Ominous clouds overhead threatened to heave tears on the mourners below. Rain was the furthest thing from Angelica’s mind. Surrounded by black-clad family members on all sides, she’d never felt more alone. At 32, such fate seemed unfair. No one can foresee an aneurysm; they attack indiscriminately. Still, why did it have to be Luke? They’d traversed a long road to end up where they were. And now, there were no more roads to travel. Her insides felt hollow. Her heart had surpassed aching and now resided, vacant, in her chest. She didn’t know how she would continue; she didn’t know if she wanted to. To have her whole life suddenly and so thoroughly shattered created an air of surrealism, an air that, instead of providing life-sustaining oxygen, chocked the soul out of her. The chill wind bit at her skin but passed unnoticed. The thousand or so condolences she’d received were mere whispers on the breeze. She thought her heart had broken before, but nothing could compare to the anguish that now enveloped her.
A few close friends offered to stay with her a while, but Angelica needed to be alone. She knew well enough she shouldn’t be driving in her current state, so her parents dropped her off at her house. They hugged her and let her go. As they left, rain burst from the clouds and soaked everything below. Still, Angelica meandered up the path to her door. The walk seemed neverending, the shaky muscles in her legs refusing to expend any more energy.
Norma sat in her recliner next to the lace-curtained front window. From there, she had a magnificent view of the whole street. Often, the drama of reality was better than TV. The downpour made it difficult to see much, but, looking through her binoculars, she saw a car drop Angelica off. She made it a policy not to look through people’s windows with the binoculars, but streets and yards were fair game. Norma never really talked to Angelica and Luke. Then again, she didn’t talk to anyone much anymore. She, instead, opted for her comfy chair and street view. There she was free to let her imagination run wild. She held nothing against the couple. If anything, she was a little jealous. The pair seemed joyful and able to take on the world. But their confidence never came off as arrogant, a quality Norma was glad they lacked. The arrogant and narcissistic made for juicy drama, but people with those traits were easy to dislike.
When she learned of Luke’s passing, she, of course, expressed sympathy for the young woman. Eventually, sympathy turned to guilt as she found herself enjoying the shakeup in the neighborhood’s daily routine. Various new people passed through at all times of the day. Even Angelica’s typical routine was, understandably, upset. People brought food or drove her places. Norma was glad such caring and supportive people surrounded Angelica. Norma had spent the past few days snooping exclusively on Angelica; she deemed nothing else worthy of her attention. However, with the funeral’s conclusion, she assumed activities would soon return to normal.
Norma pulled the fleece throw blanket up further, fighting the cold. She readjusted the pillow behind her head and watched the soaking woman across the street disappear behind a door. With the deluge of water drowning the world outside, Norma reckoned not much else would happen. She set her binoculars on the end table and settled in for a nap.
Angelica finagled the last of the generously donated food into her already overflowing fridge. Once the door closed, the last scrap of warm light left the room. Hazy beams flowed through the windows, creating a grayscale effect on the interior. Walking up the colorless stairs, into the colorless bedroom, the weight of the day drained Angelica. On auto-pilot, she slipped out of her formalwear and into plush pajama bottoms, an oversized shirt, and welcoming blankets. The bed engulfed her, seemingly too large. More than anything, she wished the whole thing were a dream. A horrible nightmare seized her in its unforgiving claws and refused to release her. She willed herself to wake up, to roll over, and see his golden hair tousled around his face. Instead, she sobbed into the plump pillow until no tears remained. She then fell into a deep, desperate sleep as the lackluster light of day faded away.
A week passed much the same as the day of the funeral. Angelica remained in a near-comatose state as the rain continued to pour down. She spent most of her days barely eating, barely surviving, and barely awake. Norma continued her vigilant watch, focusing on Angelica and growing protective of the young woman.
When Norma woke from a nap, she noticed the sun had completely set, and streetlights bathed the outside in a glow that was entirely too yellow. Norma pushed the leg rest connected to the chair down and stood up to go heat water for tea when she noticed a figure approach Angelica’s house. Immediately a protective ire bellowed in her as she resisted the urge to shout, “Leave her alone already! She needs to rest.” Despite the sun setting fairly early, around 6:45, she figured Angelica deserved all the sleep she could grab. Forgetting the tea, she plopped back down in her chair and watched the person knock on Angelica’s door.
Angelica woke up, startled by a sudden loud noise. At first, she wasn’t sure if it had been a dream or not. She then heard it again, however, this time in a set of three. Great, someone at the door. Just what I need. She dragged herself out of bed and rubbed the sleep from her already raw eyes. She trudged down the stairs as the knocking rang out again. Growing irate, she hollered, “I’m coming!”
Warily she reached for the doorknob and twisted. Stunned, she gazed upon her visitor, her knees buckled, and she nearly collapsed. Her mind reeled as if she’d just witnessed a ghost, grasping for any sense of rationality. Though the icy blue eyes staring back at her could only belong to a ghost. Surely this is a dream, a figment of my grieving mind. He twisted his soft lips into the warm smile that had always melted Angelica. With every fiber of her being telling her this was a delusion, she ignored the warning and threw her arms around Luke’s shoulders.
