He’s going to love this so much.
The dinner table looked exactly as it had exactly a year ago, the night that he proposed. I’d taken so many photos of the evening, it had made it easy to replicate the setup. I’d even driven across town to the specific butcher that we’d gotten the leg of lamb from that day, to go with the carefully prepared cheddar and chive mash I’d made. I knew there was a good chance he wouldn’t realise it was the anniversary of our engagement, but that didn’t matter, he’d remember once he saw the dining room.
I glanced at the clock as I straightened up the utensils and gave the table one last look over.
He should be home by now.
I could usually count on him being home by six o’clock, unless his arsehole of a boss insisted there was one last ‘small’ task that ‘needed’ to be done at five-thirty, again. Greg was too polite to say anything, especially with getting a promotion earlier in the year. Even if that had happened, he always sent me a text so I knew. He knows how anxious I get, picturing cars bursting into flames, crazy men running down the street with machetes, plane engines falling from the sky and crushing him.
By twenty-past six the images in my mind began to form more clearly. I called his phone and prayed with every ring that he would answer. He never stayed at work that late without letting me know about it. With three phone calls, three voice-mails left, I decided to bring in the food.
If I just carry on as normal, he’s sure to walk in the front door any moment. We’ll have a good laugh about all the ridiculous things I’ve been imagining and everything will be fine.
I forced myself to smile as I carried the lamb and bowl of mashed potato into the dining room, and still when I returned to the kitchen to retrieve the vegetables. They might go cold but the other food would stay warm for longer so it would be fine.
By six-thirty the food no longer looked appetising, instead, the smell of it turned my stomach which continued to whirl with butterflies. By six-forty-five I’d called another four times, two more voice-mails, four texts.
At seven, a full hour after Greg should have arrived home, I picked my phone back up to call one of his co-workers. I’d put it off for as long as I could, not wanting to see like the crazy-needy fiancée, but desperate times and all that. I’d only scrolled as far as the name when my phone began to buzz in my hand, Greg’s picture flashing on the screen. I let out a huge exhale.
He’s OK. He’s fine after all.
I answered the phone with a smile forming on my face. “Baby, I’ve been worried sick-”
“Kyra, it’s Darryl.”
I ignored the tremor in his voice. “Darryl? I don’t know what you’re doing using Greg’s phone but you better tell him to get a move on, he didn’t even send me a text to say he’d be this late.”
“I’m so sorry Kyra, I need to tell you...” his voice broke and I heard his sniffing urgently.
“What’s going on Darryl?” I asked, no longer able to push down the sick feeling rising in my stomach.
“He was fine all day, he was his usual self, and then the next thing I knew, he was on the floor. It all happened so fast and then he was gone.” I heard a sound like he clapped his hand over his mouth, “The paramedics think it was a heart attack, I don’t know, I guess it must have been.”
“Darryl, what are you saying to me?” I needed to hear him say it. I knew the answer, could almost hear it reverberating around my brain, but I needed to hear it.
“Greg’s dead Kyra.”
The phone fell from my hand, landed on the plush carpet we’d only had fitted the previous month, right before I did. Darryl’s voice disappeared into the distance.
Gone? Not possible. No. Dead? Can’t be. Not possible. No. Heart attack? He was perfectly healthy, super fit, jogged every morning before work.
I scrambled to pick my phone back up. “You must be wrong. It can’t be. All the guys in your office look the same, it must be one of the others.”
“Kyra, I’m sorry. I wish I didn’t have to tell you this. I wish it wasn’t true.”
The call ended, though I didn’t know which one of us had hit the red button, and I began to sob. The carpet felt soaking wet under my palms, clutching at the edge of the thick rug I’d bought to protect it from the furniture.
I cried so much that the carpet was still wet when I woke up in a haze in the same spot the next morning. My body ached. Still, it took me a while to clamber to my feet. I needed the bathroom, though it was baffling to me that I should still have regular bodily functions when the world had shifted on its axis, and crushed me on the way. The sunlight streaming in through the bathroom shocked me.
The sun came up. It’s another day. The first day without-
I lost it, lost myself to the hysteria. The ache in my stomach intensified and I couldn’t stop.
How can a day begin without him in it? He was only forty. We should have had so many more years left.
A knock at the door interrupted my sobs. For the first time since Darryl called me, my head cleared, my tears stopped.
It’s all been a silly mistake, he was wrong, Greg’s fine after all. Probably just left his keys somewhere.
I wiped as fast as I could and ran downstairs to greet him. He wouldn’t believe how ridiculous I’d been.
When I opened the door I felt that same gut-punch again.
“Kyra, is everything OK?” My elderly neighbour, Judy looked at me, wide-eyed. “Oh no, what’s happened?”
I opened my mouth. The words were there in my mind; the sentence short. Yet it wouldn’t transmit to my mouth.
Judy’s eyes only widened more as I dissolved in a heap on my doorstep. She looked around our quiet street.
“Let’s get you inside honey.”
She took me by the shoulders, more with assertiveness than strength, and guided me to the living room sofa.
“Tell me everything Kyra. Are you safe?”
The cloud in my brain stopped me from processing the question.
“Where’s your phone?” she asked.
I pointed dumbly towards the dining room. Time passed, Judy returned.
“Did someone spill some water in there honey? That new carpet is soaking wet, we’ll need to get something in there to dry it.”
It didn’t matter. None of it mattered.
I was only dimly aware of Judy pressing my phone to my thumb to unlock it, and then of her having a conversation with someone. Time passed, and my mother arrived.
“Ky, I’m here.” Arms around me. The scent of safety, of home. “Tell me what’s going on Kyra.”
