I sat down in the middle of the road and began to cry.
That was the moment everything changed. Everything that was good in my life ended in that moment.
In any other situation, I would have resented myself for such a blatant public show of emotion. I used to be such a quiet, reserved person, so coolly in control of my feelings. And yet there I sat with uncontrolled tears landing silently on the impassive asphalt, heedless of the smoking car wreck on which I leaned.
Her face was all that existed in that moment. Drunk on anguish, I numbly tried to shake away the peaceful mask of sleep that she wore, but of course it didn’t work. She never woke up.
And then something caught me, hands dragged me back away from the wreckage and away from her. I fought them, of course. I needed to get back to her. I couldn’t bear the thought of even crossing the road without feeling her hand in mine. I never meant to punch that cop in the face. I hadn’t even realised he’d been a cop at the time. I didn’t know which way was up or what my own name was for a while. But he didn’t press charges, not that I’d have cared anyway.
They were all the same, I decided. All so sympathetic, each face one after the other so terribly sorry about everything. They all talked so much without saying anything at all. Talked about her as if they’d known her. That was the biggest insult of all, I think.
“She’d want you to move on,” they’d say over and over. “It’s not healthy.” They had no idea what we were together. I think the incessant niceness of family, friends and strangers was the final straw that forced me to do what I did. That and the Yoda t-shirt.
It was old and faded blue, a stupid, time-worn old thing printed with an image of Yoda, the little puppet wizard from Star Wars. It hadn’t fitted me for years but she’d commandeered it as a nightshirt and looked better in it than I ever had. And I found it tucked where she’d left it under her pillow, where it had been since that night.
The thought of changing the bedsheets had seemed like blasphemy after. If I washed away her smell it seemed like it would be erasing her somehow, another step towards accepting she was gone. And despite the constant bombardment of meaningless noises from friends and therapists, I wasn’t ready to do that.
There it was, hanging from her side of the bed as I entered our bedroom one night. I’m not sure if it had been like that since she’d left it, and I just hadn’t noticed until then, or if I’d moved it in my broken sleep the previous night. Either way, Yoda stared up at me and I couldn’t breathe. I stood in the doorway, dripping from the shower, until the dog whined for her dinner.
I couldn’t bring myself to touch it that night, or the night after that. This cheap piece of fabric had become a sacred connection to her. She’d worn it so many times in bed, or curled up watching TV. A hundred memories competed for my attention. The way she’d dance around the living room to terrible music, the look in her eyes when she was excited. The way she always made me happy, even when things were happening in life that meant we shouldn’t be. The simple things. Fighting, forgiving, fucking. But all of these memories had become overlaid by that last foul image.
Every time I closed my eyes, she was still sitting dead in the car, tiny streams of blood trickling from her ear and nose. Her eyes closed, but obviously not merely asleep. It was her, and yet fundamentally not her any more. Sometimes her eyes would snap open and reveal empty gouges where her eyes had been, staring emptily at me.
One morning I woke to find I’d smashed the house up again. Fragments of glass wine and beer bottles lay scattered across the kitchen floor. Furniture throughout the house, along with several internal doors had been splintered. My knuckles were ripped and bloody. And in both hands I clutched the pale blue Yoda shirt, now smudged with my own blood.
It still smelt of her. It smelt like home. But home was just a shell now. A monument to what had been taken away from me.
And that was when I met him, that day when I was at my lowest ebb.
I don’t know how he knew I was going to jump – I was standing behind the yellow line at the Tube station like everyone else – there must have been some giveaway sign in my eyes.
I felt his hand on my shoulder and his voice, smooth but firm, convinced me not to do it.
I can’t remember what I said to him. But I do remember him leading me to a cafe, buying coffee and then I spilt everything out. I told him about how happy we’d been, happier than I’d even realised at the time. I told him about the aching, endless numbness that loss had brought down on me. And I told him that I’d do anything, literally anything, to have her back again.
And he looked me in the eyes and told me he could help me. And he explained what he could do.
When he’d finished, I accepted. Simple as that. He offered me his hand and I shook it. It was large and warm. For some reason that reassured me.
That’s how I found myself standing in a cellar somewhere in the middle of a nondescript row of terraced Victorian houses, while the man chanted things I didn’t understand. He’d explained what he was going to do, of course. But I hadn’t taken any of it in. I’d just asked if I could see her again and he’d told me yes, but only for a short time. And everything else was just white noise.
A black tablecloth had been thrown over a decorating table to form a makeshift altar, on which sat animal skulls of varying sizes, and several large church candles. In the middle lay an old blue t-shirt with Yoda printed on it.
He left me in the cellar after a while, and told me to stay there. The single small window was shuttered and when the light was off it was almost completely dark. I sat alone, inhaling mildew, shivering and feeling ridiculous.
And then she said, “Hi, baby.”
I know what you’re thinking. And no, I’m not making any of this up. Nor was I drunk on any type of substance. Not that night. I’m telling you, this happened. If you don’t believe me, that’s up to you. I couldn’t care less.
His instructions had been simple and very specific. I wasn’t to get up from the old camping chair he’d placed in the middle of the cellar until he came back and rang a bell. Secondly and most importantly, under absolutely no circumstances was I to remove the blindfold that he’d fastened around my head until I heard the bell.
Bearing all this in mind, I sat still. But I couldn’t reply straight away, not until she spoke again.
