grief love short fiction women

Baby, It’s You

Photo by Pedro Figueras on

Tomorrow would have been a day of splendid heraldry.

Five years to the day.

We had picked out every detail, lost in the tremendous, anxious excitement of a day celebrating our love.

The start of everything.

That last evening was full of mundane details in which tragedy lent a mythic resonance

I had undercooked the spaghetti.

You complained for forty minutes about your job, then started work on a spreadsheet.

The headache was down to stress; you said. We kissed, your eyes were dull with fatigue but you whispered for me to wake you in an hour and cupped my crotch.

I still feel the squeeze of your fingers against me.

You did not wake up and the world ended. If the devil had come and asked me to trade places, I would have in a heartbeat.

The flat became unbearable. Selling it was like chewing a limb off to escape a trap, and it hurt as much.

I could recite the memories, large and small, but I need to say this without crying.

Let me have my stoicism. Just once.

A smaller apartment. Your family became feral in their grief, but I asserted my primal, mourning authority and was the first to take the share of the treasures your passing made of simple things.

They are in the spare room. Boxed up with the lids unsealed so I can torture myself and mourn in one visit.

Lying there last night, I had left a light on. Which I don’t do, do I?

It used to irritate you how I would turn off the lights when we were not in the room. My way of showing you I had your security in mind. I figured you knew, but it got lost in translation.

The light came from the spare room. I had spent the evening reading the blizzard of post-it notes you left around the place. An oversight, but I got out of bed and check.

I opened the door, expecting to turn off the light, see all I had left of you and go back to bed, wounded and feverish.

Lights strung along the ceiling. Bunches of willow branches dusted with glitter hung on the walls. Throw pillows piled in the corner.

It brought me to my knees and I laid there, fetal and sobbing until my pills kicked in.

In the grey light of morning, it had all gone. Wiping my eyes did not make it any better.

The lights still coiled into a wreath. Pillows mummified into a vacuum-sealed bag. Branches resting in a pool of glitter.

Madness would be a relief. I could discount it as my imagination. The gesture, though, baby, it’s you.

I am seeing the doctor later. I wanted to run it by you first before I say anything.

Are there rules over there? Are you twiddling the dials on a celestial radio, looking for a song you need to hear?

Sitting here talking to a lump of Italian marble with your name carved into it makes as much sense as anything else these days. It all boils down to a binary decision.

Pills or poltergeist?

I will leave the things where they are tonight.

I hope it’s you rather than me.

OK, got to go. I love you.

I will look for you, baby.

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‘Hello, is that repairs?’

A wavering, shy voice. Elderly. The kind who attempts to make conversation with strangers because it’s worth the risk to alleviate the crippling loneliness. They’re awkward or lovely, ghosts in dying skin who apologise for having something break down in their properties, or vicious isolated assholes who never pause to think that their lives are perfect projections of their own self-loathing. Mentally, I flip a coin.

‘Yes, it is, how can I help you?’

You want to get the information, then off the phone. They will have been waiting for ten minutes or more, so you give them the opportunity to be listened to.

‘I can’t get out.’

I look over at the planning table. Harry, one of the carpenters is off sick, there are three evictions scheduled for half an hour’s time and the afternoon is packed with people who have cried wolf about their upvc windows.

‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  Have you lost your keys?’

She pauses and I hear her trembling breath over the line. I keep the smile on my face, so that I sound bright, but truly, these ones are a double edged sword. They’re happy that they can get an appointment, but they give you the wrong information about the problem. You send a plumber when the issue really requires the roofing team and so on.

‘No, I can’t get out. They won’t leave me alone.’

If it is kids, then we have to tell them to call the police. Or their estate manager. The former are about as likely to turn up as the latter but it’s not our problem. I don’t mean to sound cold but it’s really about avoiding attachment. I don’t give my name because the odds are, you’re speaking to someone with nothing better to do than hassle the council about why your neighbour got a new kitchen and they didn’t. If you give your name, they’ll ascribe to you any number of promises.

Never mind that these are the people who either don’t vote or vote in the people who cut housing budgets but we can never discuss politics with any degree of equanimity anymore.

Ah, equanimity, another word we can’t use. Being clever is dangerous with these lot. They either feel insulted or kin, and the consequences are equally shit for both.

‘No, it’s not that. I’ve called the police but they can’t get in either.’

I ask Penny if she’s had any calls from the police about needing to force entry anywhere but she shakes her head.  She has another call come through, it is lunchtime, after all.  

‘OK, well let’s start at the beginning. What’s your address?’

She gives it, and I’m confused. There are certain addresses, which when confirmed, elicit a groan of sympathy. This is one of them. One of the worst ones.

The tenant there, Chelsea Harford, is at least sixty years younger than whoever this woman is.

‘And are you the tenant?’

She sighs and begins to weep. A woman crying makes my skin prickle with discomfort.

‘It’s okay. I’ll send someone out to you as soon as I can.’

Ken picks up the job on his PDA. An odd pang of compulsion has me calling him to give him the details. He chuckles and says it will be fine. Ease the door and then be on his way to the other three jobs to get done before five.

It isn’t until the following morning, that I notice he didn’t get to them. The planners are calling his mobile, his landline and the company PDA as Harry stands there, debating with Ian, about what might have happened.

I go to the disabled toilet and wretch up the three cups of coffee I’ve already sunk that morning. Much like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, but it all comes up, burning and stinking.

Then, I go back to my desk and answer the next call.

‘Hello, is that repairs?’

It’s her again. There’s someone shouting in the background though, and I can barely hear her voice underneath the desperate force of a grown man rallying against his imprisonment.

I feel her voice, though, I truly do.

‘I can’t get out.’

A glance around the room and seeing everyone typing, on the phone or trying to sort out a problem. No one looks up, no one sees the tears on my face and the desperate, savage panic that has me in it’s grip.

All I can do is finish the call, wait for the next one.

Wait for the next one.



Nothing Ends

She calls
in the
early hours
Asking why
you’re being
so distant
Then you look
At the suit hanging
Cuffs still wet
From the grass
Plastic containers
of uneaten
in the fridge
The house still
smells of her
But her voice
Shouldn’t be