The sweet smell of her hair fills his nose as he lays in bed at night. He breathes it in deep, savoring every molecule of it. It is the scent of peace and contentment. It lulls him deep into sleep, where for a few hours, he stops existing.
The soft touch of her hand, fingers tracing gently along his shoulder blade and sliding down his spine, awakens him in the morning. He shivers as the feeling tickles him awake.
He has turned in the night to face away from her pillow. He allows himself to hope, in those brief, waking instants; in the seconds it takes for him to turn back toward where she once lay.
She is not there. Her spot has been empty for months now. He knows that it still will be every time he wakes up, but that doesn’t stop him from dreaming and hoping every single morning that somehow, he’s been dreaming all this time; that he’s been stuck in a nightmare, and that one morning, he’ll wake up for real and find her alive again.
His days are numb without her. He goes about his life, doing things he used to do, but he feels like he is acting, and poorly, at that. He’s like an actor with no investment in his character, who goes through all the motions but who can’t figure out what the character should be feeling or what his motivations are for his actions.
He doesn’t talk about her much anymore. He doesn’t like to be reminded of her. He doesn’t need to be, because she’s on his mind constantly. Even when he’s not actively thinking of her she hovers at the edge of his consciousness.
There are times when he’s sitting at the table eating breakfast when he turns, spilling his cereal, because he’s convinced he’s seen her out of the corner of his eye, walking up behind him to slide her arms around his waist and kiss him on the neck. She is not there. The kitchen is empty but for him.
There are times when he’s at his computer, headphones on and blocking out the world, when he pauses — leaving his character to die, temporarily forgotten, onscreen — and takes his headphones off, convinced that he has heard her calling to him. She is not there, though he has risen from his chair and searched through the house for her, hoping, hoping that it really was her voice.
It was not. It is not. It is his phone chiming, perhaps, or the sound of the television, left on in the other room. Or even the sound of his mother coming to visit unannounced, bearing a meal that she knows he doesn’t have the energy to make for himself because when his wife died, she took all of his energy and drive with her.
There was no funeral for her. He couldn’t bear to organize it. Neither could her parents. Now, he regrets it. He had no chance to say goodbye, and perhaps the funeral might have brought him one.
Perhaps a funeral would make it feel like she was truly gone.It still doesn’t, and not just in those precious seconds of waking and sleeping where dreams bleed far enough into reality to give her life in his mind. Even when he’s coming home, he expects the door to open as he reaches for it. He thinks, maybe she’ll be there waiting for me, ready with a hug and a kiss and an “I love you.”
Like the scent of her hair lingers on her pillow, sometimes he smells cookies when he first opens the door, as though she has spent her day off baking again, putting all her love into something they can eat and share together.
Every day is a day off for her now. From her job, from her life, from time with him. He knows that this thought is bitter and problematic, but he has it anyway, because he misses her and he doesn’t know how to deal with that.
He misses her, but he never said goodbye, and he still feels her presence every day. He hates the little reminders of her as much as he treasures them, because though every time he thinks he senses her presence brings with it a spark of hope and joy, the burning, heavy disappointment that follows grows harder to bear with each passing day.
Even so, when he settles into bed at night, and he pulls the covers up tight to keep life’s cold from falling, over him, he breathes in deep, filling his nose with the memory of her scent.