© Gilad Fogel
YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
On the first day of their summer holiday in a rented cottage in New Cyprus, Abe’s wife told him she was going out to the village high street to get some provisions. She said they needed more nappies and milk for Isaac but that if Abe would cook them a nice lunch she’d also get them something chocolatey for dessert. Sara put Isaac in the buggy and he fell asleep almost immediately. She reckoned she’d be out about an hour to let the one-year-old have his nap—in those days Isaac slept better in the buggy due to the motion. Abe then kissed her goodbye and never saw his wife alive again.
Around two hours after Sara left, Abe started to worry, but only a little. He figured Isaac must have still been asleep and that Sara wouldn’t want to wake him. She used to say that if Isaac slept well in the day, he slept better at night. The moussaka he’d prepared was ready when the doorbell of the cottage rang. Abe opened the door to find a policewoman standing outside, holding Isaac in her arms and cooing at him. The buggy was next to her and there were two bags of shopping where Isaac ought to have been. She introduced herself in broken English as, Police Constable Galatas, and told him that his wife had been in a traffic accident.
According to witness statements included in the coroner’s report of a few weeks later, Sara was pushing the buggy over a crossing when a dark blue saloon came speeding towards her on the wrong side of the road. She wasn’t even looking that way. Not at first. She must have heard the engine because she turned to look and, perhaps by instinct, pushed the buggy forwards. The car missed the buggy but hit her. She was launched several yards into the air like a rag doll, turned upside down and landed with her head on the windshield creating a spider web pattern on the glass. She rolled off the hood and onto the road, leaving a blotch of blood on the windshield right in the middle of the web. Though still conscious, her knees were smashed, and her pelvis fractured. By the time the ambulance came, she’d passed out. Sara died on the way to hospital from internal bleeding.
The most important witness, Yorgos Alexandrou, was driving the car behind the one that hit Sara. Alexandrou testified that the man in the car that killed Sara had been trying to overtake a series of cars on a slow and narrow road. He’d sped past the leading car, the one Alexandrou was driving, but ran out of space and time to nip back into lane before the pedestrian crossing. He was forced to drive past an island in the middle of the crossing on the wrong side, the side that Sara and Isaac were on. When the car hit Sara, the driver slammed the brakes, managing not to run her over as she lay on the ground. The driver was Jamal Khaldun, a thirty-year-old male immigrant from Yemen who’d been on his way to Larnaca railway station where he worked as a driver and was running late for his shift. Apparently, New Cyprus Rail had introduced disciplinary action for any train drivers whose tardiness interfered with the timely operation of the rail service.
When PC Galatas told Abe that his wife had been in a traffic accident, Abe pictured Sara lying in a hospital bed with a nasal cannula and bruises across her face. He began to imagine worse things. But when PC Galatas went on to say that Sara was dead, the most horrendous shiver ran up through his arms and down his spine. It lasted only an instant, leaving a sickening emptiness in its wake. In that moment, Abe dropped the wooden bowl he’d been holding. Olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese lay strewn over the tiled floor, and Isaac began to cry.
Abe noticed the dark bags under the boy’s eyes. Still at the door to the cottage, Galatas stretched her arms out to pass Isaac to his father. Abe took his son to his chest and tried to soothe him. Isaac had always been a ‘good’ baby—good in the sense people use to refer to babies who don’t give their parents too much trouble. But this time, he could not be consoled. Galatas stepped into the house and waited in silence while Abe danced around with him, stroking his hair, offering him milk, biscuits, toys or anything that might distract him. Asking him to please not cry and dabbing the endless tears from his face with a piece of muslin.
Not less than fifteen minutes passed before tears resolved into the shuddery catching of breath that children make after a long bout of crying.
Those intermittent sobs continued while Isaac’s eyes were shut—he had cried himself into an unhappy sleep.
Abe started to walk to the bedroom with Isaac but Galatas put a hand on his shoulder. He stopped mid step and turned to her.
