Shadows of Love

Creak… thump… thump… rattle… rattle… … … thump.

It takes only a few seconds each morning but it’s a time I look forward to and dread in equal measure. She’s regular as clockwork, and quite the best reason in the world for me to get up at 3.30 and vacate the bedroom. I can’t be there, I have to be gone, and now I actually look forward to that half-hour’s breathing space before she performs her little routine.

The first time I heard it was only a few days after she passed on. I’d been having a dreadful night’s sleep; somehow, I knew something wasn’t quite right in the house.

I instinctively got up, threw on some clothes, closed the bedroom door behind me and went downstairs.

It was only when I got to the kitchen door that I thought maybe something terrible had roused me from sleep, like a break-in. I’d always thought that the kitchen patio doors were a weak point in the house, an easy entry point for intruders. I opened the door with impulsive bravado but, of course, there was no intruder. Everything in the kitchen was exactly how I’d left it.

The clock told me it was 3.34, so I decided to stay downstairs, make some coffee and read a little.

It was, like today, exactly 4.01 when I heard Alice getting up. I had been sitting facing the patio door when I heard the first little thump, like a footstep, directly above the sink, just beyond the beam that divided the kitchen from the dining area. My instant reaction was one of acceptance, of familiarity, of something entirely ordinary; it was just Alice waking, getting up. In a heartbeat, that familiarity turned to shock, a numbness of my head and a fiery, jagged shudder through my heart. I took a single step out of my chair but no further. I could hear Alice stride across the floor, open her wardrobe, rattle some hangers, and close the wardrobe again. Then, silence.

I must have remained in that half-crouch for some moments, frozen in bewilderment, half expecting further movement. I was staring in the general direction of the kitchen ceiling. When I eventually came out of this frozen state, I made my way back upstairs. I stopped on the landing and peered up the hallway to the bedroom door. There wasn’t a sound, only the early morning darkness, the only light coming behind me from the hallway at the foot of the stairs. Of course, I wanted to return to the kitchen, to the safety of my coffee pot and my aimlessly rational morning thoughts, and wait there until daylight made it easier to venture upstairs. But no, I had to go to the bedroom, now.

Within a few short steps, I has reached the door and pushed it open as far as it would go. I peered into the silent blackness. As I remember it, I was trembling, in case some apparition came floating towards me out of the darkness. I switched on the light.

The wardrobe door was closed, as it always was. The near side of the bed was as I had left it – quilt pulled back from the corner, creased, slept in. The far side was smooth, untouched, never to be occupied again.

I sat on the end of the bed. Alice was so meticulous about her clothes, it wasn’t particularly surprising she should go on choosing an outfit, every day at one minute past four in the morning. She was so disciplined about dressing, and I was never allowed to be present for the ritual. She’d never lay her clothes out over the chair, she’d always keep them hanging in the wardrobe so they’d be perfectly free of creases and dust. She always looked so proud, so smart. She was lovely.

I turned to face her pillow and the grief began to pour out of me.

Of all the reasons for you to have come back, Alice – why did it have to be for your clothes and not for me?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: