It was no good, I’d wallowed enough. Time to sort myself out. Since long before Matt died, I promised myself I’d one day reach the attic. Today was to be the day.
I paused before placing my foot on the bottom rung of the ladder. The last time I’d been up there was ten years ago, when we moved here. Matt laughed at my fear of the attic and I tried to join in, but I felt terrified.
‘My big sisters told me there were bats in out attic when I was a kid,’ I told him. ‘I think it scared me so much that I’ve never built up the nerve to go anywhere near one.’
Two years ago, Matt decided to change things.
‘Let’s gradually wean you off your fear,’ he’d said. ‘Every so often we’ll take a step closer up the ladder until you are brave enough to go up there.’
We’d only managed three rungs because the illness hit him hard and we had more important things to consider but now, I knew I must go up there. I was beginning to feel afraid of everything, seemed to have lost confidence since he’d gone. I needed to take drastic action, and the only thing that came to mind was to climb the ladder to the attic; prove to myself I was strong enough to cope by myself. Besides, I wanted to see what Matt had put up there, get rid of anything we…I mean… I no longer needed.
‘Here I go Matt,’ I whispered.
My heart thumped against my chest, although it sounded more as if it was in my head. Most of the way, I closed my eyes. As my hands felt the edge of the hatch, I realised I’d been holding my breath. I inhaled deeply three times and hoisted myself up into the attic. I sat for a while, my eyes closed again until my heart slowed to a normal pace and wiped the sweat from my eyes. ‘I did it, Matt’, I said. ‘I did it.’
All thoughts of bats disappeared from my mind as I caught sight of the old grey duffle coat rolled up on top of a box. I reached over, gathered it to my face and inhaled its aroma. Matt wore it the first night we met. It smelled musty but I didn’t care, it made me feel closer to him.
An hour later, I’d cleared some of the attic, thrown various clothes, shoes, lampshades and guarantees and instruction booklets, some at least seven years out of date, on to the landing. Although the attic felt warm, I wrapped the duffle coat around my shoulders and gingerly climbed down the ladder, keeping my mind occupied by thinking about our first date. We both wanted to see the same film. In fact, that was when we discovered our shared love of Star Wars.
‘I never usually think the cinema is great for a first date,’ said Matt.
‘Me neither, though I do want to see it.’
‘That’s it then, the cinema it is. Let’s go in the afternoon and out for a meal straight afterwards. Okay with you?’
I nodded. It was too soon to tell him I didn’t care what we did, as long as we were together. From that day on, everyone we knew thought of us as a couple.
When I discovered the ticket stub in the duffle coat pocket, I had no idea what it was for. It was faded yellow, ragged at the ends, with pale writing. Curiosity got hold of me and I searched for a magnifying glass I knew Matt kept with his tools. The date was barely visible, but I managed to read the word ‘Star’. I realised, it was a ticket stub from the cinema, our first date.
Suddenly, the smell of freshly baked bread wafted in the air and I froze. It reminded me of Matt. He baked bread every weekend after I bought him a bread maker one Christmas. He’d often said he wanted to try. I gently pushed the kitchen door open and watched as my dead husband lifted some bread from the bread maker.
‘Matt,’ I whispered. All of a sudden, he disappeared, and the kitchen once more became a bleak, cold place. Was I going mad?
The doorbell rang, made me jump and I placed the ticket stub on the hall table and signed for my post, without knowing what I was doing. It played on my mind all night and I longed for Matt to tell me all was fine; I wasn’t going mad. Waves of grief washed over me, for Matt, for the life we ought to be having, all we’d never share but also for my sanity.
The next day I saw the ticket stub and picked it up along with the newspaper. As I strolled into the living room, I heard a voice and my spine tingled. Mesmerised, I watched Matt, sauntering around the living room as he chatted on his phone.
I dropped the papers and he disappeared. What was happening? Ought I see a doctor? No, I decided against that.
Later that day, after a telephone call from my boss, asking when I was likely to return to work, I felt sad. Somehow, going back to work meant life must move on, I knew it ought to but missed him so much. Somehow, it felt a betrayal, allowing my life to move forward when his had stopped. I picked up the ticket stub and suddenly, Matt appeared next to me, sitting on the sofa, engrossed in something on the tv. I reached out but he wasn’t there of course, it was an hallucination.
I awoke at three o’clock in the morning, when it struck me.
‘The ticket stub. Each time I’ve held it he appears. It’s a ticket to him.’ I ran downstairs, grabbed the ticket and there he was, sitting on the floor, legs crossed, leaning against the sofa, smiling. He vanished as soon as I let go of the ticket. I tried it several times and knew I was right.
Life changed from that day. It wasn’t perfect of course, he wasn’t real, just a vision, but I adored seeing him again. The house felt grey, cold and uninviting since he died but his presence bought the colours back, gave warmth to my joyless existence. I used the bread maker, to make it feel even more as if he was with me and inhaled deeply the warm, inviting aroma of new bread.
I returned to work, leaving the ticket stub at home. Once at work there were moments when I forgot about Matt, then remember he was gone and immediately cheer myself up with the knowledge that I’d see him that evening. Friends invited me to their homes, out for meals but I always declined. I needed to spend as much time as possible with Matt.
One night, as abruptly as I’d realised what made it happen, I knew it must stop. My life was in limbo. I lived with a man I could never touch, hear or love. Quickly, before I had time to change my mind, I picked up the ticket stub and Matt sat combing his hair in front of the mirror that showed no reflection.
‘I’m sorry, Matt,’ I whispered, ‘It’s no good. I might as well be dead too. I need to mourn, need to live a life, you need to go and stay away.’ I took one last lingering gaze at the face I loved so much, placed the ticket stub in a saucer, lit a match and watched through tears as the paper puckered to ash. I too crumpled as grief burned into me head on. I wallowed in it, cursed it and eventually came out of it.
The following autumn, I built up the nerve to take the duffle coat to the charity shop. The lady there said, ‘There’s something in the pocket of this coat, a ticket of some kind, it’s torn, and I can’t see what it’s for though. Perhaps you’ll recognise it?’ I paused, smiled and said, ‘No, it’s nothing, only an old scrap of paper, I’d tear it up if I were you.’