‘I drive you to hospital now.’ Her accent was heavy.
She nodded at the window.
Following her gesture, Abe noticed a blue-and-white police car with the dove-and-olive-branch insignia parked in front of the cottage.
‘You must to identify your wife. Is procedure.’
‘You mean now? But I need to put him to bed.’
‘Very sorry, Mr Pater. I have car seat. We not wake little one.’
PC Galatas helped with opening the door to her car. As Abe strapped the sleeping child into his seat, it occurred to him that the accident must have interrupted his nap.
‘Have you been looking after him?’ he asked the policewoman.
‘A little time, sir. There was lady at scene. She see little one in stroller and stay until we arrive.’
‘Oh. I really must thank her.’
As they got into her car, Galatas apologised for the delay in contacting him.
‘Your wife … she have no identifications.’ It appeared that Larnaca Police had used the Extended Borders database to identify Sara as one of the two English tourists staying at a cottage in Kiti, a small village south of Larnaca.
The drive to Larnaca General was an easy-going fifteen minutes along Dromolaxia. Compared to London, New Cyprus was relaxed and traffic-free. Abe recalled driving on an old motorbike on that same stretch of road more than eleven years earlier. He was twenty-five at the time. A twenty-seven-year-old Sara had been with him. She had her arms behind her back as she held onto the handle at the end of the pillion. She wouldn’t have dared embrace his waist; they were not yet lovers. Looking back on it, Abe thought that they *were* lovers. They just didn’t know it. He allowed himself to fantasise that perhaps they’d always been lovers—even before they’d met. In any case, by the end of that week, Sara had been holding onto his waist a lot. His waist and a good deal more.
A sharp stinging arose in his eyes and he screwed them shut. He opened them wide and blinked a few times to find that Galatas was now winding her way into the hospital complex set in a valley between two hills. She parked the car at a bay marked for emergency vehicles.
After entering the main building, Galatas walked confidently through the various corridors as she led Abe, with Isaac, to the hospital mortuary.
‘Before we enter, I must to tell you what we know. It will give you understand injuries.’
She outlined how Sara was hit and how she shoved the buggy to the other side of the crossing. Galatas then found a nurse to look after Isaac and led Abe into the cold chamber.
Inside, Abe saw that a woman was laid out on a steel trolley in the middle of the room. A sheet covered most of her body. When he walked up to the trolley, Galatas said, ‘This is your wife, yes?’
He looked at the dead woman. She had Sara’s brown hair and high cheekbones. The strong dark eyebrows and nose were there. The mouth was similar, the lips a little thin and drawn. The dead woman’s eyes were closed, whereas Sara had eyes like onyx. They shone and smiled and touched him. Warm, silent, secretive and knowing.
‘It’s not her.’
He wanted to say it, but the words wouldn't come out. Instead, he just nodded.
‘I leave you alone,’ said Galatas and walked out.
Except for Abe and the dead woman, the room was empty.
‘It’s not her,’ he repeated silently.
He touched the back of his hand to her face. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t as cold as he thought it would be. He bent down till his face was close to hers. He felt no heat from her cheek.
‘It’s not you,’ he whispered with a twist of a smile.
He brushed a lock of her hair to one side as the stinging returned to his eyes. Then he heard Isaac crying. He turned to look at the closed door of the cold chamber then back to the woman. The stinging intensified.
‘I’m sorry, I have to go.’
He touched his lips with two fingers and placed them on her mouth.
He wanted to keep the dead woman company. He feared she’d be alone in that empty room.
‘Don’t be scared,’ he said, ‘I’m always with you. Even if you can’t see me, I’m always with you.’ It was the litany that Sara recited to Isaac when she put him in his cot for the night. ‘And when you sleep, I’ll sleep. And we can meet each other in our dreams.’
To Sara, Isaac stood over all else. She called it a love like no other. She would have died to protect him.
