Saturday, August 31, 2013

Unseen Presence

She woke slowly, enjoying the leisure of not needing to wake up to her alarm this one day of the week. With a long stretch, she finally pulled herself out of bed and padded to the kitchen. Turning on the stove to heat the kettle for tea, she suddenly stilled. She thought she had felt the lightest touch brush against the back of her neck. With a sudden jerk, she spun around, pressing her back against the oven. She was alone in her kitchen, but she did not feel alone. With a deep breath, she slowly turned around to make sure that the burner was on, and then made her way to the bathroom. She had just finished washing her face, when the tea kettle started whistling.

She made her way back to the kitchen and prepared her favorite black tea for brewing. Suddenly she felt an arm wrap around her waist, tighten quickly, and then disappear. She stiffened, and stood, breathing, listening. There were no noises, no signs of movement, no evidence that she was not alone in her house. She shakily finished preparing her tea and moved towards her living room. She started, swearing that she saw someone sitting in the plush chair located in the corner of her living room. A second glance showed that the chair was as empty as the rest of her home. She sighed, feeling a bit rattled. Her senses were playing tricks with her.

She curled up on her couch, picking up a book to read, settling her tea on the end table. With a click of a button on the remote for her media player, the strains of melancholy folk music drifted in. She was just becoming engrossed in the action of her suspense novel when she felt the lightest of kisses on the top of her head, followed by a slight stroke of her hair, the strands being played with lightly. She dropped her book and pulled back into her couch, eyes wide. After a moment, she hesitantly picked up her book again, and after a quick look around, resumed reading.

After reading for awhile, her stomach decided that she needed to eat. Going back to the kitchen, she began preparations for scrambled eggs: breakfast for lunch, what could be better? Moving around the kitchen, she felt as if she was dancing around the unseen presence of someone else. As she stood in front of the stove, cooking the eggs, she felt a body press up against hers, making her start.

She could not take much more of this. Her house was haunted by the presence of memories. Memories of a loved one no longer in her home. She collapsed to the hard floor of her kitchen, back pressed against her oven, and started to cry. The playful and gentle touches that had been a daily part of her married life were no longer there. Just as she was starting to become accustomed to living alone again, this haunting presence was stirring up memories, disturbing her hard-won peace. With gasping breaths, she pulled herself together as the smell of burned eggs reached her nose. With a sniffle, she pushed herself back up, turned off the stove, and robotically went about the motions of cleaning the ruined eggs out of the pan.

A whisper filled the air next to her ear. I'm sorry, it said. I love you and do not want to leave you. I miss touching you, being with you, talking to you. I miss you. I'm sorry, I did not think I would hurt you this way, and I do not wish to hurt you anymore. I have already put you through so much. We were parted much too soon.

She wiped her eyes and turned away from the sink, scanning the kitchen. 

"I love you and always will love you. But, you are no longer here, no longer alive... You were stolen from me before our time should have ended. But, love, you are dead. You were killed, violently taken from me. It took me such a long time to come to terms that you were not coming home to me. To accept the reality that a man a world away shot you while you were pulling one of his own kinsman from a collapsed building. That a man could be filled with so much anger, not only for what he considered an invading military force, but also for the kinsman that would be a translator for them, is painfully difficult for me to comprehend. You and your unit were sent to help rebuild and train, but so many of you have been wounded or killed. And you were one of them. My love, I miss you so much."

She felt unseen arms encircle her, pressing her against a form she shouldn't be able to feel. A hand held her head to an invisible shoulder, stroking her hair. Gentle kiss after gentle kiss rained on the crown of her head. Her sobs returned, her body shuddering with their force. The arms of her dead beloved squeezed her tightly, and then slowly stood her so she supported her own weight.

I love you, my beautiful miss. I will always love you. Rebuild you life. Live, love, be happy. I am sorry I cannot be with you to raise a family and grow old, to help you through the troubles of life. Good-bye, my love.

With a final, gentle kiss on her lips, the ephemeral presence of her husband disappeared. She staggered back to the couch in her living room and dropped onto it, her head in her hands, shoulders shaking. Eventually the memories of his touches, living and dead, would fade. Somehow, life would find a rhythm again. Some sort of rhythm, a beat she obviously still had not found. She thought she was prepared for the potential danger her husband would go into when she married a military man. She hadn't been. She never could have been. No wife really wants to believe and accept that her husband has the very real possibility of not returning from his tour. The hope, the denial is what kept her going. She would miss him and she would treasure her memories of their too short life together. And somehow, someway, she would continue to live, to actually live life. She had to believe that.

"Good-bye, my dearest love."