Eddie says things must change between us, that they can’t be as before.
“Because I’m not here anymore, not really.” He has tried to explain it in too many ways now and has reverted to one that is cryptic, imprecise.
“Then maybe you can stop moving the furniture,” I say, stepping out of the shower.
“Don’t change the subject, Alice.”
“I’m not sleeping in the goddamn living room, Eddie. Move the bed back.”
He’s been reading the latest book my mother bought me on grieving. I’m still in the first stage, he says, the one where I won’t believe it. I have given up arguing with him on this point. Because most ghosts - the real ones - you can’t actually see, and it lets you get on with things.
I made the mistake of asking my mother, asking her if she thought death was really the end. You need to stop talking about death, Alice. Reproach in her voice. People will think you’re fixated. She started buying me books that Eddie can calmly recount to me, waiting until part of me succumbs to the want for him to hold me, or sing to me the way he used to, to look tenderly at my nakedness as I undress.
At first, I thought I was squarely losing my marbles. Of course, I did. When he first was gone, I was sleeping in his clothes, cocooned in the oversized arms and legs, smelling what was left of his sweat. I told myself the pain and the longing were making me see things. But his scent left over time - the spicy cleanliness of it - and the muddy smell of life settled over top of it. He started appearing more frequently over the weeks until he was always here.
He is cross-legged on the floor now with his back pressed to the wall, the crooked black curls of his hair fuzzing in the steam from the shower. His face can’t hurt me the way it used to. I notice today that its rounded, jutting bones, the soft mouth, don’t make the back of my throat itch quite as much as yesterday. And the heavy ache between my collarbones; that’s been gone for months now. I unearth clean scrubs from the laundry basket, impatiently shaking the wrinkles out of them.
“I need to go to work now,” I say.
He wants to keep talking, I can tell he’s ready to pout. But suddenly his teeth are showing, and he says “I’m thinking about getting a cat.”
I start to remind him he’s allergic to cats but stop myself. Because it is one of the things that is no longer true.
“You should go.” These words are thin now, worn to the point of meaninglessness.
“I will.” He says this with his new and naked earnestness. But I know he will be here when I get home.
I show him the power button on the TV. He forgets where it is nowadays. Pulling a wool cap over my wet hair, I shoulder my workbag and lean away from the comforting weight of it. I swing the door shut to a soft electric click, the hollow sounds of a circuit coming to life.
The bus is a few minutes late, but it’s early enough in the day that the windows haven’t yet started to sweat from the wetness on shoes, the moisture in people’s breath. A man near the front shifts his briefcase meaningfully, and as I pass his cologne introduces itself awkwardly - suddenly too close - like a loud noise in my nose.
The shrink asked me a few weeks ago why I cut my hair. Why does anyone cut their hair? I said, Because I needed a change. It seemed dangerous to say that Eddie’s wife had long hair, to tell her how he would press his nose lovingly into the tangles at the back of her skull. I didn’t want to say that I wasn’t that woman anymore. She asked me if I had cut it myself. I lied and said I hadn’t. Something about her questions always seems perverse to me; like she is asking that I pull moments from my body one at a time; sticky and smelling of blood.
I try to tell the truth, though she still doesn’t know about the thing in my house that looks like Eddie. The thing that every day becomes less and less the man I loved and fought and built a life with. Over the months, it has become little more than a clumsy grappling, a perpetual question without form.
I realized almost right away that the things I missed about Eddie were small - minuscule habits and movements and words I thought went unnoticed. The way he settled in to eat or write with his left elbow pressed into the table, and how misplaced things were always in his hands as he absent-mindedly stewarded them home between rooms. The worst; the warmth of his wide palm on my shoulder or back as he lumbered around me in the narrowness of the kitchen. I tell myself that as long as I breathe, there are things I could never forget. But memory is always in motion, and I find the interaction from this morning stealing more space, replacing pieces I want to protect.
Snow is blowing off the roofs and awnings, and commuters find themselves surrounded by powder as fine as flour. They stoop into their coats while the flakes settle into an accidental pattern on the pavement, a frantic scatter.
A day gains momentum; it begins almost softly with the flick of light switches and coffee being made, with gloves being gently tucked into the pockets of coats. It gives way to the ring of phones, the creak and hollow thud of doors, the play of different voices over one another in some inadvertent orchestra.