She came every night.
He was always miserable. Whiskey bottles littered the floor next to his chair, fallen soldiers in the march for some sort of balance. The only balance he found was teetering in a drunken stupor, slumped forward, with his eyes open but unfocused. In the shade of the night she came, clasping her wispy fingers on his shoulder for an instant. He would always straighten as the shock ran down his back and the fire in his stomach frosted over. Vision clearing, his brain unfuddled for a short while. She came every night and every night it was the same. She would touch him, he would turn, she would flee. “Kate … love . . .” he rasped, voice rough, speech ambiguous. Trying to catch her hand she slipped away as though never been. An attempt at standing was thwarted by the alcohol knocking him back, chaining him to his chair. To his misery. A wave of pain broke over his head and a rusty broken moan escaped his throat. A solitary tear dripped down his scruffy cheek losing itself in his oily beard. Shaky fingers scrambled across the floor for an unopened bottle and then returned him to his wretched subconsciousness.
“Come dance with me.”“No! I feel silly.”“Come dance with me.”
“No. Really, I couldn’t.”
“Come dance with me.”
“But I don’t know how to dance.”
“Silly girl, I’ll show you.”
“I don’t know”
“I promised my friend I would dance with the prettiest girl here tonight. Don’t make me a liar.”
“I wouldn’t want to make you a liar"
“Then come. Come dance with me.”
“Kate…” he muttered, rolling off his chair. His heart pounded in his ears and each pulse felt loud enough to break the room. Bleary morning light streamed through dirty windows cutting through his squinting eyes. Desperately he groped for a bottle to remedy his hangover but a scan of the filthy room returned nothing but a dozen empty whiskey containers and an overfilled ashtray. He stumbled with hanging head toward the kitchen. He put on a cup of coffee and fried a couple eggs. He took his breakfast to the small table and sat in his customary spot. Hers was still set with silverware out and placemat situated as it had been for years. The chair and napkin gathered dust. The coffee cleared enough of the shadows of the night to fully remind him how wretched he felt. What the hell was he doing? This wasn’t what she would want. He was wasting his life, clutching at shades. He knew she would have been disappointed, and that fact hurt him the most. Why could he not move on? Because it was his fault. It was always his fault. She could be eating beside him. She could be cooking something better than blackened eggs and gritty coffee. She could be smiling, laughing, talking about nothing and everything all at the same time. She could be clutching his shoulder as she would pass him by as she always did. He took it for granted, that small show of love. But now that she was gone, he missed it painfully. His stomach soured and he couldn’t eat anymore. The guilt was too much. How could he ever eat? How could he even breathe?“Shh, close your eyes.”
“I’ve got them closed. Where are we going?”
“Shh. We’re almost there.”
“Oh, God, it’s beautiful here. Look at how the sun goes through the trees like that!”
“You like it?”
“I love it here. How did you find it? We must have walked for ages.”
“I’ve been walking a lot at night lately.”
“Why? It’s dangerous.”
“I’ve been thinking. About a lot of things.”“Like what?”
“Life, the future, the past. Us. Lots of things. I don’t know. The world’s so strange lately. I feel drunk when I’m sober. Things seem brighter, louder, better. I can’t explain it.”
“I think I know what you mean. It’s like someone turned the picture from gray to color.”
“Exactly. And I think I finally understand it.”
“What do you mean? What are you doing? Get up from there. What are you doing? Oh. Oh my God.”
“Well, Kate, will you?”
“My God. Yes, yes, yes! I will!”