*My God*, thought Abe, *she probably did.*
Rohat Zilan loved his job. He stood by the glass wall at Gate 17 looking out to the airport apron. Four baggage handlers were loading a casket into the cargo hold of a medium-sized commercial plane. It was sweaty work in the summer heat. But, like his, it was simple, honest work. His current assignment was a bit like a stakeout from his days in the force in the old country. But without the tedium of having to follow all the stupid rules about paperwork, privacy, public interest and all that massive pile of stinking shit.
Great, the casket was loaded. Tick.
‘Good afternoon passengers,’ announced the tannoy. ‘This is the pre-boarding announcement for flight 18B to London. We are now inviting those passengers with small children, and any passengers requiring special assistance, to begin boarding. Please have your boarding pass and identification media ready for scanning. Regular boarding will begin in approximately five minutes time. Thank you.’
Zilan looked around the departure lounge. He saw his mark approach the gate.
*And there he is! The man of the moment, right on cue.*
Zilan watched as his mark reported to the desk. The gate agent scanned the side of the mark’s head and let him through. Him and his noisy little tyke. Zilan made a mental note, *skull-chip behind left ear.* After years on the force, Zilan had learned of the importance of contemporaneous notes in his aide-memoir. One never knew what titbit of info would come in handy later. Luckily, he now had his own skull-chip to help him remember. He scratched the back of his head where his chip had recently been fitted. The small cut itched as it healed.
When regular passenger boarding was announced, he watched a few more passengers go through the gate before presenting himself for boarding. It wouldn’t do to be spotted by the mark. It had happened before, many times, but not this early on in an assignment. If he got burned by a mark further down the line, he had more options to deal with the problem. At this stage, he had to be extra careful.
Of course, his size—all seven feet of him—was why he couldn’t do undercover work back in the day. They never let him do the fun stuff. They’d only wheel him out when they needed someone who could sort out a rumble and shit like that. He’d been better off when he was armed detail for a private security firm. That was fun. It was like Dirty Harry in those old movies—except that old Harry was a midget compared to Zilan. Unfortunately, once bullet drones had finally arrived in the old country there was little demand left for a man with a gun.
‘Arthur Meakes?’ the pretty young thing said as she scanned Zilan’s skull-chip.
‘Yes,’ he said, in what was now a near-perfect English accent.
*Thank God for language apps.*
Once the new chip was in, he learned English in a day. Previously, he’d hardly got beyond, ‘Hey, beautiful girl, you want kiss-kiss?’ Not even after five years of English classes at school. The accent was still hard, but the chip could usually take over his speech and smooth it out for him. Shame there was no Internet access, though. It was the augmented reality porn he’d been looking forward to. That would have been a convenient way to satisfy his uncommon needs. But they said comms needed to be encrypted and all that shit. Still, it was better than having no chip at all. Back in the old country, only the very wealthy had them. Even the force still used wrist phones to talk to each other.
*Ha! Hashtag FirstWorldProblems!* He’d have chirped that if he had Internet. Never mind.
‘Thank you, Mr Meakes. Do go through,’ said the pretty young thing. *Fuck*, she was hot. He’d have liked to hang around a bit to see what she was up to. But work was work. He joined the end of the queue just in time to see his mark boarding the plane. Him and his tyke. Tick!
A few minutes later it was Zilan’s turn. He was ushered through to the aisle on the far side. His seat was right at the back. Just how he wanted it. From the back he could see exactly what was going on. The only downside, of course, was that he’d have to walk past the mark. And Zilan was hardly inconspicuous. As he walked past, he thought the mark probably clocked him, but he looked like he was in a daydream. Really not with it.
*Must be a mental case.* Even the tyke looked more switched on than his dad.
Zilan got to his seat. Seats, actually. He’d booked two on account of his size. That was the other thing he liked about his job. No expense was spared.
