Only in Death

Her dark hair was pulled back into a sloppy ponytail, and sweat sprinted down her pale back beneath the black sports bra only to be caught in the waistband of her OD green shorts. Her slim body was contorted over a motherboard. She stood up for a moment and wiped the sweat from her face with the back of her hand, sighing. She massaged her neck carefully as she examined the computer entrails before her.

She was beautiful. Tough girl façade and all, the femininity still oozed from her pores. Her very sweat smelled of a bed damp from lovemaking. The smell of her was sweet and tangy; her smell alone would have made my mouth water, if I had a mouth.

And that was the heart of the matter! To be standing close to such perfection, at least in my eyes, and still be unable to truly touch her, was like dying all over again. This is not to say I hadn’t tried, but when I had tried to reach out, to caress her flesh from around the veil, it did nothing more than send a shiver through her body, and those lovely dark cerulean eyes would dart around the room, wide with paranoid fear. I didn’t want to frighten her, no, I wanted those shivers to mean something else, I wanted those eyes to widen and darken for other reasons entirely.

I don’t want to make it sound as if it were only lust. Certainly there was a kind of pure lust that went with it, but you must understand, I saw her as no one else could. No one else saw her as she sobbed at movies that were even remotely sad, no one else could have my vantage point as she clutched a pillow to her in her sleep. No one could see as she would tilt her head backwards with her lips partially open and her gorgeous eyes shut as she listened to particularly stirring passages of music. There was no one to see her as she danced when she was depressed, except for me.

I didn’t originally feel this way. When she had first invaded my space with her computers and boxes and clothing thrown haphazardly into my closets, there was only anger. The clothes that had once lined those closets had been orderly, the suits carefully rotated so I would know when I had worn them last. Those clothes had probably been sold. There had been a desk, but not one that I would have allowed a computer to sit on, merely a simple typewriter. I was appalled at the creature that invaded what had been my home for years.

When she lit candles on the first night, they bent from the heat of my anger until one was nearly burning upside down.

She didn’t bat an eyelash. She carefully pinched them out and put them on top of the television, and then turned to the empty room, eyeing every corner suspiciously. Her eyes fell directly on me and stayed there for several long minutes. I backed into a corner instinctively, towards the shadows, and wondered if perhaps she had seen me.

And then her full lower lip trembled, just slightly. She bit down on it, and I could see in her eyes a relentless anger at herself. It was in this weakness, this flaw to her strength, that I could see the depth her strength. How quickly I fell! The fires of my anger were reborn into a fire of a different sort.

The days wore on and I was the invisible fly on the wall privy to the fights with her father and the occasional lover. When she would bring them here, to our domain, I would swear never to think of her again, to allow her to revel in her youth and to banish myself forever from the place. Yet, I couldn’t leave. My thoughts were never far from her. How could they be? How could my thoughts stray from this creature that so fascinated me with her every move?

When she was at work, I was broken. I felt as if my only ties to my home and hers, were severed. The only thing I can equate it to, embarrassingly enough, was teenaged puppy love, which was so distant for me I could not believe I felt anything similar. Yet, there it was, and it was so much more complex and binding than that. I was ashamed of it, but it was a purpose. When she wasn’t there, I tried to conjure her; I brought her image before me as comfort.

She was everything I could have asked for in a wife, and nothing like what I had ended up with. She was creative and intelligent, with a quick and biting wit. She could glide with grace and trip over her own feet in a way that perhaps only I can think of as being charming. She was tasteful and yet tactless. So many contradictions, so many imperfections, and so much beauty because of all of these things.

Her strength, to me, was perhaps her most notable feature. It was after a fight with her father that I first tried to touch her, to lend her some kind of comfort across the distance that separated us. She hadn’t cried when talking to him yet I saw the tears wanting to flow from those eyes, I heard the slight tremble in her voice. Her entire body seemed to sink even though she stood almost steadily on those shapely legs. It was all these almosts I wanted to pull to me and hold onto. She hung up the phone carefully, her fingers lingered on it for a moment and she turned on her heels too quickly, her short legs tangled around themselves and she laughed slightly at herself before sinking to the floor for a few minutes, putting her hand to the top of her bowing head and grabbing onto her pony-tailed hair. The stubborn strands of it that I adored, those that would not be controlled by anything or anyone, fell between her fingers as she stared at me.

