Everyone kept asking if I was sure that I wanted to be alone on a night like this. I managed not to scream at the top of my voice that of course I don’t want to be alone, I want Harry. But I can’t have Harry. Harry’s gone. And now it’s official since we just said our goodbyes at his funeral.
As the coffin arrived, I looked back at the sea of black garments and sad, red eyes. I tried not to but I kept looking at the curtain that I knew would soon swallow him up and really mean the end. Music blasted though and that felt good, I could feel it humming in my veins. Sinatra. Harry’s favourite, he’d have loved that, Frank’s crisp, haunting voice sending him off, the final lullaby.
Then the words, true ones, proud ones, happy ones, sad ones, all about my Harry. It was odd really; it felt almost rude to be talking about him when he wasn’t here to chip in with a smattering of spicy details. All I could smell were the flowers. I’ve never seen so many flowers in my life and although the floral tributes were kind and touching, the pungent aroma stuck in my nostrils and distracted me further.
After that was the wake. My daughter, Isla, fussed and bothered me with tasteless sandwiches on a paper plate. She was just trying to look after me but I couldn’t eat more than a bite, my throat felt too dry. So I had a cheeky tipple of Harry’s favourite scotch, a big old tumbler full with clinking ice cubes. It went straight to my head and I had to go and stand outside to wait for the brain fog to clear.
Then the obligatory stiff hugs, taut bodies wanting to appear caring but not wishing to actually touch, a peculiar affectionate gesture that didn’t pay off. I just felt tired and wanted to be free of the company. I wanted to come home and sit still and let it all sink in. and here I am. Except that now it’s silent to the point that I can’t stand it and I’m afraid that I let them burn him into a pile of insignificant ashes that I will sprinkle somewhere some day. I don’t want to remember him like this. I pick up the old biscuit tin of photographs and take the first one out. I smile immediately, despite suddenly feeling so desolate and lonely that I wonder if I could too die of this terrible pain inside me.
It’s a picture of us, me and Harry, so long ago, our faces so young and fresh that I barely recognise us. We’re laughing because he’s trying to take the picture of us from an awkward angle and he’s only just made it into the photo at all. At once I’m back in that field, that picnic, on that glorious summer’s day. I can actually smell the newly cut grass that tickles my legs. I feel the burning heat of the sun on my skin; I have to squint every time that it pokes out from behind the gently swaying trees.
I hear a river nearby, a slow satisfied trickle of water. I hear nature in the sky, birds calling out to one another and bees buzz past my ear. I don’t hear people or traffic because we’ve made sure that we won’t be interrupted, this is our special day. I have been excited all week. Harry feeds me a strawberry. I don’t always particularly care for strawberries but this one is more succulent than any I’ve tasted before, juice trickles down my chin and he laughs at me, kissing it away until his lips find mine and I taste the sharp, dry white wine on his tongue which is a heady mix with the delicious fruit.
I feel the trail of his fingertips dance down my spine and by the time it reaches the bottom, I am a shivering delight. Crawling scarlet blushes sear my cheeks at what I am feeling and thinking. As though he reads my mind, Harry makes us comfortable on the grass and we melt at the very same time, sensibility disappears and it is replaced with a mighty passion that we cannot ignore today. We touch each other intimately. I hear our matching rapid breaths and soft moans of pleasure as we make love for the very first time. He holds me afterwards, for over an hour, I fall asleep for a little while, so safe and happy and relaxed, feeling like a woman, not a girl any more.
I open my eyes and wish Harry was here. I would stand in the doorway with my hand on my hip and ask him if he remembered the picnic. He would smile his slow, mischievous smile that I loved and we’d kiss like we were still teenagers, desperate to be as close as possible, super glued together, body temperatures rising.
I place the photo down on the arm of the chair and reach in for another. It’s us again, the happy couple on our wedding day. Again, I inhale at the shock of the youth looking back at me. Simultaneously, it seems like such a long time ago and just like yesterday. I scan Harry’s face, he hated wearing that suit, some fuss and nonsense about double buttons, but I thought he had never looked so handsome. All day long I had felt like we were starring in our own film, everything was so elegant and idyllic.
Closing my eyes again, I remember putting on the silk white dress and the gasps from my mother, my father in curious tears at giving away his little girl (they didn’t know that I had actually become a woman, of course). I recall how my face hurt from smiling; it actually ached due to the permanent beam spread across it. It was magical.