‘Sure,’ Mr E had said. ‘Buy two economy seats. You’re worth it.’
*Worth it? You bet your white-collar arse, I am.*
Did he say that out loud? He didn’t think so. He looked around, just in case there was someone there, an associate of Mr E, who could read his face somehow. He reminded himself that it was important to respect the client. The client gave him stakeouts, tailing, undercover and a good measure of the more physical pursuits. From time to time, there was also a nice bit of wetwork. Not just with guns, either. There was all sorts of fun stuff he could use. Plus, it paid the bills. *And look at the arse on that one!* At the end of the day, Rohat Zilan was all about putting the customer first. As long as they kept the booze, girls, money and wetwork coming.
The seats were comfy enough but there was nothing he could do about his legs. He had to leave one of them poking out into the aisle.
The plane took off and it wasn’t long before the flight attendants went around offering drinks.
‘Yes, love,’ he said to the cleavage now all but hanging over him, ‘a double whisky for me. Eight pounds? Okay, just put it on my chip.’ The cleavage smiled and strode on, leaving waves of sweet perfume in its wake. Zilan tilted his head into the aisle to watch its hips sway. He shook his head in honest appreciation of how good life could be.
He fucking *loved* his job.
Elin saw that Isaac was nodding off in his buggy. She lowered the back of his seat to a flat position and pulled the canopy down so that the light wouldn’t disturb him. It was sunny for an English afternoon this late in summer. For sure it was too warm to be shivering. But Elin was shaking like a leaf. She focused on not shaking and it stopped.
She couldn’t help running the experience by the dogma of her profession: she wondered into which part of her psyche she was sublimating her fear. And what if her suppressed emotion were to surf—
Her husband Jay would have stopped her right there. He would have told her off for ‘over-shrinking’ as he liked to call it. She shook her head like a drunk trying to sober up. Then she took a deep breath. Then the tears started to stream again.
She knew she must look a wreck. She wiped a tissue under both eyes. She didn’t want her mascara to run. She didn’t want Louis to see how much his big sister was suffering. At twenty-five, he was still so young. She had to be strong for him.
Sensing a presence, she glanced to one side and noticed a middle-aged woman looking at her. Elin didn’t know her. She was one of the fifty or so friends and relatives attending. The woman must have been watching her for a while. She gave Elin a concerned tilt of the head with that brief twitch of the lips that somehow contrived to be a kindly smile.
Elin wanted to tell her that the compassion in her expression, the care in her eyes, the sympathy in her smile, were all so … *rude!* Elin wanted to tell her that, but the better part of her held back the tears and smiled with all the grace she could muster. She didn’t wait to see how the woman nodded back in supreme understanding. She returned to watching the men lower the casket with ropes into the grave.
When the casket hit the bottom, they dropped the ropes in and Louis grabbed a shovel. Earlier, he’d told Elin that he ‘needed’ to bury their sister himself. Though she’d tried, Elin could not think of a valid reason to object.
Louis began to toil with the shovel. The distance between him and the casket meant the soil just scattered mid-flight, landing softly on the wood. The mourners watched his progress in silence. Five minutes later, the pile of soil heaped next to the open grave seemed no smaller.
Elin tracked Louis’ every stroke. He looked so different today. There was something about the eyes. It was pain, of course, but it was like nothing she had ever seen on him. His eyebrows, his forehead, the muscles of his face: all were misshapen. And yet, all worked in concert to contort his face into a mix of anguish and disbelief. Perhaps those who didn’t know him well saw Louis. But Elin could see little of the Louis she knew.
‘Jay!’ she said, elbowing the large man who stood next to her, ‘Help him.’
Jay looked down at her, but she kept her eyes on Louis.
‘What … why?’
She looked up at Jay for a moment, shook her head and turned to Abe as though appealing to him to intervene.
‘Jay,’ Abe said, ‘let’s give him a hand, shall we? Why don’t you get hold of someone to bring us another pair of shovels?’