How I wish she had been staring at me! No, she was staring somewhere beyond me, those beautiful deep eyes glazed over and became glassy with salt water before she closed them and her face twisted into disgust at herself. She stood up suddenly, her body projected energy upwards so rapidly I was afraid she was going to fall again and I jerked forward to help her, only to hold myself back as I saw she was steadily walking towards the stereo.

Music filled the air in moments. A whisper of a smile caressed her lips for only moment, too short for my taste. The smile never touched her eyes. She sunk to the floor once again; only this time she laid back, her limbs relaxing into the hardwood. The music, some of Chopin’s Nocturnes, pushed softly at the silence surrounding us.

She cried. Lying there, on the floor, she cried to the point of sobbing. If I had a beating heart, it would have stopped and shattered. I died a second death and had to reach for her, I was compelled to touch her and at least try to comfort her, and myself. Every part of me that was left screamed to give her the warmth she so deserved. So reach I did.

To touch without a corporeal body is a strange thing. It is not unpleasant; it is simply more complex than when one is hindered by skin. It is a shockwave of pure understanding that rips through you. I had, of course, touched objects as they were marched from my home as my final goodbyes to them, but I had never touched a person, thus I had no idea how a person would react.

The touch itself was so simple. A simple brush of her cheek, a long, lingering brush at the tears that stroked the soft skin of her cheek. If I had been breathing, it would have come out in a shuddering sigh of contentment until I saw her eyes fly open and meet the empty air, the nothingness that was me. Her pupils dilated then constricted as she stared up for long moments, her mouth wide and gasping a breath that would have echoed mine. I jerked away from her and watched as she scrambled to her feet, her eyes shooting around the room, her hand on her cheek where I had been.

That was the cold cruelness of it all. My touch hadn’t given her comfort, it had frightened her. She walked into our bedroom, looking over her shoulder at me, her liquid eyes narrowing to slits. It was my turn to sink into the oblivion of sadness. I realized then that it was only in death that I had found the love of my life.

It was maybe a month before I would try to do anything more, maybe more time had passed. I tried to tell myself that leaving was for her sake, that I had scared her with the ugliness of death’s touch, but I knew it was something deeper. It was for my sake. If there was any sense of sanity in the world I lived in, I was determined that I would grasp onto it. I was determined to mingle with my own kind, perhaps try to once again stay with my wife. It was no comfort, and no use. I still did not have a sense of belonging, that sense of rightness that I had with her. To exist anywhere without even just waiting for her in my self-imposed loneliness was too much for me to bear, and I returned to her.

Restlessness, I noticed, was something I was sharing with her when I returned from my useless mission. I could hear the sheets rustle as she was haunted by dark dreams. In the mornings she drank more coffee and ignored the dark circles that took up residence beneath those striking eyes. She was wasting away underneath the heaviness of insomnia. One night I thought that perhaps she had finally gained the slumber she was seeking, and could not resist the temptation of finally seeing her face relaxed in that complete peace that only sleep can bring. When I went in, she was still awake with those blue eyes fixed on the ceiling. I stood and watched as she forced her breaths to become rhythmic and slow. She tried to push herself into the depths of sleep. This breathing pattern continued on for an eternity; the frustration in her was evident in the curve of her lips and steely determination in her eyes.

“Oh, Rachael!” I cried out.

I didn’t think that I could make a sound. That is, I did not think that without physically touching or moving an object that what I did would slip under the veil.

Her eyes rolled over towards me, and this time they bore straight into me. I stood, transfixed by her gaze. I could hear her breath exhale the syllable “who,” but I saw that sleep was taking her. I watched, fascinated, as she struggled against it and tried to move her arms, her legs, anything, but she couldn’t get a response beyond twitching them, and then her eyes, which were still fixed on me, closed. I was trying to breathe as quietly as I could manage. She knew!

