He sat there absentmindedly on his couch, watching the second hand circle around the clock that hung on his wall. If it weren’t for the slow rise and fall of his chest, it would’ve been quite easy to have mistaken the poor man as a corpse or a mannequin. His grey hair was disheveled and seemed to never have made contact with a comb and those faded blue eyes that were known for its luster so very long ago, resembled a star on the brink of death that no longer held the beauty of sight. Scattered across the floor were magazines, newspapers and books that lay exposed at a random page. A notepad, several prescription bottles and a pen that had unfortunately run out of ink was left only several millimeters away from falling off the coffee table. Already torn and lashed out upon with red ink, was the Bible and just under it was an eviction notice that was dated back only one week ago.
And despite the apparent mess and unhygienic state he was in, an inexplicable sense of joy arose in his face as he watched the second hand pass the twelve. As the clock read eleven thirty, his thin lips curved upwards to form a slight smile and the wrinkles that were apparently etched beside his eyes, forehead and mouth seemed to disappear. He gave a small sigh before closing his eyes, completely closing himself off to the ticking of the clock and the annoying eviction notice that was left on the floor.
He slowly opened his eyes and blinked several times before turning his head to face the voice.
“Its been a while, hasn’t it?” She smiled and the sound of her question seemed to linger in the air long after she had opened her mouth. He grabbed for the small pale hand that was resting on the armchair and held it tightly against his as he held in the undeniable well of tears that were forming in his eyes. As he breathed in the scent of her perfume and the soft curls of her hair, there was an unmistakable silence within the room once he said, “You’ve come back.” Her hand slipped away from his and for a moment, the frantic look of panic crossed over his face as he scanned the room desperately for the sound of her voice to reenter and for her lightly sprayed perfume to consume his senses. Finally after what seemed a lifetime, he felt her hand gently rest on his arm and the weight of her body press down on the seat beside him. He stared into her face and saw her as the beautiful youth she was. A sparkling diamond clip in her long hair, a set of beads dangling around her soft neck and a red dress that would sway in whichever direction she went greeted his memory as he took in the sight of her. She shook her head slightly, biting her bottom lip as if to keep her face composed in a bittersweet smile. “You’ve come back,” she whispered. She slowly caressed the side of his cheek with her hand and gently placed her head against his shoulder.
“They miss you, Em.” He rested his chin on the top of her head and disregarded the clock’s ticking as they held each other in silence.
“How long has it been, John?”
He looked into her eyes and his lips barely moved to form the words, “Fifty years.”
“You’ve done well without me,” she said amusingly as she looked at the mess that surrounded them; her gaze crossed paths with the broken Bible that was still lying in its crushed state. She bent over and picked it up, dusting off the cover and tenderly smoothing her long fingers over the pages to stop it from creasing.
“You always come back on the same night, at the same time. Why?”
“Because you need me,” she answered.
“And I’ve never stopped.” He listened to the sound of the crackling of the paper as she turned the pages in a trance like state. “I sometimes wonder how I was even able to do all of this without you. God, I wish you were there. She looks just like you, you know and you would’ve loved her little boy. He’s got her dimples and he does this thing where he pretends that anything with glass has super powers and anything that’s plastic is made out of some toxic. He says it’s kind of like Superman’s kryptonite. You should’ve seen him breaking all of Jenny’s silverware last Thanksgiving.” He paused. “And Richard isn’t too bad of a husband. I suppose being her father made me skeptical of him but he loves her and makes her happier than I’ve ever seen her. ” He gave out a small sigh and pursed his lips before continuing. “Forgive me, Em.”
She paused her work for a second, her hand hovering over the next page, before continuing to unfold the next page and the next while smoothing out their creases in a rhythm worse than the consistent ticking of the clock.
“Do you deserve my forgiveness if you cannot even forgive Him?”
“He took you from me.”
She shook her head and turned to face him. “I never left you.”
The clock began to chime as the hour and minute hand both rested on the twelve and before long, he could feel her slide away from him and place the Bible back on the coffee table with a small thud. The sound of her footsteps walking away towards the door caused him to jump to his feet and wildly wave his arms in front of him, as if that would reel her back into his embrace like a fisherman’s net at sea. The fact that he could not find her agitated him even further and as he fumbled through the darkness in search of her, the numerous piles of magazines, newspapers and books discarded across the floor caused him to trip. He laid there for a moment before dragging himself up with his back against the wall.
“Stop, please.” The sound of her feet walking away towards the door and the echoing chime of the clock both seemed to halt at his command. “I don’t care if you’re a ghost or something I made up in my head. Just stay with me.” He looked around the room trying to feel her hand brush against his arm, but nothing came. “Please,” he whispered.
“You know I’m not real, John.” Her voice seemed to be coming from all directions and as she said his name, the door opened and a gush of cold air rushed into the room, twirling the drapes and flipping the pages of all the books that were lying beside the couch.
“Then what are you?”
“A figment of your imagination.”
“Then if I made you, I can make you stay,” he implored desperately.
“You’re the one that’s leaving.”
He scanned the room like a madman with his faded blue eyes in a craze. “God damn it, Em, stop screwing with my head! I never left you and I never will.” He hung his head low and stared emptily at the ground. “He let you die and I can never forgive Him.”
“It’s time for you to leave, John.”
There was a sudden force pulling him up from the floor and before he could comprehend what was happening, he was walking towards the door as if someone was tugging at the front of his shirt. His legs moved involuntarily and although he could see nothing, his body seemed to know where to go without even giving it a second thought. He closed his eyes tightly as the blast of cold air hit his face and as soon as he felt the warmth return in his cheeks did he reopen them.
It was perhaps, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and quite possibly the most shocking thing he had ever laid eyes upon. For the first time in fifty years, he saw color. Not just the random smudges of hue or the veil of black that had once clouded his vision, but the warm glow of the lamp that cascaded down upon the red armchair and the old woman who was sitting in it with a book at hand. The cappuccino walls and the literary works of Poe, Faulkner and Austen that were lined up against the shelf made him stare in wonder at how such simple things made him feel like a newborn setting his eyes at the world for the first time. What bewildered him was the fact that he had reentered his room. It was the same but cleaner than what he had remembered it to be. He took a step forward, aware of the fact that he no longer needed to use his arms to find his place, and quickly realized that the elderly woman did not notice his presence, or rather, could not notice it.
She lifted her head up and stared right through him as if she had noticed a movement that was not there. One glance was all it took for him to look into the wrinkled face and slowly sit down beside her and let the tears fall down his weathered skin.
But she could not hear it being whispered and as her hand closed over the cover of the photo album that was resting in her lap, he read the front words that were inscribed in yellow ink, “In Memoriam, John Harrison Jr. 1942-1992.” She reached over to the coffee table and opened the book that was lying there and begin to murmur underneath her breath. “For God so loved the world…whoever believes in him…not perish but have eternal life.” He sat still while he listened to her voice break. “I’ll never leave you.”
The yellow clock with white polka dots painted around the side began to chime. As if on cue, he turned and grasped the pale hand that was weathered with age and held it tightly against his own. “I know,” he whispered. “I know.”