I had planned to finish decorating the spare room last week – a project you had started before the diagnosis – because your parents wanted to stay and spend some time with the kids. I’d been putting their visit off for months by driving the kids over there instead and collecting them the other side of the weekend. I wavered over which colour to paint the room, but I couldn’t remember your favourite – was it lilac, or was it blue?
Mam got rid of Daddy’s things the week after he died. She had his clothes stuffed into black bags in the hall, ready for the charity shop. Tommy called Mam a heartless bitch. I scowled at him, but I didn’t say anything. Mam doesn’t know whether she is coming or going. She still sets his place at the table, and she curses and says she’s going dotty.
I kept all your texts. Reading through them, I find you favoured brevity. Often your messages contained only three words – I miss you.
I still find your balled-up socks under the bed.
She got a fright one morning when she couldn’t remember the sound of Elsie’s voice, so she rooted through the drawers in her bedroom to find the cassette Elsie made the last weekend they spent away together. The headphones tight against her ears dulled the ambient sounds in the house – the kettle boiling, the cat purring. She heard Elsie tell the story about her dog going missing when she was a girl, and how she found him in the neighbour’s garden. A nothing story really, but she savoured the lilt of Elsie’s northern accent and tried to wrap her own tongue around it. When Elsie’s story gave way to static, she rewound the tape to listen again. The mechanical sound of the player turning the spools compounded the terrible wait.
I read some of her books a few weeks ago. Unable to follow At Swim, Two Birds, I realised that I’d never understood her. I find it strange that in the ten years I had with her I never appreciated this, and yet, six months after she’s gone it seems so fucking obvious.
I remember telling you those silly little stories, how you tilted your head to the side and ran your fingers through your hair. Then your other hand rested on mine on the table. I did all the talking that night, yet I was the one enraptured. I see you everywhere, running your fingers through your hair.
I’m glad she’s dead. When I wake in the morning and I see that she’s not there, for a moment, I feel like a new man. Her sister is always calling in to see how I am, and I’ve to put on a show so she thinks I’m grieving. Even now she has her claws in me and contrives to make me miserable.
I see him crashing through the windscreen again, hurtling towards the sky. Tiny bits of glass cling to him, glinting in the light of the moon, as though a blanket of stars surround him.
I was so nervous the first time we went for a drink together. I liked you, of course. I mumbled and crossed my legs awkwardly. I stared at my shoes under the table, I know, and I remember accidentally brushing my hand against yours and pulling it away and I shuddered thinking I’d ruined the whole thing. I saw you smile at me, smiling in disbelief that I could be so shy, so nervous. I relaxed, then – you brought me out of myself.
On my own I’ve regressed to the shy boy you met on our first date. When I go out with our friends for dinner or a drink – they’ve been so kind to me since you passed, minding me – I retreat to the corner and mumble and stare at my shoes. I dread these nights and I wish our friends would forget to invite me.
Derry had a funny gait. He walked with his hands behind his back, swaying his hips from side to side. Whenever we’d go out, he’d always walk a few steps ahead because he knew it tickled me to watch him. Now, even if I’m just going to the shops and I look and don’t find him there, I feel untethered.
The coaster goes down on the wooden armrest first, then the cup. He pokes a bit of life into the fire and the flame spits angrily at him. He takes a sip from his scalding tea, and lifts a book from the chair beside him. He is struggling to finish it, but it passes the time. When he hears the Angelus bells ringing in the church, he decides to go for a pint. It’s mild out, but he pulls on a coat. He picks up a walking stick leaning against the wall beside the door. Even though he doesn’t need the aid, it gives him a comfort when he’s out.
He takes a seat at the bar and a young man pours him a drink. He can remember the lad’s grandfather and he thinks – Christ, how long have I been coming here? He doesn’t meet anyone in the pub now because all his friends are dead, or too weak to make it out, so he sits on his own and watches the room. He has two pints, and he takes his time with them. He is in better form going home, and he thinks that the porter is a decent antidote to the aches and pains. He’s afraid to go to the doctors nowadays because they’ll only find something wrong with him and he doesn’t want the hassle.
Home, he watches the news and sleeps a little in his chair before climbing the stairs to bed. With a yawn, he stretches out his legs and when his foot doesn’t hit another body beside him on the mattress he’s reminded again that she’s gone from him.