The bookshop smelled old and musty, piles of books were stacked haphazardly on the shelves, disregarding any semblance of organisation. She wandered through the shelves, occasionally taking a book from the piles, trying to do it gently so the pile of books wouldn‘t collapse. Each book was placed back carelessly, the titles might have been interesting but the books were not. A few were stained and had strange odours that wafted gently from the pages. She loved second-hand bookshops usually, but there seemed to be absolutely nothing of interest, at least, not that she could see. She lamented the careless way everything was stacked. Normally she enjoyed the challenge that it presented and the deserved satisfaction of finding a good book, but she wasn’t finding anything and it was making her feel worse.
It had been a long, horrible day. One of those days where nothing seems to go right for no real reason other than to piss you off. She put the few books she had been planning to rifle through back, no longer interested. Normally places like this would pull her out of a funk, but it just wasn’t working. It was a great place though and as she left, she made sure to note where the shop was, she could always come back again. She had found it accidentally, deciding on a whim to walk a new route home, hoping that the walk would clear her head.
It was starting to get dark outside and with it came a chill, she wrapped her coat tighter around herself and slipped her hands into her pockets. It was only a short walk home, but seemed longer with the cold wind tugging at her coat. When she finally saw the house she felt a brief surge of happiness, she opened the door and paused momentarily before closing it and stripping out of her coat.
She still wasn’t used to coming home to a dark house and the happiness she had experienced was replaced by a dull ache. Still, it was getting easier. Last year, Alex had been out of work and always had things prepared when she got home. Lights, dinner, heating. Now the house was cold and empty. She went to the kitchen, hungry after the long day and quickly looked through the containers in the fridge before deciding on one. She stored a lot of left-over’s, she wasn’t used to cooking for one. She was getting better, slowly but she had to admit she enjoyed the excess food. It made it easier some days when she just couldn’t deal with cooking.
The house, which had seemed perfect, if a little cramped for the two of them, now seemed cavernous and so incredibly empty. Before they would argue over where to put something or how to arrange the furniture to open up the room, but now she hadn’t changed anything in months. She couldn’t bring herself to do so. It was always days like this she hated, not because they were bad, but because of the feelings and thoughts they brought. She missed Alex and hated him at the same time. It wasn’t his fault, not really. He could have been more careful, but that probably wouldn’t have made a difference. He had been hit by another car veering into his lane, there was little he could have done to prevent it. Still, she always felt a little guilty. He was tired and driving home to meet her, maybe, if he had been more alert he could have-no. It was pointless going down that route again. She had begun to accept that it wasn’t her fault, it was the fault of the drunk driver, not that she could be angry at him either. She was at first, but she realised his punishment was worse than death, paralysed from the neck down. Destroyed his career, his wife left him. She couldn’t bring herself to blame him too, at least Alex died quickly, on impact. They don’t think he even knew what happened. She worried that maybe he had fallen asleep and the accident was his fault, but every witness said it was the other car. It was reassuring, but it took her a long time to lose the guilt. The microwave beeped, bringing her out of her thoughts. She didn’t realise she had put anything in the microwave, let alone set the timer, it was happening more often lately, doing things without realising it. It didn’t really concern her, it happened to everyone eventually and she had been finding refuge in her memories more and more.
She put the food onto a plate and started to eat, chewing slowly, mechanically. The food was pretty bland and tasteless. It wasn’t her fault, not really. She cooked the food as she usually did but everything had been losing its flavour. She cleared everything away and went to the answering machine, she had seen the light flashing when she came in but didn’t want to deal with it. She pressed the button and listened to her mother prattling on about nothing. She’s have to ring her at some stage, she kept putting it off. She deleted the message, then listened the final message on the machine, the one she would never delete. “Hey babe, on my way home now, I’ll see you in a bit. If you want me to stop somewhere to pick something up let me know, love ya” He’d always insisted on ringing the house phone for no other reason than they had a house phone together. There were loads of little things he used to do that at the time had driven her up the wall, but now they were the things she missed the most. The sense of normality they provided. She missed the way people treated her, they were still walking on eggshells, trying to get her to open up, to go out. She just wanted to be alone for a while, to sort out her feelings. She always felt guilty for rejecting invitations, but she couldn’t help it, she just didn’t want to be around people.
She watched TV before going to bed. There was nothing on, there never was. They had watched shows together, shows the she now couldn’t stand to watch. They were so plain, so boring without his little comments every now and then. Though the TV was on, she stopped paying attention after a while, once more going into her memories and thoughts. It was a while before she came back to the world, when she did she was tired and stiff from sitting on the couch for so long. She stood and stretched, groaning slightly as she tried to work the kinks out of her back, turning off the television she went upstairs. Leaving on the lights, not bothering to turn them off. She considered having a shower before bed, but then decided against it. She crawled into bed after stripping off her work clothes and leaving them on the floor, she wouldn’t need them tomorrow, she had the day off.
She slept late the next morning before getting up, she made a big breakfast and ate slowly, relishing each bite, it was delicious. She showered and carefully did her hair, before putting on something nice. He had come to her, last night while she was dreaming, and she knew what she needed to do, everything needed to be finalised and she would be free.
Everything was ready, she wouldn’t lose her resolve, this was it. A car pulled up outside and she went out to greet Angie, giving her a quick hug. Together they picked up the boxes, loading them in the car one after the other until they were gone. “You ready to go Ally?” “Yeah, just give me a second.” She was holding the phone tightly before she dialled. She heard that old familiar message and, taking a deep breath, pressed delete. She put the phone down slowly, feeling almost dazed. Together she and Angie walked out of the house and got into the car. All his clothes were being donated to a good cause, like he would have wanted. He came to her last night and told her to let him go, to live her life, to be free.