Not what I imagined

Jane

So this is what it is like to be dead. It is not what I imagined. Though imaginings seem very limited now, the things one can dream and feel when we are alive. Now that I am dead.

I am dead.

What a strange distinction. Between me before, and me now. Before I was one thing only – I was alive, I was breathing and pumping blood around my body, into my limbs, and all through me. Now I have no blood and no body. No fingers to wriggle, and no toes to curl under. I am just air now. I am what I used to breathe in. Only, it isn’t just. There is no containment. I am air and I am everything. If I think of something – say a wave crashing, then I am that wave, I am the pulling back, the curve and swell, and the pounding against the ocean floor. Then, if I am reminded of fish in the whitewash, I am suddenly the slippery, silver tail, I am the rushing school of gill and scale.

I only have to think it, and I become it. Not just feel it, but I am it. Anything and everything that exists.

Except me. I don’t exist anymore, and I cannot feel me. That girl, the one they call Jane. They still don’t know my name. And I, too, have forgotten. I don’t know who I was, what I had. When I think of me instead of oceans or fish, it suddenly goes black. I am dark matter, a rent in the fabric of the universe. Easier to be the wave, and the darting fish, flying.

But still I wonder, in the spiraling – who was she? Where did she come from and where did she go? When he did those things to her. When she died at his hands.

I am dead. This is what it is like to be dead. Imagining never once came close to this.

Wave

Very, very early character drafting for “Into the After”. As usual it has gone in a different direction than where I first pointed my pen. The body keeps the score – I keep thinking of this saying, and now I have met Jane, who is everything but herself, who can inhabit every thing that exists, but her own body. So many metaphors. Now to the hard part …

Overture

It takes me three weeks. I can’t find the words, not even a single sound to encourage introduction. The closest moment was also the first, when I saw her there stirring the coffee a little too long. The rhythmic turning of the spoon, sleeves pulled down low over her hands, she never once looked up as I let this new reality sink in. Pale to the point of translucent, her skin was barely covering the cracks. I could see the blue of veins in her temple and the strain of neck when she took off her scarf. I couldn’t breathe. I should have just said hello right then, but I kept silent and came back every day.

She’s beautiful, Mack. In the way of an artist’s sketch, all lines and shading and the mere suggestion of form. Revealed beneath layers that would come off one by one as the weeks passed – the lowered cap, the padded jacket, the dark glasses finally removed. I kept coming back to find her. I survived the memorial at work and the slowing of stories in the news – the little pieces of you slipping away, because she was there, this woman on whom your whole life turned. We sat across from each other at this city café every morning and it was the only thing that slowed my heart to a tolerable beat.

Once, she looked up and I offered a smile, but we both looked away before it was finished. I might have never managed a word, there isn’t a single one I could make fit until the day they accidently bring me her change.

I’m sorry this isn’t for me I say as the waitress sets down the plate and coins, I mean thank you but

Lucy Mason looks up from the next table. That’s for me, I think – she reaches over and holds my gaze a second too long before flushing red and looking down. I feel as if I’m about to fall. It is the look of somebody who knows.

A minute and then softly, without looking up – Do I know you?

What? Oh. Ahhh. No. I – and still I have no idea what to say.

When she finally looks up I am fixed with an inscrutable stare. Cerulean eyes – is that the last thing you saw? I can feel you all through me as I take a deep breath and hold out my hand.

I’m sorry if I have been … well I didn’t know what to say, but I’m sorry if I’m bothering you. It’s just …

Lucy’s expression has not changed, she is betrayed only by a pulse at her throat. My hand stays suspended between us and she does not move to take it.

I don’t want to cause any trouble, I promise. I’m just … it’s just … Benjamin Mackintosh – Mack – was my friend.

And then of course I burst into tears. My friend, my lover, what kind of truth could I say right now to have this woman understand? This woman who has been through a nightmare that sits right at the heart of mine. This woman you died trying to save. I have no idea what the fuck I am doing as she finally reaches over and takes my hand.

***

The other central relationship in this book of mine. Lucy in fact sits at the heart of everything.

Recognition

Our friendship is a triumph over suspicion. We’ve both been building barriers our whole lives and we court each other in kind. She forgives me for how we met because the relief is too strong, it hits us both, the immediate understanding that we are both connected and somehow in this, less alone.

All that we do not ask in the first tentative weeks, all that we do not say because the words are not yet ready to hit the light, will define it. We continue to meet every morning, we sit side by side and share the paper and pass the sugar. We barely speak. Shoulder to shoulder, the occasional leaning in. If we start to talk something will be broken. We both have too much locked up inside to risk the breach. But we sit together every day and the barriers start asking to fall.

By the time we get there, when we are finally ready to tell our stories, they will arrive as recognition, as reminders of what we already knew. We will trade histories that wind and weave through different tracks, occasionally coming close, sparking off each other before heading off in a different direction. Two lives in a city of millions that ran parallel at times, and the ignorance of each other’s existence until one morning when Lucy Mason goes for a run and I drop the coffee jar with a crack on the floor.

Here our lives stop and turn. We are oriented toward each other in this irrevocable moment, the gears changing on both of our lives, as her love and mine collide.

It will take months for the stories to surface. But for now we show up for coffee every morning before work, and on the weekends there is a type of longing until Monday swings back around. Thirty minutes that become the sanctuary of my day, the only place where I can hold you close, and feel that somehow, someway you are mine to keep.

You belong to both of our secrets now, Mack.

(An excerpt from the beginnings of the friendship between Maggie and Lucy – the woman Mack was trying to help when he died)