Writing by Lola Weisselberg. Artwork by Leonie Hubert.
She’s sitting by the door again.
She’s always touching something, I’ve noticed; she’ll never just be standing there. Whether she’s leaning against the wall, curled up on the sofa, or resting her forearms on the back of a chair, she’ll always be touching something. It makes sense when you think about it. My brain is trying to embed her into reality, not just layer her over the top.
She’s squatting against the door this time, her back against the wall for support. She’s wearing her green hoodie. I haven’t figured out why her clothes change every time. She only wore that hoodie once or twice. I smile down at her, and she smiles up at me. I don’t know what to say to her, and I don’t know what to make her say to me, so we don’t speak. She just sits there as I make myself a cup of tea. Finally, I break the silence and ask if she’d like one. She laughs. I smile a little too.
I carry my tea back to my room, place it on the bedside table, and mould the pile that has accumulated on my bed to make space for myself. I become a mouse in my nest of laundry and clothes I didn’t end up wearing, little trinkets scattered about me: my book, which keeps me company, my laptop, which keeps me from thinking too hard, and my knitting, which keeps my hands from wandering off.
In the early days, she was in every room I went into, always touching something. She’d rarely say a word, but she’d be there, listening, watching. I didn’t like the idea of ignoring her, so in conversations, I’d take a moment every now and again to flash her a look, or even a smile if I could get away with it. She would smile back, either a grin or a smirk depending on the situation, and I would go back to the conversation. She’s there less when I’m with other people these days. I’m with other people less these days; I don’t like to talk about her with them, but I can’t bear to talk about anything else. So, I’ve been spending most nights, and a fair part of my days, here in my room. Sometimes she’s here too, sometimes she isn’t. I have a list of things to do to stop me from spending too long staring at the wall, but they each have their issues:
Read (can’t concentrate on the letters)
Watch a film (can’t get invested in the story)
Write (about her)
Call someone for a chat (anxiety is worse on the phone)
Do some work (stare at a blank word document for five minutes then close laptop)
Really, though, I just end up doing a lot of thinking. I scream a lot, too – sometimes even out loud, but only as a treat. But for now, I just sit on my bed and read my book. I try not to focus too hard on the spaces between the words.
After a while, the alarm goes off. I take a moment to come back to myself, before dragging myself to my feet. I’ve prepared for this – an alarm so I don’t forget, my clothes already laid out so I don’t have to choose in a rush. I dress as quickly as I can, grab my wallet and keys, and head out before I can think about it enough to stop.
On the bus, I let my mind wander. Time has been passing strangely since, and I know that if I let myself retreat into my head, time will speed up around me and I’ll arrive at my stop before I know it. I never set much store by time, days of the week, or hours. I don’t have the discipline for the way you’re meant to do it, cutting days up into bitesize chunks so you can swallow them one at a time. But time turned slippery when she died, and I couldn’t get a tight enough grip to keep hold of it – the bastard kept slipping between my fingers.
I thought that there would come a moment where everything would be alright – the kind of moment that they put right at the end of sad films, dramatic and emotional, where the music swells and the main character does one significant act to signify their purgation and release, like dropping a flower into a river. I’ve stopped waiting for that.
Catharsis isn’t letting go. It isn’t like opening a birdcage, everything flying out at once. It isn’t one moment of complete release. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if I’m even convinced it’s real anymore. But I do know it isn’t what I thought.
I’m at the pub now – I suppose I must have gone further back behind my eyes than I had thought. A couple of deep breaths to pull me back into my body is all I can afford, or I’ll lose momentum. I push my body through the door and into the pub.
They’re already there. I’m glad for that – sitting alone at a table waiting for them to arrive would have been too much of a risk. They all smile and offer a unified greeting, and I sit down. The table fits us all – we’re an even number now, no need to pull up an extra chair. The dynamic is familiar, friendships older than memory, and soon I’m talking and laughing with the rest of them. I had forgotten how comfortable this is.
We don’t talk about her for a while. We never do it straight away. But the dam breaks eventually – it always does – and after a few drinks I ask how everyone’s doing. We’ve known each other for too long to be able to lie to each other, and we’re too much in the same position to want to, so we talk with the frank openness of a family minus one. Once the seal has been cracked though, we can talk about her more easily; we can mention her in passing, tell stories with her in them, and refer to things she’d said, without worrying about breaking the spell.
I go up to the bar to order another drink, and she leans against the bar beside me.
‘I miss you. Nobody else drinks as fast as we do. I look like an alcoholic without you.’
I smile, turning to look at her, and in the space where she would be is the view of the table. My friends chatted animatedly, their laughter ringing across the room. They wave to me.
They remember. They’re how I get to her now.
I still don’t believe in catharsis. I don’t think I can release all this. But I think maybe I don’t need to hold on so tight. The woman behind the bar has set my drink down on the counter. I pick it up and start walking toward the sound of laughter.