Henry muscled the last box up the stairs, damp and aching from the effort. Adrenaline and effort mingled as he walked down the corridor and into his new apartment.
The last time he had moved, it had been an anguished, tearful affair, shoving items into black bags and his eyes stinging with tears from the deep crack in his chest. He fled not moved, but this had been a different experience for him. The first place had been both cradle and coffin for him and had given him a melancholy fondness for it. Work had become his focus, revisiting his physiognomy textbooks and taking on extra shifts at the clinic to improve his skills and save more money.
The last box laid down in the hallway and he looked at the full length mirror. Comfort had put a few pounds on but grief and a gym membership had carved him into something taut and focused.
The apartment had belonged to an elderly lady. She had keeled over in the frozen section of the local supermarket a week ago and Henry had snapped it up. There was a cardboard box in the corner of her things but Henry had enough to be getting on with.
It was dark by the time he had finished. Books and clothes plus his work materials, essential oils, towels and a padded massage table that folded in two. The place resembled home and he congratulated himself on his work.
Dinner was a take away and he sat at the small table, reading and eating whilst he listened to Pearl Jam to ward off the silence.
He had finished in the shower when he heard the knock at the door. He threw a towel around his middle and found his glasses.
A pair of bright, green eyes framed by ash-blonde hair with a flip in the fringe. Her smile showed a dimple in her cheek and Henry moved as much of his body behind the door as he could.
‘Hi’ he said.
‘Oh god I’m sorry, I caught you at a bad time.’ she said.
He shook his head and raised an eyebrow.
‘No, just not expecting any visitors.’
She gestured to her right.
‘I live at 36. There’s supposed to be a box of Beth’s things she said I could have.’ she said.
He cocked his head to one side.
‘Well, let’s start from the top. I’m Henry and you are?’ he said.
‘Vicky.’ she said.
A flush of colour rose in her cheeks and she twirled a lock of hair in her index finger.
‘I should go, it’s your first night, you’ve spent all day moving.’ she said.
Henry chuckled at her effervescence. It sent up a slow spreading ball of warmth in his chest.
‘No, it’s okay. Would you like to come in?’
Vicky bit her bottom lip and nodded.
Henry threw on jeans and a t-shirt and made coffee. He found the box and brought it over to the couch.
He breathed her in, a perfume as floral and green as a spring garden lingered around her. They drank their coffee, Vicky spoke about Mrs Lang with a sadness which made Henry nod in the right places, slow and solemn. They had been friends, Vicky said. Vicky would use the costume jewellery to make art, paste jewels and false gold on canvas was her concept. Henry sat back on the couch and appraised her.
‘I think it’s cool.’ he said.
Her cheeks reddened and she waved him off. He liked her self-effacement, and when she grabbed the box into her arms, he struggled with a drop of sadness caught at the back of his throat.
‘Thanks for answering the door, Henry. I’ll see you soon.’
She stood in the doorway and glanced around.
‘There was a lot of love in this place.’ she said
Henry enjoyed watching her leave. His throat was tight with emotion but he said goodbye with a casual stoicism and inhaled her as she left.
He washed the cups and French press, drying them whilst he recollected the encounter with Vicky. His bed was clean and warm as he laid down, happy in ways which resisted contemplation.
The shift of weight in the bed woke him. It was at the foot of the bed and he could not move to raise himself up.
‘You in ache the see I.’
Her voice was molten silver, a chiming song that made the hairs go up on his arms.
She sat in profile to him. White hair pinned tight to the nape. A willowy build but with the soft fringe of flesh along her jaw and on the underside of her chin.
She acknowledged him with a wave of her translucent hand.
‘You from it keep to here love much too was there.’ she said.
Henry’s lack of fear did not shield him from the sting of his sadness.
‘I wish it was that easy.’ he said.
Her silver eyes glowed as she stared at him.
‘Started already it’s. Happen it let.’
Henry shivered beneath the duvet as Mrs Lang loomed over him. Her smile was full and poignant. The white light exuded from her eyes, her mouth and her pores, washing over him and sending him down into deep sleep.
Vicky answered the door, her hair wound in a rough top knot. A smear of ochre marked her left cheek and she grinned when she saw the bottle of wine in Henry’s hand. Despite his nerves, Henry mustered a genuine grin back at her.
‘I thought we could raise a toast?’ he said.
She frowned, her nose wrinkling with delighted confusion.
‘To Mrs Lang.’ he said.
She opened the door and he walked inside. The silver light made him narrow his eyes, but he bore it well.