When Mark heard the news that she had died, he’d had an involuntary jolt, simultaneously combined with a rough and cold internal little cheer. There was a noise like “ah!” in his head, only it came out like a cough.
Janine was sitting with him, and looked at him with concern.
“You ok?” She leaned in. Janine didn’t mean to upset Mark with the news his ex-girlfriend from ten years ago had died. Janine hadn’t been at all keen on telling Mark, but someone had to.
Mark had his hand up around his mouth, covering his chin and he glanced at Janine sideways. The corners of his eyes crinkled as he thought about the best way to respond.
“Yeah, I’m ok."
There was no getting away from it, the sensations in his spine and the zinging feeling through his limbs. He wanted to smile. He wanted to punch the air. He wanted to say “yes!” really loudly, as if he’d won some kind of race. He put both his hands to his mouth and leaned forward on his knees. He steadily looked away into the distance, trying to contain the surging lurch that felt like he was about to laugh or sing. He suppressed the desire to suck air into his chest and exhale on a victory note.
Janine took his movements for some kind of emotional pain. Vaguely aware of Janine’s discomfort, Mark wasn’t about to dissuade her.
Mark felt the familiar bubbling, like bicarb soda, that he used to feel when he thought of their life together. It hissed behind his eyes and down the back of his throat. He thought back over phone conversations and heated exchanges. He ran his mind’s eye over the arguments in carparks, the tightly wound dinner parties and her parents’ faces then and now. In his head he heard the sound her shoes made in the hallway.
He liked the scent of his hands under his nose in this cold weather, and he kept them there a little longer. Janine sighed next to him waiting for him to respond. She glanced with a squint towards the soccer players, and he could hear the echoing shouts. He breathed in carefully, stilling the adrenalin.
She had left him. She had left their relationship. That had made him hate her. Hate her openly. She had left after five years of joint bank accounts, of painting the kitchen, of mortgage payments and tax returns. He had focused on her departure, pulling on it like a stitch in a wound. It never ceased making him feel justified. Mark could not see into her head, never could and now, this thought made him start, he never would.
‘I’m not a fucking mind-reader,’ he remembers shouting at her in the days they were together. ‘What the fuck do you want from me?’
Today he just as easily could shout the words at the narrow necked eucalypt trees in this city park that shrouded their heads in their cold blue haze. Even though she was dead nothing had changed. Nothing was different. It was like she was still asking something from him.
She had brought this on herself, he thought to himself. This outcome was a foregone conclusion – anyone could see that. If anyone asked him, he would be telling them that he expected it. This was just what he imagined would happen. ‘See?’ he would say. ‘See? I told you about her.’
Janine was sitting and waiting for him to respond. He breathed heavily again, and Janine touched his arm not knowing what to say. He liked that.
When he thought about her face, her name, her breath, it had always made his lips curl. It made his words come out in whispered, direct barbs. He could not directly look at the fury she managed to release in him, it was at once cold and blue but confusingly it would threaten to burn him up. And now, her death (she was dead!) That made him stop for instant. She was gone. He repeated it over and over in his head, ‘she’s dead, she’s dead’. But it didn’t help. The merest suggestion of her, even in death, made him hate her again.
Mark turned over in his head the times she had hurt him with her actions and exposed him. It was as if she planned these things, every movement she made was to eke out all possible punishments to wreak upon him. No one else had this power to do this, he was sure of it. Being in the same room was too difficult. Meeting by accident was excruciating.
He was convinced she did this to him, and him alone. On purpose. With intent. Even her death. Even that.
She did this to him, and him alone. On purpose. With intent. Even her death. Even that.