My senses come alive and place me back there; my lips part to kiss him in front of the crowd of joyful faces. Harry kisses me so sweetly that my head spins with the sensuality of it and for the overwhelming love of him. I float outside, on his big, strong arm and confetti is thrown into the air, it’s snowing pastel coloured paper and it gets stuck in my hair but I don’t care. I can hear Harry’s raucous laughter in my ear, I feel him squeeze my hand tightly.
I see us sitting down for our meal, I smell the Filet Mignon and I realise just how starving hungry I am. The nerves are gone, it’s done, we’re married, and I’m his. The butterflies have left my stomach and now it growls at the sumptuous scent of the food before me. I’m actually drooling and impatient. I look across at him and he has the same eager face and we erupt into an understanding chuckle. We dig in and it’s like I’ve never tasted food before. It’s so tender that I forget my manners entirely and wolf it down.
The reception was the most magnificent fun, the big band, the fizz of the champagne, the sweet smell of the cake with the pink icing. Moonlight Serenade plays, our first dance, starting off slow and serious but ending up crazy, struggling for breath as we take up the whole of the floor, my mother rolling her eyes at our antics, Harry’s mother doing the same.
Finally going to bed together and it’s allowed, no more sneaking around, this is it. Waking up feeling him next to me in the morning and knowing that the rest of my life will be spent with him, I am truly content.
I open my eyes and see that I am tapping my toe to the beat of the reception music in my head. It’s amazing how powerful memories can be, that a smell, a song, a touch can send you right there in your own private time machine. It hurts to feel all this, knowing he isn’t here, that I will never see him again, but I need this. I need this time, I have to remember and feel it, put it all together in a folder in my brain to access again and again and again. I can’t be remembering coffins and ashes. Harry was my everything. I put down the picture and turn the next one over. Instinctively, tears prick at the corners of my eyes. I wipe them away. Just for a moment I don’t want to be sad, I want to be as happy as I was in all of these photographs.
Us again, but now we’re joined by a tiny little special person who tuned our world upside down and made us yet happier, our little baby Isla, just born. Harry has the biggest smile here; he’s so proud and has such intense love in his eyes for his brand new daughter. He has a protective arm around me as I cradle her. In seconds, he has become a dad, and what a kind, selfless dad he turned out to be. I could not have picked a better man; there never was a better man.
My senses jump and try and run away as I remember the excruciating pain that it took to get this tiny, heavenly creature out of my body. So long ago now, but I still wince and cross my legs. It’s so difficult to describe, a low pain, dull but it builds to a point where you really are certain that you can’t take it. I remember a few expletives left my lips at certain points, I apologised to the hospital staff afterwards. They weren’t bothered; I suppose they must hear it all the time?
My mind plays out the moment of her birth and that terrifying second of silence where I held my breath in anxiety. And then it came, the most perfect sound that there ever could me, the shrill yet feeble cry of the newborn. It changed me forever that sound, I knew at once that every time I heard that voice, I would come running. I was scared when they gave her to me, she looked so delicate and helpless, and what if I held her wrong, and would I hurt her? I felt the soft cellular blanket and peeled it back so that I could really see her. I wept at the miniscule finger nails, the softest skin in the world. I kissed the crown of her head and discovered a shock of dark hair, just like Harry. She had my small button nose, but other than that she was all Harry, I could tell straight away. The rush of awe and intoxicating love was like some wonder drug. She changed us, right there and then; we were her mum and her dad.
I’m crying now, properly crying. Tears blur my vision and my nose is leaking, sobs catch in my throat. How can I live without him? I know now, it isn’t a nightmare, and he isn’t waking up. Why didn’t he wake up? My whole body heaves and trembles. I want him back. I want to run to the crematorium and explain that I’ve made a dreadful mistake. They can’t have him, he’s mine. I know it’s too late but I just feel so bloody useless and heartbroken and empty.
I put the photographs back in the gaudy old biscuit tin, out of fear of spoiling them with my falling tears. I sit like this for some time, the pain goes nowhere but after a while the tears gradually become quiet and contained, they dry until it’s more of a whimper. I look at the clock, one of our wedding presents, and realise that it’s not quite as late as I had assumed. I reach for my shoes and put them on. I grab the pad of paper and Harry’s perfectly sharpened pencil and write my list: Strawberries, Filet Mignon, Scotch. I’ll go to the supermarket and make myself a memorial supper, toast my wonderful husband and see if I can keep my special memories going tomorrow. And, perhaps, the day after that.