And you’re here again and they still can’t see you. But they won’t even look, when I point they don’t turn their heads and so how can they expect to. Stubborn is what they are. They refuse to fit their hands around mine and let me steer our cupped palms through you, to feel you spill like water through our fingers, they tell me not to touch. And when I plead and then I grab at them they press me back in my chair and tell me to calm down, be quiet, stop getting so aggressive.
And then you fade again and it’s just me and them. It’s easier for us all, when you’re gone. They study my face and nod at each other and let me eat my dinner with the others. I’ve thought about pretending you’re gone when you’re not, wrapping you around me and wearing you like a shawl, knotted tight over my heart, but as soon as you’re here I shine with it, with you, and I start to twitch and reach to pull you close. I can’t help myself. And then they know you’re here again and they stiffen and sigh, straighten up and put their cigarettes out. I’m starting to become a nuisance.
If I could stand I would, and dance with you like we used to. It wouldn’t be as easy as back then, when you used to hold me pressed against your chest as if I might float away, and you’d slip your palms down past where my spine flares out to flesh, and flirt them there, and smile at me. Do you remember how you used to do that? Now it would be more tentative, even ludicrous. Me with my absent legs trailing nails and panic through the murk of what you are, terrified you’d drop me. Maybe I’d slide down you like a waterfall, cascade over your torso, the rush of your thighs, and collapse in the froth of your faint, almost-there feet. And I’d flail around on the floor until someone came and lifted me back into my chair and told me to stop crying.
But what if that didn’t happen? What if we could hold ourselves, and each other, in that place before skin breaks the surface of liquid and disappears below it? When I fill the sink in the bathroom and rest my hand on the water there’s a moment when it’s solid against my flesh. Its weight pushes back at me, all those molecules tight and gathered and thrusting, I can feel them. But then the tremble begins in my arms and forces my hand down through that moment, and it’s ruined and I have to empty the sink and start again.
They don’t let me do that too often. They bang on the door and if I don’t answer at once then they barge in. I’ve told them that one of these days they’ll interrupt me in the middle of something they’d rather not witness, but we both know they’ve seen it all and there’s nothing that could embarrass them anymore. It’s the water they’re concerned about. The waste. I sometimes think I must be personally responsible for the thirst of millions, the way they go on about it. They call it an obsession and ask me how many times I’ve filled and emptied the sink today. Last week I was resting my face on the water’s surface, trying to see if I could hold myself still enough to dance cheek to cheek with you and one of them came in and pulled me up by the hair and shouted for help. They didn’t understand when I tried to explain. They wouldn’t leave me alone after that, not for days.
And you’re here again and I think I’m close to getting it right, that balance between us, that skating on water, so that we can touch without merging. It’s enough that you’re here though, I don’t mind if I never get it right, but I’m practising anyway, I’m practising every day. When you’re here and you smile at me the way you do it’s enough.
They think they can help me get over you as if you’re some kind of obstacle, a fallen branch on the ground in front of me that, with their support, I can scramble over. I have to talk to a lady who comes in twice a week. I’ve never seen her legs, she’s always sat behind her desk and when I knock on the door she doesn’t get up to let me in, she just calls out. Maybe she thinks she’s being kind, or respectful, but it just seems rude. I have to wheel myself in and twist to shut the door behind me without tipping myself out of the chair and she just sits and watches or writes things in her notebook. You’re never with me when she is. Even when I close my eyes and wish so hard to have you here again, for her to see you, you stay away.
We go through the same things each time and I wonder if she’s as bored as I am. She asks how often I’ve seen you. She asks whether you’ve changed. Whether you speak. In our last session she told me to explain why you don’t look the way you looked when I last saw you. She said that, if you were really real, you’d be suspended in the moment of death, swollen and blue, and that’s what I’d see. I asked her if she was an expert on the paranormal but she just smiled and gave me two books on grief to read and one on PTSD then wrote something in her notebook. I don’t think she likes me at all.
The other people who stay here told me they’ve seen you too. Twice in the kitchen and once in the garden. I wanted to hit them. Why would you be doing that, giving yourself to them when you never even knew them? I think they’re lying just to get attention but then I’m scared that they’re telling the truth. It annoys the staff though. They call it group hysteria and glare at me as if it’s my fault, like I’m doing this on purpose just to create problems. They say when I leave here things will settle down, because I’ll take you with me and there won’t be any more of these fantasies. But what if they’re wrong and you don’t come with me? What if you stay here and they won’t let me come back to see you? All that’s a long way off though, because I heard them saying that I couldn’t be trusted by myself, away from here, until I’d accepted what had happened and stopped trying to drown myself in the sink. So I don’t need to worry about it for a while.
And you’re here again and I’m just going to sit by the window with you beside me and watch the afternoon filter through you, and we’ll smile at each other and it’s a perfect way to spend my time. I love the way the sun turns you dusty, like candlelight through a crystal-thick glass of brandy. I could sit here with you forever and never move, never want to move because you’re here again, and it’s only when I look away or someone speaks to me, that’s when you go. So if they leave me alone I can concentrate just on us and you’ll stay, for a while at least. I just need to concentrate.
I wish she hadn’t said that, about the last time I saw you. She didn’t need to say that when it’s in my head all the time anyway. The swollen and blue. You’re here right now though and that’s all that matters. The other time, the last time, I don’t want to think about that. I’d rather have no legs and the way it is now than have my legs and the way it was then, the last time I saw you.
Crushed. I knew they were crushed beneath the steering column. The car was reared over me and I wanted to move but I couldn’t move and so I sat there, propped like a doll on a shelf, safe and strapped in, and I watched as your feet jerked and tapped on the car’s bonnet, almost close enough to touch if I leaned through the shattered windscreen, but I couldn’t raise a hand to touch you and you drowned without a struggle in six inches of water. Six inches of water. And I sat with you through the night as we sank deeper into the ditch and I watched you and said your name and my legs got colder and colder but your feet stopped jerking and then you didn’t move at all. Six inches of water. They kept saying that afterwards, as if it were so slight an amount, so ridiculous a death, we would all find it funny. They’d chopped my legs off by then.
So I sat with you through that night and stared at the soles of your shoes and remembered the first time we danced together, and it was the first time we loved and meant it, and that’s it really. That’s what we are.
But you’re here again and you’re smiling and I’m so close now, I’m practising so often, soon we’ll be able to dance together, properly. Until then I’ll just keep reaching out to you, and that’s enough to make me happy, it’s enough for now, to stroke my hands over you and feel you spill like water through my fingers.
original illustration by Dean Lewis