How did she end up marrying a man with such thick skin? Elin sighed and turned her focus back to Louis.
By the time Jay returned with a pair of shovels, Louis was sweating. Jay came up to Abe and stood next to him to watch Louis launch another tiny clod of earth into the grave.
Abe gave Jay a ‘gimme gimme’ gesture, with his hand signalling one of the shovels. Jay handed him a shovel and kept the other for himself. While Abe rolled up the sleeves of his black jacket, Jay walked past the pile of earth to the edge of the grave where Louis was still shovelling. He didn’t notice Jay there. Jay put his hand on Louis’ shoulder. Louis stopped mid-action and looked at Jay. Then he noticed Abe who also approached.
At first, Louis looked confused. But when he noticed the shovels on both Jay and Abe, it seemed he began to understand that they’d come over to help him out. His chin started to tremble. He dropped his shovel and started to weep. He had nothing to lean on and he didn’t bend down or anything. He didn’t even cover his face with his hands. He just stood there weeping. It was deep, loud and unbearable.
The middle-aged woman who’d smiled at Elin led Louis away. Louis hugged her and continued to cry unabated. Elin figured the woman must have been one of the motherly types that Louis always seemed to draw to himself. Perhaps a colleague from work.
Elin saw that Louis’ crying made Abe uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was because he hadn’t shed a tear since he got back from New Cyprus. Not that Elin saw. She could understand that he was in shock on the day it happened but not why the funeral didn’t seem to hit him hard.
She wondered if he was in a fit state to look after Isaac. She knew from several chats with Sara that Abe had trouble connecting with his son. She looked down at her nephew, still fast asleep in the buggy beside her.
She tried to see where Louis had gone. She had to turn around to spot him standing by a tree about twenty yards behind, talking to that woman. The woman wiped a tear away from his flushed cheek with her thumb.
*Keep your hands off my baby brother!*
Elin looked back at Abe and Jay. They were busy shovelling. She saw that everyone around her was busy sleeping, crying, shovelling, wiping tears off a pretty young face. No one was looking at her this time. This was her chance to let her thoughts take her where they wanted.
She looked at the fresh soil and tried to see through it. She pictured Sara lying in her box beneath it all. She wished she could hear the soil land, but it made no sound. She wished she could drum her fists on the lid of Sara’s casket till they bled. She wished she could scream her name at her till she answered.
The shivering started again. And the tears. She didn’t try to contain it this time and it just seemed to get worse and worse.
When they were done shovelling, Jay returned to stand beside Elin. She threaded her skinny arm through the crook of his pudgy one. Her Jay-bear felt hot. The shivering stopped. She never understood how such a big man like Jay, who could have lifted that casket single-handed, would nonetheless overheat even with what for him was negligible effort.
She felt an echo of the fear that had been making her shiver all day. She realised what was causing it.
‘You’re sweating,’ she said to her husband.
Jay looked down at her and touched his temple.
‘It’s hot. Have you got a tissue?’
‘Millions of them. Mostly used.’ She fumbled in the side pocket of her jacket. ‘Here’s a clean one.’
She handed him a tissue and he wiped his brow.
‘It’s not that hot, Jay.’ She patted his belly. ‘Ease off the burgers, will you?’
Jay studied her face. It was an odd sight to her when it happened. She certainly didn’t marry him for his sensitivity. So when he did his mind-reading act, it usually made her laugh. Like being tickled. Even now, she let out a nervous little giggle. His face softened into a smile and he looked away. It was a miracle, she thought, that even on a day like this, her Jay-bear could somehow give her comfort.
By late afternoon, the air was much cooler. The crowd of mourners gathered outside the small Abrahamic Union temple at Islington Cemetery. It surprised Elin to learn that Sara had a will. Not at all in character for her younger sister. But more surprising, was that she chose an AU burial. Or any religious burial for that matter.
