Time was meaningless in her sad sarcophagus of self-confinement.
Liv had no idea what day, month, or season it was when her mother, Lydia, arrived at her door without notice. Or maybe there was notice. Liv hadn’t checked or charged her phone in hours, or maybe weeks.
After Jack’s accident, the calling of well-intentioned friends eventually sputtered silent. The check-ins and chin-ups chattered themselves out. The thoughts and prayers moved on to other tragedies.
But Liv was caught in the quicksand of devastation and burrowed deep under blankets of depression and despair.
She quit her job.
She ignored her mother’s calls.
She isolated herself in the apartment.
She spent much of the year swallowed whole by woe, a wraith among maddening markers of memory, haunting the halls of their extinguished life. She took no notice of light or dark. She slept only when her body demanded. She ate and drank irregularly, food like sludge in her throat, water salted with tears and wine tasteless on her tongue.
From scattered frames of frozen time, Jack’s eyes were the only witness to her purposeless existence. They followed her from room to room, slouched and disheveled, greasy-haired and glassy-eyed.
Sometimes she tried to make conversation, pleading with the grin that never wavered, cringing at the radiator’s dismissive hissing response.
Sometimes she lay on the crumb-littered couch, hugging his pillow and gazing at the cigar scars on the carpet.
Sometimes she wrapped herself in his hoodie and sat at the crooked kitchen table, running a finger across the dents and rings of the meals she cooked and the dishes he washed.
No passage of hours or moments did anything to soothe the bizarre harmonies of her heartache.
And in-between the physical calamities of grief, she stared into the abyss and attempted to cage her thoughts.
She tried not to think of his warm hands cold in a casket, of his gold-flecked eyes rotting in their sockets, or of his booming laugh forever silenced six feet under.
She tried not to dwell on the meals they’d never eat and the milestones they’d never meet.
She tried not to conjure itineraries for trips they’d never take and faces of children they’d never create.
And yet, the sensations of sorrow amplified daily, feeding on the crumpled clothes from his laundry basket, on the mug still stained with streaks from his last coffee, and on the scratch on the wall from the day they moved in.
Then came an unremarkable day or dawn or evening when she realized she could only smell herself, unwashed and unloved. The clothes, the pillow, and the hoodie had all gone stale, prompting a previously undiscovered well of anguish to explode with grotesque enthusiasm. It was four days of sobbing, hair-wringing, and plate-smashing until she returned to her mostly listless life.
It was then that her mother knocked on the door, unruffled by travel and armed with cleaning supplies, fresh food, and a no-nonsense greeting. Outraged at the unsolicited offer of extermination, Liv slammed the door in her face.
An hour later, Lydia returned with empty hands and an apology that Liv pretended to hear.
“Oh my dear,” her mother said, finally given the opportunity to take in Liv’s shrunken frame, dank hair, and surrounding hovel. “I should have come sooner.”
For two days, Lydia sat with Liv in simple silence.
On the third day, she pulled the blinds up to welcome the weak winter sun, and Liv didn’t object.
On the fourth, she washed dishes, and Liv watched with dead eyes as Jack’s mug was doused in soap.
On the fifth, she flattened cardboard and bagged bottles, and Liv held the door open as she lugged them out.
On the sixth, Lydia found Liv sitting in Jack’s closet, slowly re-folding his clothes into piles.
And on the seventh day, Liv took a shower, ate a full breakfast, and opened a window to take in an icy breath.
“Let’s go for a walk.” Lydia didn’t pose it as a question, and Liv didn’t answer, but she let her mother guide her to the door, shrug on her coat, and tie her boots.
They walked all the way to the river, until Liv’s cheeks were flushed and her tattered heart was pounding. The fresh air was light in her lungs and the sun was warm on her face, but still her soul remained burdened by the suffocating weight of his absence.
At the waters’ edge, they sat on a bench, and Liv watched the world go by on bikes and blades and shoes, dragged by dogs and hindered by kids, huddled in pairs and flying solo. People who didn’t know Liv; people who would never know Jack.
“Mom,” her voice cracked. “It’s like…it’s like I can’t breathe anymore. I don’t know how without him.”
Lydia placed a hand on Liv’s arm. “I know. But you can. You will.”
“Sometimes...I don’t want to,” Liv whispered.
They watched a gang of fat-bikes disappear into the trees. A dog walker scolded her charges for tangling their leashes. Delighted squeals clanged from the playground behind them.
“What would Jack say right now?” Lydia asked.
Liv bristled. “He’s not here. It doesn't matter.”
“Of course he is, and of course it does.”
Liv contemplated the tumbling current and distant shore. She knew exactly what Jack would say.
He would be appalled at how far she had spiraled. He would tease her for being sentimental. He would tell her to stop moping and start living. He would remind her that he no longer lived in the apartment, and that it was time for her to go.
A week later, Liv and Lydia had everything packed up. Save for a few keepsakes, most of Jack’s belongings were donated. The walls were blank and the furniture was gone, but still he lingered, fragments trapped in a million marks like the scrape on the wall and the burns on the rug.
So, Liv found the first available contractor who would rip out the carpet, replace the cupboards and paint the walls before she put the place up for sale.
He is the first man to enter the apartment since Jack.
Liv drops the keys into his hand after a moment of slight hesitation.
“Don’t worry Mrs. Jacobs.” He smiles and jangles the key ring, unaware that his use of the married honorific has ripped yet another hole in her chest. “I’ll take care of everything. It’ll be like brand new when you come back.”
Liv will return only once, to ensure she hasn’t left any part of Jack behind.