I had mentioned recently the notion of drafts and how a story forms and is changed through writing drafts so, in that spirit, I offer you the first draft of a new story. This was a story that came to me, as most do, with a fleeting notion of someone not being able to move on after the death of a loved on. The idea came during a movie and was the notion of someone’s ‘dust’ being on you after they die, as their invisible fingerprints are on your heart after people leave your life. The notion of being haunted and having that person’s ‘dust’ on you really stuck with me, as did the other conceit in the story, which you’ll see. This is the first draft so this is what it looks like when a story is fresh from the oven, before I go over it again. It’s not much, and is just a glimpse, but it’s a glimpse into the process. When I edit it I will post that as well. And if you dig this, check out my book This Beautiful Darkness.
I am surrounded by your dust. The air, my clothes, the things both mine and yours are coated with the ashes of my memory for you and the whispers of your thoughts. I awake every morning to find your dust in the corners of my eyes, on the tip of my tongue, and on the palms of my hands. I roll over in bed and find your shape there, an outlined death shroud where your body should be. I rise, wiping your remains from me and wipe you away yet again, brushing you away even though I know you’ll return while I sleep. Knowing that even when I nap you are here, walking through what had once been our dream home, your tears falling as dust that covers even the floor. Waking to breathe you in, to catch your faint scent in the air, as if you have just left the room, and sometimes even catching your shadow as it recedes into darkness once more.
I am trapped in the mausoleum of my memory of you.
And how do you live? How do you go on when the person you love is gone but not completely? When you hear their footsteps as you sleep, and can feel their breath on you as you awake? How do you move on when you hear their voice calling to you in your dreams? How do you move on when you are covered in their dust?
I fought you at first. I fought you and your memory. In alcohol, in pills, in dreams, in mindlessness but in the end you were there, always there, always waiting for me in the darkness. Waiting for me to fulfill my promise of forever. I fought you as I dusted every day, sweeping you up and away, and removing every trace of you. I threw out your makeup. I burned your clothes. I donated everything you had ever had and loved. Piece by piece I pulled you from my life I removed every piece of you, everything save one thing, your wedding dress, which I could never bring myself to destroy, the scent of you on it still strong, and the memory of that day too clear. I find every moment is spent thinking of you, your shadow long on me, as the cold of your death runs deep through me, as if it has replaced my blood. I remember waking within your shadow and seeing you, and how much you hated me, hated that I lived, that I hadn’t joined you, and when I finally broke free how I vomited until there was nothing but dust left in me.
And I fought you until there was nothing left to fight but doubt. And I needed to know. Needed to know if I was as crazy as everyone told me I was or if you were still here, with me, waiting for me to finally give in to you, to the dust, and to just go to sleep forever. Friends. Family. Work. Nothing mattered but you. Nothing mattered but the proof of you.
I bought three cameras, one for the bedroom, one for the living room, and one for the kitchen, the three places you loved most in the house. You never much cared for the attic, saying it was creepy, and always told me that the basement was ‘boys only’. I had never found your dust there, or any sign of you there so I focused on the places I knew you had been. Knew you’d be. I borrowed a tripod for the camera in the bedroom and the other two I just made sure to place on shelves or tables where there was a good view. After the cameras were set up I locked all the doors and windows, took the phone off the hook and turned my cell phone off, made sure there was no sound to wake me, took three sleeping pills, and set the cameras before turning in. I wanted to capture you. To catch you. To find the source of the dust that has been coating me with your memory. If it was you, if it was you then, Christ I dunno what. I dunno what I would do. But if it was not you, if it was something else imitating you to fool me then god help them. God help them.
And I slept.
And I dreamt.
And when I dreamt your hand was in my own and there was warmth and light and eternity. And we were free.
I awoke to your dust, and to the darkness, and to a heartache that doubled me over with grief. It took me an hour to unfold myself and find the bedside lamp, hoping in vain you might return to take me with you, knowing that that moment, that time I would go with you to wherever you took me. Heaven or Hell, it mattered little as long as I was with you. But with the cold light of reality on, there was only me in the bed, naked and alone and covered in sweat, tears, and dust. I rose slowly, reluctantly to check the proof.
I found my ghost, I found it and knew it for what it was – a ghost. Only, the ghost was me. I awoke in the middle of the night, slowly rising and moving through the house from room to room, looking for what I could not imagine. Wandering away from the camera’s eye and returning a few minutes later with bloody hands and with your wedding dress on, it hanging awkwardly, almost grotesquely from my frame. I stalked from room to room, looking for something searching, my head cocked to one side as the blood on my hands darkened from red to brown to black. At one point I stopped in the bedroom and turned to the camera and bent towards it and smiled into it for five minutes before standing up again and wandering out into the living room and then disappearing down the hall. I must have gone into the attic but I cannot be sure. I know I was gone for a while. When I returned it was fifteen minutes before I woke up and the blood was gone, as was the dress, but the distant look was still there, the haunted look, and I moved to the bedroom and stood there in the doorway for a few minutes before moving back to my bed. I was talking to myself but I couldn’t figure out what I was saying so I played and replayed that part. Over and over and over and over until finally, at the loudest volume I caught what I was saying.
I wish I hadn’t.
And the voice that came was not my own but hers, pleading with me. And just as I moved into the bed I caught a shadow moving against the darkness, near the doorway, a shadow that was barely visible in the night vision but which was there and then gone. And then I awoke. It took me a while to recover from the shock of what the tapes showed, to really let it sink into me and even then I wasn’t sure what it was I had seen or heard. I wandered naked through my house looking for clues as to what I had been doing and found nothing on the first floor so I moved down into the basement. In the basement there was one drop of blood in the far corner where the light barely reaches, one drop and no more so I moved to the attic. Even approaching the attic I felt dread filling me. I looked up at the string that pulled the steps down and saw her dust all over the panel that hid the stairs and attic and my heart began racing. I pulled the rope and the groan from the stairs startled a scream from me. The stairs hung half way down and the cold air of the attic slipped down and embraced me as I stood there frozen in place.
What would I find up there?
What was waiting in that darkness?
What lived in me that was holding her here, trapped in the shadow and dust of my own memory. Oh she was here, that much was clear, here, trapped in me, trapped in the cage of my obsession. And how many nights had I done as I did last night – haunting myself as her, as if I was her ghost? I looked down at myself again and again saw no blood. No blood. So where had it come from? And where had it gone? She had drowned in the pool at the gym. A freak accident when she dove in and hit her head. No one noticed her until she was brain dead. What blood there had been was little. So whose blood had been on me? And where did it go?
I heard something move upstairs and looked up in time to see a shadow hovering near the edge of the entrance before it moved back into the darkness. And what was in that darkness, and what did it want? I let the string slip from my hand and it rose back and inch, then another, then another and on until the string was hanging free again and the panel was flush with the ceiling. Above me I heard something moving hurriedly around the entrance before receding towards the back of the house. Something fell with a crash and there was a moan. I was shaking and backed away from the attic. And as I looked up, watching the attic’s panel, waiting for it to open to reveal whatever lay in wait upstairs I realized that the dust, the dust I had been seeing all this time was no dust at all but blood. Blood dried to brown and dried so thick it came off in powder. Release me. And was it her voice, really, or was that another trick being played? Another lie.
What if it was me, begging to be released?
And the cold gripped me then, and I looked around this house that was no home. I looked at this place where we had been so happy, this place I had made a tomb, where the mail and newspaper were stacked in piles around the front door, where clothes and trash were piled on the floor, and where I had walled myself in with misery as I prayed to my dead wife. I stumbled into the living room and saw her picture, a picture of her before she had met me, of her as a single woman alone in the world and happy with her place in it. Alive and happy. And beside it stood our wedding photo and there we were, both smiling into each other’s mouths as we kissed. She was just as happy, and, maybe, maybe happier, and she was with him. I looked into the mirror and what I saw was a ghost – I had lost weight, my eyes were surrounded by black circles, and I looked as if I hadn’t washed in days. I grabbed up a pair of pants and shirt and put them on absently. I was dead, I was dead and I had died the day she had. I was dead and had brought something home from her funeral and it wasn’t her. It was something that was sucking the life from me moment by moment as it hid behind the memories of my wife. I grabbed my car keys and wallet, slid my flip flops on and turned to look at the house. Everywhere I looked there was dust, my dust, covering everything. Above me something was stalking back and forth, waiting to see what I would do and I knew that if I waited, if I waited much longer that the attic would open, the stairs would fall, and I would find out just what had returned from the cemetery with me. I would fall asleep again and this time might never wake up. I turned and opened the front door of the house, the place she and I had made love so many times, had laughed so often, and had woven our dreams together, this place that was now my own grave, and I left, vowing never to return. And slowly, very slowly, I shook the dust of her death from my life.