Abe was standing in front of the entrance to the temple with one hand on the buggy handle as he rocked it back and forth. A light breeze rippled over his wavy brown hair. Elin walked right up to her brother-in-law.
When he noticed her, his eyes held hers for a long time.
‘What?’ she said, biting her lip.
‘Your eyes. They look devastatingly like Sara’s… I—’ He looked away, pain lining his face. Turning back to her, he gave her a wistful smile. For an instant, he looked completely helpless.
She felt guilty for wondering about his lack of tears earlier.
‘Abe, why don’t you let us look after Isaac for a while?’
‘I just think you have a lot on your plate right now. Sorting out Sara’s affairs. Your work.’
But Abe’s attention seemed to shift. He was looking over her shoulder.
‘I just want to help, Abe. We have the spare room and the girls would love having their little cousin over for a while.’
‘I’ll be fine, Elin. Really.’ He was staring at something in the distance.
‘Are you sure? I mean, are things okay between you and Isaac?’
Abe returned his focus to Elin and his eyes flashed. It made her nervous.
‘What do you mean?’ His ears reddened.
Elin’s throat felt dry. She gulped. She used to react the same way whenever her patients got confrontational. Sooner or later, every patient did. And if they didn’t, that meant the therapy wasn’t working. It always made her nervous. Even after all these years. But she’d taught herself to overcome her fears. What her patients needed from her was the certainty that she could take it. And now was no different.
‘I don’t mean to upset you, Abe. Sara told me you weren’t sure about having Isaac. She said you didn’t want to give up hope.’
‘Hope for *what*, Elin?’
‘For a *real* child?’
*Oh my, where did that come from?*
‘That’s not what I was going to say.’
‘No, but it’s what you meant.’
Elin noticed that Abe started to rock the buggy with added vigour. She took a breath, planning to say something. Something that would help him get in touch with his mixed emotions.
But Abe was staring away from her again. She’d lost him.
In fact, she’d mishandled the whole thing. What was she doing getting into that business about Isaac? This was Sara’s funeral, for goodness sake; not a bloody therapy session.
‘Abe, I’m sorry. I …’
But he was looking past her again. At whatever was behind her. She turned to look. The sun was low that way and it was hard to see. She put the palm of her hand over her eyes and squinted. As her sight adjusted, she could make out the silhouette of a man standing among a row of cedar trees that lined the main road to the cemetery. She couldn’t see his face properly, but he was extremely tall. The man sidestepped behind a tree.
When Elin turned back to look at Abe, both he and Isaac were gone.
Coming through his skull-chip, the phone rang in Abe’s mind. The damn thing must have been updated by the manufacturer, erasing his default settings. Again.
‘Transfer call to home.’
The ringing continued from the apartment speakers.
‘Tranter … col … tome,’ garbled Isaac as he toddled through the hall and into the living room.
Abe let the call go to voicemail. He took off his black jacket, the sleeves still dusty from the shovelling earlier. He hung the jacket on one of the pegs on the wall in the hall and watched Isaac from behind. Abe smiled and turned to look at Sara, expecting to see her face light up as she also watched Isaac making tentative steps. Sara wasn’t there.
He wondered if he’d be able to enjoy Isaac’s antics without her. He followed Isaac. Isaac stopped, as though sensing his father was close. He twisted round and gave Abe the picaresque smile he wore when he thought that someone was about to tickle him. He giggled as though he was already being tickled. Isaac bent his chin down to defend his neck and raised his tiny fists there for extra protection. The giggling made him stumble and he plopped onto his nappy-cushioned bottom.
Abe walked over and squatted in front of him. Isaac’s anti-tickling defences were still up, as was the mischievous smile. Abe stared into Isaac’s honey-brown irises and smiled back. Isaac registered the connection and Abe felt the soundless reply. Isaac’s eyes were smiling and familiar. Familiar in the sense that they seemed to recognise Abe, knew exactly who he was. And always had. Isaac shared that knowing look with his mother. But Sara used to say, ‘He has your eyes.’ And it was true that, when Isaac was born, he had Abe’s eyes. Ever since, when he looked at Isaac, the recognition between them was so intense that Abe felt as though he saw the reflection of his own soul.