Tears streamed down her face as she pulled him inside. He followed her, gliding across the hardwood, still smiling. Angelica’s heart fluttered in her chest like it was the first time they’d met. In love-drunk delirium, she lost herself between rational reality and hysterical hallucination. After a week of sopor, she rushed to find something for the two of them to do. He walked up to her and stroked her unkempt hair, traced the deep hollows of her cheeks, and wrapped his fingers around her bony wrists. His smile briefly faltered before sparking back to life as he moved to the kitchen.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. Luke was a gourmet chef compared to her and often made the simplest of dishes taste like nothing she’d ever eaten before. He pulled a pot out of the cabinet and looked back at her. Something in his eyes made her understand the unspoken act. He knew she needed food. He always looked out for her. He cooked while she set the table. The savory scent of homemade pasta sauce hung in the air while Angelica worked on setting the mood. Their kitchen was tiny, so when they wanted something special, they dragged the table-for-two into the open space of the living room. She fetched the good, burgundy table cloth, some golden taper candles, and a bottle of wine. They finished their respective jobs in perfect, practiced unison.
They sat down to enjoy their meal in silence and bliss. All the pain from the past week vanished the instant he’d smiled at her. With warm food in her belly and his warm grin across from her, she silently willed the night to never end. Though a tiny part of her brain screamed warning bells, she pushed them far away.
As they finished, Angelica cleared the dishes, and Luke repositioned the table in the kitchen. She watched him return to the living room, curious what they’d do next. Soft music emanating from the surrounding speakers answered her thoughts almost immediately. Due to nerves, Angelica was never much of a dancer, but Luke had a way of making her feel like nothing else mattered. She floated into his open arms. Holding her lightly, she noticed the extreme cold that accompanied his touch.
“Do you want me to turn the heat up?” she asked, not wanting to leave his arms, but willing if it made him comfortable.
He simply pulled her closer in response. The two stood in the living room, swaying breezily, oblivious to anything else.
Norma watched as Angelica flung her arms around the stranger. Unwilling to think the worst, she reasoned the visitor might be a brother or close friend. However, the way Angelica lingered before pulling him passionately inside sparked a new feeling in Norma. She gasped and reached for her binoculars. There was no way Angelica had already moved on. And she refused to believe the other man had been there, in shadows, during her relationship with Luke. Angelica wasn’t that type of girl. But as Norma lifted the binoculars to her face, she realized she didn’t actually know anything about Angelica or Luke.
No, no. I can’t jump to conclusions. She sat the binoculars down, obeying her own rule never to peek into someone’s home. However, she stared across the street with a newfound intensity. The man disappeared from the front room, and Norma feared her prying would end before it started. Her fears subsided as Angelica pulled a table into the living room. Norma silently thanked Angelica for moving things back into view. Excitement bubbled over, becoming full-on giddiness. Angelica flourished an expensive-looking tablecloth and garnished the table with candles, basically confirming to Norma this mystery man wasn’t merely a brother or friend.
Norma’s need for drama verged on obsession. As the two subjects of her current story ate, she used all the force she could muster not to break her rule. The two seemed to gaze at each other longingly, but at this distance, Norma’s eyes couldn’t make out facial detail. When the dancing began, all bets were off. Norma threw her meager code of honor out the window and practically glued the binoculars to her face. She took a moment to focus. The man’s back faced the window blocking any decent view.
“Come on,” Norma urged, “turn around.”
Even from far away, the man filled Norma with a sense of unease. Whether something was truly wrong, or it was a side-effect of the scandal, remained unclear. His hair hung limp and dull, almost greasy. He pulled Angelica close; her face rested on his shoulder. She looked undeniably over-the-moon. A burst of superficial anger shot through Norma. Not two hours ago, Angelica seemed out of her mind with grief. What could have possibly changed her demeanor so quickly? The couple swayed in a circle, finally feeding Norma’s craving. With a sharp gasp, nearly choking on air, Norma flung her binoculars away and sprang from her chair.
“That’s not possible!” She paced her room, “What do I do? Do I call the police? Her parents...a priest?”
She paced a moment longer, gathering her thoughts. Coming to her senses, she reasoned she had made the image up. She’d only caught a brief glimpse of the man. She needed a second, more concrete look. Picking up the binoculars again, she steadied herself and took a second glimpse. After years of spying and hoping for something exciting, fate finally granted her wish and a little too well. The thing holding Angelica nearly broke her mind. This was too unbelievable. The man indeed resembled Luke; however, stringy, straw replaced his golden hair. His skin, once smooth and creamy, now held a slimy, green tint and clung to every bone. His lips were thin and dry, and his eyes clouded over.
Unable to look away, Norma attempted to wrap her mind around what was happening. Frozen in place, she stared at the scene in horror. Luke danced the couple closer to the window. His head filled most of Norma’s vision as he turned to face her. The dead man unmistakably looked Norma in the eyes and smiled.