Benjamin Mackintosh is dead.
These words are whispered, shared all over the office – the concrete floors reverberate with the news. Shock is traded from one division to the next, as the slow stain of grief spreads throughout the building. It reaches my desk when I return with my second coffee of the morning. My last moments of peace taste of froth and plastic lids.
Maggie – it is Shelley who approaches. Maggie, have you heard about Mack?
The mention of your name, and my breath catches. It is always this way, the shock of hearing your name said out loud. The sensation, it is a type of falling, but I’m still standing, still managing to shake my head – No? as my heart starts to hammer. The endless, artlessness of this heart, where even three months on, the sound of your name can split it down the middle, cleave right through it.
(Cleave – to hold fast, and to tear apart. I will soon understand this contradiction).
Would I have noticed earlier, if not for trying to steady my heart? Would I have seen the pale of Shelley’s tidy face, and the way the other women were crowding forward behind her? Would I have been better prepared for the detonation if I had been paying attention, instead of bracing myself against the mere mention of your name?
This name that was mine from the beginning.
In every beginning an ending is written.
It is one of the very first things I told you. When I would lie naked in your arms and spin my stories. The mind of a poet, and the body of a goddess you once said against my chest, and I wrapped this description like a gift. It was rare for you to be so gracious with your definitions, Mack.
I did not know that it would end like this.
Shelley has placed her hand on my arm. Polite, distant Shelley, and it jolts me back. Maggie, she says, Maggie, Mack is dead.
We worked together for a period. Seven years ago. We were close – we were all close in those long days and longer nights, and it was no secret that Maggie and Mack had a thing. It never went anywhere – God, no! – there was the wife to consider, and Oliver, the kid. But there was definitely a little something, a spark that caught, and many were aware of the heat. This is the story Shelley must consider now as she touches my arm. As she tells me you are dead.
This is not something I can understand. In the silence that follows, I shake Shelley’s hand away. I perhaps say Sorry – an involuntary and sharp exclaim, before I walk on hollowed legs to my desk. I sit down without knowing where I am or why. It is only when I reach for my phone that I see how my hand grips the coffee lid, see how the plastic crumples against a trembling fist. Curious – it doesn’t even look like my hand. Everyone is watching as I stare at this hand. I hear Shelley start to cry behind me.
Truth takes time to sink through the skin. I feel my heart clench against it, ball into a fist under my ribs to fight it off. I am offered a last, merciful moment of incomprehension before the muscle contracts, suddenly, violently. The beat gets me going again with a force that nearly splits me in two.
(Cleave – to hold fast, and to tear apart. Now – now, I understand the contradiction).
Maggie, we just found out. Something happened this morning. Maggie, it’s bad …
Poor Shelley, the messenger. As culpable as harbingers will always be. And it is true that I will hate her, inexplicably, from this moment forward. When she kneels down beside me, I have a desire to strike her.
They’ve just called a meeting, but … but Mags, I thought you should hear it from us first.
Thank you. I say Thank you across her shoulder. And then it comes. A single, sharp stab, as my heart is perforated. I hear the words. That Mack – my Mack – is dead. I start to shake, and I discover that I have been biting down so hard on my lip that I have the rust metal taste of blood on my tongue.