“He’s gone Mum, he had a heart attack at work yesterday and he’s-”
“Oh my God.” That homely scent surrounded me once more, something which once would have given me such a strong sense of being all right, now couldn’t make a dent in the pain. The world was no longer what it had been.
“Have you talked to anyone honey? Told anyone?”
I shook my head.
How can I do that? How could I share that with another person?
Dimly, I was aware of Judy sitting across the room, watching. “I can start to make some calls?”
Mum moved but I didn’t see if she agreed or not.
People began to arrive, and then it was like the parade didn’t end. Family, Greg’s co-workers, neighbours, all of them with condolences, food, low whispers. Mum handled all of them. I didn’t acknowledge another person until it was time to arrange the funeral. She sat beside me as the arranger acted as solemn as possible while offering me far too many options.
“Have you given any thought to flowers?” he asked. “We can arrange them for you.”
A brochure slid in front of my eyes, blurry and swollen. I tapped one of the pictures. Mum read a code aloud.
“How about music? Did your fiancé ever mention the songs he would like?”
I lifted my head for a moment to look at him. “Songs he would like...at his funeral?”
His eyes shifted from side to side. “Some people have strong ideas for a long time about what they would like to have played.”
I shook my head and dropped my view back to the table. Once again, Mum made some decisions and the question went away.
“All right, we’re almost there now.”
“It’s time to take a look at the coffins.”
My breath caught in my throat. I closed my eyes.
Coffins? Greg shouldn’t be in a coffin forever, he should be with me. We were supposed to be together forever.
“Kyra?” Mum prompted.
When I opened my eyes, the brochure in front of me was not like the previous one at all. Rows of boxes, in various shades of tree, stared back at me.
I can’t do this.
Quietly, with only a slight awareness of where we were, I began to cry. Mum placed a hand on my knee to steady me, something she’d done a lot in the previous three days. If I’d been awake, I’d been crying, since she arrived. So I was still able to drop my fingertip on one of the pictures. Greg had never talked about being particularly attached to any type of wood, light, dark, or otherwise. On some distant, rational level, I knew he wouldn’t care.
“You did very well in there honey.”
I nodded, any possible words clogged in my mouth like peanut butter. That last weekend, one of the last four days I’d had with him without knowing, we’d eaten peanut butter on toast and made each other laugh by sticking it on our teeth and trying to kiss the other. We’d laughed so much I fell out of my chair.
I’ll never laugh like that again.
Mum drove me home and after offering me various foods and drinks, sat down beside me on the sofa. Her hands shook gently as she took one of mine in hers. “Ky, I need to talk to you about something. I know this is hard, but I need to go home, at least for the night, and just make sure your dad is OK. You know he isn’t very good at being by himself. If he could still drive then, of course, he could come and stay here too, but with his eyesight being what it is these days… I can come back tomorrow.”
“It’s fine Mum, I’ll be fine. Come back for the...for what we just organised.”
“Are you sure Ky?”
I nodded. “I’ll be fine.”
We both knew that wasn’t true. All it meant was that I’d be free to sit in my dirty clothes and cry for days, until it would be time to move.
Motion around me while Mum tidied one last time before leaving, collected all her stuff.
“I’ll give you a ring later honey.” She turned up the volume on my phone to make sure I would hear it. “And you better answer it, or I’ll be right back here, you got that?”
I nodded, but it was only later that night that I realised what she really meant. That I better be alive to answer.
I sat in the same spot until darkness filled the room, the TV became one long sell-athon, and my bladder felt like it would burst.
Once it felt as empty as my body felt, I pulled myself toward the bedroom. While she stayed with me, Mum had slept on the air mattress next to our bed so I wouldn’t be alone. It had almost been a comfort to have her there. Without her, without Greg, the room prodded me in the open wound that was my chest cavity.
“How am I supposed to keep going?” I asked the air, hoping all those people I went to church with as a kid were right, that Greg could hear me.
I crumpled at the end of the bed, never making it on top of the covers, and spent the night on another carpet.
While I waited for the funeral, suspended in my life, the air around me was peaceful, quiet, while inside me was nothing but turbulence. Moving around the house, to use the bathroom, to hydrate enough to stay alive, to occasionally eat, my heart felt heavy inside of me. Sometimes my phone rang. I ignored every call and message unless it was my parents, speaking to them long enough to reassure them I was alive and safe each time.
The day of the funeral, the crack in my heart only continued to widen as time spurred forward at a faster pace than it had in two weeks. My parents arrived, my dad finally there to hug me for the first time since I received the news.
“Oh honey, this isn’t right.”
A man of few words, my dad, but always the right ones. Somehow he had summed up everything I’d been feeling in a moment.
It isn’t fair. Other couples get to celebrate their sixtieth anniversary together, even their seventieth. Greg and I didn’t even get as far as the wedding.
On the side table never the front door, where we always dropped our keys when we arrived home, to ensure they were never lost, stood a framed picture, one that had made us smile every time each of us passed it on our way out of the house. Although we were about to leave, I picked it up, studied it.
When we got engaged our friends threw us a surprise party, and brought along a costume wedding dress for me, and a suit for Greg. They had laughed like it was the greatest thing ever when we had returned from the bathroom, me in the suit, him in the dress. We stayed in them all night, Greg intermittently commenting on how much more comfortable the flowing skirt was than any pair of trousers he’d worn in his life. It was the happiest night of my life, so we had the pictures printed and framed one of us posing, Greg holding a bouquet of flowers from a centrepiece. Greg had been the light of my life since the day we met, and I didn’t know how I would go on without him. Life and the universe didn’t care though, they would go on no matter what.
Dad approached me gently and placed a hand on my back. “Ready honey?”