“Can you hear me?” She asked. This time she seemed to have moved closer to me. While her voice had first emanated from the vicinity of the cellar door, now it appeared to come from the area directly in front of me.
Although I was blindfolded and in darkness, I nodded automatically. She must have seen the movement somehow, because her next words sounded like she was choking back tears. “Good. That’s good.”
“I miss you.” That was all I could bring myself to say, straight away. Not very original, I know. In truth, I wanted to tell her a thousand things. How much I missed her, how many things I regretted. Grief does weird things, it makes some things disappear and magnifies insignificant details until they fill the universe.
One day months before, I’d eaten her last blueberry muffin while she’d been at work. When she’d got home she’d been a little bit sad that it was gone, and I’d considered going out to buy her another one, but I was tired and lazy and hadn’t bothered. It hadn’t really mattered of course, it had only been a muffin, and the incident had been forgotten by both of us. But since her death, little things like that kept coming back to me. I wished I could have taken away her little pang of sadness so she could have been just a tiny bit happier that day. And the regret I felt just kept growing inside me until it was all I had left.
Like I said, stupid little details.
I couldn’t see her cry, but I could hear it. “I miss you too, baby.” she said. “I miss you so much.”
She touched my face, stroked my cheek and hair in the way she always did. Christ, I could smell her. She was with me, just as I’d been promised, for exactly one and a half minutes.
That was my first visit. I couldn’t stop going back to him after that, to be with her for a few more precious seconds. Wouldn’t you have?
Of course, the cost became higher each time. He had warned me about it, but I didn’t care. She had always been my whole world, so paying the whole world seemed reasonable.
I gave him everything. I was addicted. And eventually, when I’d sold everything and all the money was gone, and I was reduced to sleeping on the cold, hard streets, he told me what he really needed.
First I paid with the lifeblood of my dog. I held her down and sliced into her throat, felt the warmth flow across my hands as fear and betrayal swirled in those trusting brown eyes before they closed.
After that, the price became somehow easier to pay. I preyed on the homeless mostly, but anyone I could persuade to come with me was fair game. And I ended each life gladly, a fair trade just for few more precious minutes with her.
“I don’t know what’s happening, baby,” she said one day as I stroked her hair. She was sitting on my lap, although she only weighed a fraction of what I remembered.
“What do you mean?” I asked, furrowing my brow beneath the ever-present blindfold.
She paused before replying. “Things feel so… weird. I don’t remember moving here. And why is it so dark all the time?”
I didn’t know how to respond. I’d assumed she knew what was happening, that she’d ascended to some higher state of omniscience. It hadn’t occurred to me that she only existed in the few snatched minutes we shared, as if conjured from the ether just for me.
“We’re here together,” I replied finally. “Everything is fine.”
But the invisible timer was up. She was gone.
It was several days before I could pay the fare to see her again. A teenage girl I found crying by the river at night came with me for half a bottle of vodka. I let her finish the bottle before I did it.
This time, she was angry. I hadn’t heard anger in her voice in all of our visits, and very rarely before the accident. “Fuck you,” she said. “I’m always so cold. Stop bringing me here. I want to go.”
I protested unconvincingly. But she always could see through me. I sat in silence, without knowing if the time limit had been reached. More than anything, I wanted to see her face. Suddenly the thought occurred that she was gone, that I might never be able to visit her again.
For the first time, I didn’t wait for him to descend back into the cellar and ring the bell signalling the end of the ceremony. I removed the blindfold.
She was still there. But so was the other thing.
I haven’t gone back since. I haven’t needed to. They’re always with me, now.
My beautiful love is always here, inside me. I feel her, smell her. It’s like the old days. Of course there was a price to pay. That’s life, right?
It came with her. I think it’s the only way she could come back from the other side, you see. And that somehow when I broke the spell, a piece of its power snapped off inside my mind.
Beneath everything, there’s another level of reality now. I think there always was. If I look too long at someone, I’ll see the black stuff ooze out from behind their eyeballs. Or I’ll see the shadow of tentacles reaching around corners, reminding me that the ancient watchers have never gone away. When I overhear people talking and laughing, only I now have the power to hear the things unspoken, the guttural and incomprehensible language that secretly pours out beneath the words people say. Sometimes this knowledge is too much for me to cope with and I find myself crying or laughing – usually both – hysterically.
No matter, for she’s here. Only for me. She talks about leaving and going to the other place sometimes, but she can’t. We’re both tethered to each other, a piece of each other fused somewhere ancient and primal. Neither of us can leave each other, not any more.
We all make choices in life and I made all my own. I don’t regret a single one of them. I’ve got my person back. Sometimes we sleep on benches in parks, and sometimes in a prison cell (usually after I’ve gone a little crazy and forgotten things again). But we’re always together in the morning.
Tonight we’ve made a nest out of some old cardboard on a quiet back street. She’s sobbing, quietly. I don’t ask why, she always stops eventually.
I feel the tentacled thing watch us, from somewhere far below and yet deep inside my mind. Its presence is malevolent and dominating, but somehow reassuring. It’ll never leave me either. I think I’m grateful for that.
If anyone walks past tonight, all they’ll see is a crazy, bearded old man huddled from the wind beneath rags and cardboard, clutching an old blue Yoda t-shirt and muttering to himself. But I know the truth. We know.
I wrap my arms around her in our nest and hold onto her tightly. Her skin is smooth, and as cold as ice.
I love you, baby.