I watched her for the rest of the night. She stirred occasionally, to shift her limbs, but she was peaceful. The room hummed with silence and peace, the sound of her soft breathing was more beautiful than any song I could call to mind. I whispered to her quietly in the darkness, words of love and compassion that I can no longer call to my mind. When the alarm went off, she struggled from beneath the velvet of sleep and into her daily routine. I could tell exhaustion was still an undercurrent to her movements, and the dark circles were still there.

That night she came home and prepared herself a quick dinner. Strangely, she set a table in the computer room, as if she were presenting the meal to someone, and set an extra plate. She lit two candles and placed them in the middle of the table, and then began to eat in silence, watching the chair opposite of her that I so wanted to fill. Her eyes would scan the room in between bites. She sighed and perched her chin on her hand, looking at the chair. The light from the candles caught in her eyes, making them glow in the half-light. “Where are you?” she whispered. She waited and then laughed for a instant and cleared the table, leaving the candles to burn as she worked.

Throughout this, I was too frightened to acknowledge what was happening, and too nervous to even consider doing anything. I watched her with nothing but hope I was afraid to feel filling me. As she washed the dishes, I stared at the candles, and watched as they bent and contorted.

When she was done, she sat down to write. She usually wrote for hours at her computer desk, with me as an eager watcher behind her shoulder. This night, she wrote exquisite words and erased them, replaced them with words of rage, then erased them, on and on in a ceaseless pattern. After struggling for hours, she buried her head in her arms on her desk. The sounds of Chopin mixed with the heady scent of her and I reeled from the combination. I wanted to speak to her again, but knew it would frighten her, I told myself it would scare her more than when I had so foolishly wiped her tears. Instead, I patiently waited.

When she went to bed that night, I was there, watching as she slipped beneath the sheets and wrapped those beautiful limbs around the pillows. I waited until she was firmly in its grasp until I advanced and gently pushed the strands of hair I so loved back from her peaceful face, to prevent them from blocking my view of her. I saw her body freeze, but not tense. It simply waited. I wondered if her mind was calling for answers, if somehow even through two veils she could sense what I had done. Guilt called me back into the shadows, but concern made me stay close.

The next morning she stayed home from work, and began work on her computer. The exhaustion was still there, and guilt tore at every fiber of me for leaving her for all that time, even if it was only to watch and be resigned to a state of torture for myself. I knew she was exhausted when those small hands massaged at the knot of muscles at her neck.

The sweat poured from her body and she stood back for a moment, her balance faltering. Again, I thought of reaching out to catch her, but I knew it would do no good. Thin air could never catch her. I cursed my fate once again as I watched her.

Her breaths were coming in short gasps, and her hand flew from her neck to her head. The strands of hair were beginning to stick to her face, to her neck, with sweat and dust and her eyes started to roll back into her head. I had never seen her like this. She looked so physically weak. I had never seen a woman look so weak and yet so strong all at once. The beauty of it was staggering and I moved back to allow myself to be entranced by her and see purity as I had never seen it before.

It only took moments for me to realize what was happening as those lovely dark eyes rolled backwards again and she dropped to her knees. Her head bounced off the chair and she made a soft cry at the same time I did. Her body lay on the floor, and blood trickled from a fresh wound at her brow. Her eyes had become an angry red around the irises I imagined had met mine so many times. Blood seeped from her nose and out the side of her mouth. Her short, choppy breaths rattled in her lungs.

What had attacked such beauty, what had I missed?

She looked up at me, and I was there, I had to be, I couldn’t control the furious urge that told me to hold her in some way.

“Dying…” she gasped, her fingers fumbled at the cellular phone that was attached to her waist and pressed the emergency button on it. She looked into my eyes. “You…I’ve…looked…” her voice was hopeful, loving, caring, so many things. I tried to think of something to say, but then her lips moved vainly, trying to form words.

“Yes, Rachael,” I choked out, hoping it could not be the last I would see of her. Her arms reached upwards, to wrap around me, through the veil, and then her entire body relaxed. Her body became an empty shell before me within seconds as we truly touched for the first time.

It was then that she met the love of her life.

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