silent, not because I want to be, but because I can’t think of anything else to say.