‘You have voicemail,’ piped the hidden speakers.
‘Who’s it from?’
Abe was still squatting in front of Isaac who was now trying to push himself upright from the floor.
Abe rubbed the palm of his hand over his eyes for a second and pinched the bridge of his nose as he stared at the floor.
‘Okay,’ he sighed. ‘Play.’
‘It’s me.’ Her voice was brittle. ‘I know I hurt your feelings, Abe. And I know you’re in a lot of pain… Me too.’
Abe realised how little he’d stopped to consider how this was affecting Elin or Louis—the little brother and the bigger sister who were so close to Sara.
‘But,’ Elin’s message went on, ‘I have Jay to help me look after the kids. He’s got nothing better to do anyway. He’s on his stupid sabbatical and just sits on the bloody sofa all day. Watching TV and cultivating diabetes. Know what I mean? Lord knows where he stashes those snacks.’
It was funny. Abe wanted to laugh but couldn’t. He admired Elin for her spirit.
‘Anyway, we can look after Isaac for you. We have a spare cot and it’s no trouble at all.’
He heard her breathing. It sounded like she was forming her thoughts.
‘Abe,’ said the message, ‘be angry. You need to be. But not too much. Okay?’ A beep marked the end of the message.
Abe slumped, his bottom hitting the hardwood floor just as Isaac managed to raise his off it.
*Was* he in a lot of pain? He certainly didn’t think he was feeling like a man ought to be when he’s just buried his wife.
*Ought to—what does that mean?*
He sensed he was punishing himself for something. He’d even thought about that on the flight. It was *his* idea to have a holiday in New Cyprus. It was meant to be a celebration of Isaac who’d turned one a few months earlier. It was meant to be for Sara. He’d wanted to take them back to where they’d met. It was a surprise and she was thrilled when she found out.
But Abe knew that part of him hated being trapped in parenthood. Part of him wanted to just be his old self. That part wanted to go to New Cyprus because they didn’t have driver-less cars. Because they still let you get on a motorbike at your peril. Because they still let you feel the thrill of being in control. Because they still let you get killed.
The now-familiar stinging in his eyes returned and persisted. Relief came when he noticed that Isaac had managed to get to the kitchen area.
Perhaps he was hungry.
Abe got to his feet, walked to the freezer. Inside, he found a batch of Isaac’s homemade meals that Sara had put into individual containers. He counted them. He had about three days’ worth. And he hated cooking. It made Elin’s offer tempting.
He prepared Isaac’s dinner and fed him. Half an hour later, Isaac yawned and Abe knew it was time for the boy to wind down. He didn’t have long enough to bathe him, and if he had, Isaac would have probably ended up going past his bedtime and there’d have been no end to the night-time drama.
As it was, when Abe put him to bed, Isaac asked for ‘mama’. Abe had no idea how to respond. In the past, when he put the boy to bed without Sara, he would distract him with things like ‘Mummy is sleeping.’ or ‘Mummy will be back to kiss you goodnight.’ or ‘Mummy is working, but she’ll hug you when you wake up.’ But he couldn’t say any of those. They would never again be true. It was a sickening thought. As he scrabbled for what to tell Isaac, the boy mumbled something and fell asleep. Abe sighed, switched off the light and walked out of Isaac’s bedroom, leaving the door ajar.
He returned to the kitchen and made himself a salad. He sat down on the white leather sofa to eat it. The apartment was open-plan with the lounge blending into the kitchen. The walls were mostly white except for one, to the right of the sofa. That was made from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling entirely of glass. It spanned the longer edge of the apartment, from the lounge and across to the kitchen.
