That it would end like this

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.

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.

Jacqueline Bublitz Writer

Chance that carries us

The year you died, I won the lottery.

#

I won the lottery, and then you died. What were you doing in those months that I spluttered and failed in this city? How did you feel your way through those hours and days, and who was by your side?

I won the lottery and I squandered my winnings, thanks to love. You lost even more thanks to hate, the warping of love beyond the point it warps us all. I think of those months that separated us, and how I was turning toward you the entire time, coming closer, thinking I was moving myself along, but really it was life under my feet taking me a different way. The pretence of control, as if winning the lottery doesn’t already prove that it’s random, chance that carries us.

You died alone. But I was there. After. In the 13 minutes it took for the police to arrive. Sitting, standing, crouching, doubled over. Pacing in the smallest circle, careful not to touch or move – Stay still, they said. And I knew they meant to say – Someone was there before you, someone left their mark. If you don’t disturb. And you know where to look …

#

Beginning A Novel

The idea for my second novel is taking shape. Beginning again is its own kind of memory …

The rest of our lives

Talk though we did, my love, there were certain conversations we never had.

On that first trip to White Cliff, we had not yet said I love you. I was hyper-conscious of it, both its absence, and the desire to say it, and those three little words were pressurised inside me on that drive. A funny little vision, the idea that saying I love you is like popping the cork on champagne. Seeing the words rise to the surface like little bubbles, the way they might spill over when finally released. It makes me smile to think of how tightly coiled I was before that first I love you. I knew it had to come from you, that you had to be the one to say it. But you were taking your time, and I was in a kind of agony for fear of what that might mean. I knew that your father proposed to your mother after just one week of dating, and that Joe was engaged to Jane after only 8 weeks. The men in your family had proven themselves swift with their choices. Meanwhile, I was swallowing those most hopeful of words, whilst we talked of almost everything else.

It happened at White Cliff, where that sense of beginning resolved itself into the rest of our lives. We were making love, if I close my eyes I can see this night, see our bed against the window, the gauzy curtain floating toward us in a kind of moonlit dance. Such poetry prescribed to these memories – turns out I have this talent too, Ben.

I was watching the curtain, and you above me, your beautiful, serious face in shadow, your touch just as light on my skin. I need you to know something, you said as you moved inside me, and I closed my eyes, squeezed them tight, listening to your breath, and the advance-retreat of the waves outside. My eyes were still shut when you said – I love you, Anna, and I kept them closed to hold on to the moment, to take in your body and your words. Cells and words absorbed, dissolving into each other.

And I cried Ben. I cried that first time you said I love you, lying there with my eyes squeezed shut. That’s why it took so long to say it back, that was the pause you must have felt, the silence that led you to roll off me, and turn away.

I returned the words against your back, remember?

I love you too, Ben.

I’m in that same bed tonight. Eyes still closed, searching out the memory, embellishing it with ideas of moonlight and dancing curtains. Perhaps all I really remember is the way you said I love you, and how it took so long for me to respond. From then on, it turns out we were only ever going to be able to make light of such declarations. Removing the I from the sentence, learning to hand out love you breezily, this compressed version that would become far easier to say to each other, and to receive.

We moved from declaration to assertion so quickly.

But that first I love you was magic, Ben. I just never told you, never had the language to tell you about champagne fizzing, about phosphorus under my skin. What else did we forget to say across the years?

#

~ Anna, The Memory of Stars

The Memory of Stars by Jacqueline Bublitz