He forced himself up the stairs. He tore off his clothes and tossed them in an overflowing hamper on the way to the bathroom. He climbed into the shower and closed the glass door behind him. He turned the tap and let the warm water splash down his body washing the week’s filth from his skin. Exhausted from the effort, he slumped against the back wall and slid down to the shower floor. Streams of water from the showerhead shot down at him that ran down his face and onto his chest. Listlessly he sat. It’s too damn cold, he thought after a long moment. A thousand goose bumps over his arms and legs confirmed that, and he reached up and turned the tap to the hottest it would go. Soon spectral wisps of steam, shadows in the rain, rose from the water’s din. Still he shivered. It’s been years since I’ve been warm, he thought. Three years. Water poured down his face, joining with the tears he tried to fight back. Maybe it’s only in comparison, he mused. Maybe I was always this cold before I met her, I just never knew any better. God, I miss her. The shower started to clear his mind. The final lingering effects of the whiskey drained in a shallow whirlpool at his feet, and with its absence, the memories came back. He was blessed enough this time for one of his happiest memories with Kate. It was their honeymoon night. All was quiet and she slept. He was awake half-conscious in the throes of euphoria. She lay with her head on his shoulder. A careless arm lay across his chest and her leg entwined with his. He stroked her hair gently as not to wake her. He brushed one stray auburn lock back into place and continued that motion to caress her bare back with a single finger before resting between her shoulder blades. How wonderful her skin felt on his. So soft, unmarred, smooth. It was the first time he had felt this way. He looked at her and saw a woman so beautiful she could not possibly be earthen. My earthbound angel, he thought. She was perfect. She was so much more than he could have ever desired and she loved him. She actually took comfort in him. She wanted to be with him, near him. She wanted, needed him. And he couldn’t believe it. He saw the trust in her face. She was still so innocent. His only, his everything. God, how he loved her.God, how he missed her.“Hon, come to bed.”
“Not now, Kate, I’m busy.”
Why did he start taking her for granted: something that wonderful, that precious, to be treated as an everyday occurrence? What a fool he was.“Please? We haven’t spent much time together lately.”
“Sorry, not now. I need to get this done.”
He had done worse than killed her. He had lost her. He had driven her to this end. It was his fault. It was all his own damn fault.“You’ve been working on it for months. Leave it for now. Come lay down.”“Not now! Leave me be, woman!”He slid the stopper into the drain and shivered as the steamy frost poured from the showerhead and pooled around him. He calmly noticed how watertight the seal was to his shower door and then forgot about it. He should have seen what he was doing to her. Where once his earthbound angel would stay at home with him every night, she now began to take walks. She wouldn’t tell him where she had been and he didn’t pay much attention. He was busy. So busy.“All right, then.”Alright, then. Why he remembered the last words from her lips, he knew not. Alright, then. He again worked and she again walked. Alright, then. He drove her out to search for some consolation from the universe while he took this beautiful creature for granted. So beautiful, so poetic, so painfully ironic, that the same words that she used to start their relationship would be the same words to end it. The water crept above his knees.“Kate?”He closed his eyes again, and more tears slid down his face. He heard the knock at the door, echoed through time. Each reverberation shook him, broke him. “Kate?” he called. Why would she knock? She had her key, always let herself in. Irritated, he strode over and pulled it open. Instead of his auburn beauty, there stood a policewoman, drenched in rain. And his world fell to hell. The water reached his chin.“Kate?”There had been a truck. The roads were frictionless and the driver misread the corner. And his earthbound angel was free at last.“Kate?”She came every night. He saw her flawless face standing above him, obscured by the steamed shower door. His heart paused and he scrambled to stand up but couldn’t. He was frozen to the shower floor, the mind panicking as body relaxed. He must stand. He must get to her! Why would his body not respond? Kate! He opened his mouth to cry out to her. “Kate . . . love . . .” but the steamy ice water filled his mouth instead. He spluttered, tried to force his head above water. He kept his eyes on his auburn beauty, struggled to unplug the drain. But he could not move.And then she was gone.His heart broke again. Not again. Why? Not again. He felt like exploding, like tearing out his heart and ripping it apart. He could not live this way. He could not live without her. He wasn’t strong enough. He needed her and she was gone. Gone. Forever. He was broken. What more did he have? What more could he do? He couldn’t soldier on anymore. Couldn’t be brave. Couldn’t do this anymore. He gave up. He let the water overtake him. He closed his eyes, felt those wispy fingers clasp his shoulder. She came every night. His earthbound angel. He was free.