Through the glass wall, Abe saw that outside was twilight. Blue light scattered downward through a thin veil of cloud that mixed with the light of the setting sun to produce a violet afterglow in the distant sky. Nearer to the apartment, a tower of heavier clouds etched a dark shadow that arched over the afterglow.
The glass wall was the feature that made them buy the place. He’d come to see the apartment with Sara five years earlier and she gasped when she saw the wall. She proceeded to look around happily, passing her hand lightly over various features. They had already seen over twenty homes in their search.
‘We’ll buy it,’ he told the estate agent after ten minutes. The agent raised her eyebrows and Sara whipped her head round to look at Abe. He glanced back at her, smiled and returned to the agent. ‘We’ll pay the asking price.’
The agent confessed she hadn’t expected such a quick sale. Sara looked surprised too, but she’d figured it out. She grabbed Abe’s hand as they walked out of the apartment and continued towards the lift. When they got there, she pressed the button for down.
‘You knew,’ she said, her eyes bright.
‘That’s cos you’re as transparent as that wall back there.’
Her eyes narrowed.
‘*So* not true!’
‘Actually,’ she said as they walked into the lift, ‘no one knows me like you do.’
‘Is that so?’
‘Yes. And, frankly, it’s about time you realised that.’ She pressed the button labelled G. ‘There’s something else you don’t know.’
‘And what would that be?’
The lift jolted into motion.
‘What you don’t know, my dear,’ she said, tippy toeing to kiss him on the cheek, ‘is how utterly in love you are with me.’ She came down off her toes and squeezed his hand. The lift doors opened. Sara walked out to the ground floor and Abe followed. ‘But you’ll get there, buddy.’
Ever since she said that, he’d occasionally look at her and say, ‘Am I there yet?’
And she would pretend to examine his features as though searching for the right signs and say, ‘Not yet, buddy.’
It dawned on him she would never say that to him again. That dance of theirs had been a constant, open-ended invitation not meant to be answered. A journey without a destination. Except that now, it seemed, the journey *was* over. The realisation hit him with a clarity and intensity he hadn't felt since Sara died, and it was unexpected.
He felt the stinging.
‘Am I there yet?’ he said out loud. He put his hand on his mouth and glanced at the open door to Isaac’s bedroom.
He stood up, closed the door and returned to the sofa. He grabbed one of the orange cushions on the sofa and put it on his lap. He closed his eyes and put his hand back on his mouth.
‘Am I there yet, Sara?’ he whispered through his fingers.
‘Not yet, buddy,’ she said in his thoughts.
Eyes still shut, it made him smile. No one else could make failure sound like success. Sara was funny and way smarter than he was. Sometimes that bothered him but nothing he couldn’t handle. She had a dirty mind, which jarred with a lot of people, but he loved her cynical wit. A music promoter and herself a double bass player, she never let go of her dreams of becoming famous. Compared to her, he felt dull. He was the blank slate onto which she cast her radiant personality. But she’d get angry when he put himself down. ‘Don’t be so bloody self-deprecating,’ she’d say. No one else could admonish him and still make him feel good. And she had the warmest, most giving smile he knew. She was Sara. He’d loved her with his heart and fucking soul and she was dead. When he opened his eyes again, tears trickled out. He didn’t even know he’d been crying.
He took a deep breath that fluttered as he exhaled. He lifted the soft orange cushion from his lap and pressed it over his face. He pushed the back of the cushion so that some of it went into his mouth. Then he made the sound he’d been longing to make.
In between pushing the cushion into his mouth, pulling it out, throwing it on the floor, picking it up, tearing at it with his teeth, throwing it at the wall, standing up, sitting down, pacing, kneeling, pulling his hair, slamming his thighs with his fists, shaking his arms, punching the floor so hard it cut his knuckles, Abe wept and screamed into the cushion as it muffled the sound of his agony for the rest of the night.