The room had started to go cold as gusts of chattering wind nudged the curtains into temporary peaks. Somewhere, a door rattled in the cross-breeze. Day noises had begun to edge over the horizon with the first rays of light but the buzzing in his ears kept them from registering as anything other than a whisper. He moved his head a little and his own heartbeat bounded, unwanted, into his peace. He opened his eyes.
In the half-light, he could see the dressing table strewn with her possessions: brushes, lipstick, curling tongs with the cord trailing onto the floor, tissues in imperfect spheres: grey roses in the gloom. And perfume. So much perfume: tall bottles, tiny bottles, elaborate sculptures with pretentious names and cloying scents. Everywhere! Not just on the dressing table, but also … he pictured them … on all the bathroom shelves, on the ledge of the bath itself. Glass bottles perched precariously on a thin strip, ready to plunge and shatter. In the way. All the time!
He remembered the first bottle he had given her. A third or fourth date gift; he couldn’t remember everything, but he remembered how much she had loved it.
“How did you know?” she had asked.
“How did I know?” he wondered.
Click-click. A light flashing on the ceiling. Once. Twice. An early riser, on his way to work, unlocking his car. Oblivious! He closed his eyes again, against the weight of the growing dawn. He knew it would crush him! The sheet throbbed; he couldn’t understand how, but he felt it. He felt it as though it were happening to somebody else, or really far away, like everything! All that exists at one end of a pipe with him at the other. Listening, feeling, but only from a distance. He couldn’t even remember being at the safe end of the pipe anymore and he no longer wanted to be there.
His head hurt. He couldn’t understand why it would hurt when he had taken so many pills. In a way, he wanted to lean over the edge of the bed and count the packets, even though he knew there would be five. Five empty packets and three empty bottles. The thought of the bottles made his dry tongue tap on the roof of his mouth. Somehow, wanting to move was no longer enough motivation for his muscles and he knew he would never see those packets or bottles again. He would never see his favourite book or his car. He would never see his sister or the people he used to work with. He would never see the pale green walls of the kitchen, the sink scrubbed clean, gleaming; an island of perfection in a sea of degradation. The big, family-sized kitchen table his grandfather had made, undulating after two lifetimes of warmth and love and another of tension and despair. Strong, rough under the fingers but smooth and shiny in patches, marked by constant use. With his eyes closed and ignoring the buzzing and beating in his head that fought to distract him, he could imagine himself downstairs, sitting at the table with a strong tea and an unwanted view of the garden.
He’d grown up with wonderful gardens. His own garden was in painful contrast to the ones he remembered from his childhood. His garden was a tangle of yellow grasses and broken fence posts. He’d only lived in two houses before this one and they’d both had lush, lovingly tended gardens full of glowing colours, gentle scents that he had always been able to bring to mind, before … well, just before! He missed those innocent fragrances. And in those other, better gardens, a multitude of insects. Some beautiful, some dangerous. Insects that bit and stung. Insects that buzzed. The thought of the buzzing brought him back into the now, where the buzzing seemed louder, or was it just that his heartbeat had grown quieter? Maybe both. It seemed as though the sounds were all that was left of his life; although he felt them now, rather than hearing them. From the other end of the pipe.
The cold poked at him, half-heartedly, and he wanted to say something. Hold me! Warm me! Forgive me! He tried to stop the words forming in his head. He didn’t want to hear that voice again but his imagination forced it into his semi-conscious ears. No fingers could stop that sound: the sounds on the inside get louder if you block out the outside. “Leave me alone!” Was that real, or a memory? Memories are real too. Some of them are more real than others. Some have lives of their own.
He knew it was nearly time to die. Part of him had been dead for so long he could smell it on his words and see it reflected in the eyes of everyone who saw him. They knew. And he knew they knew. He summoned every morsel of strength left in his body to roll onto his back. The ceiling pulsated and the buzzing became all that existed for a moment. Or an eternity He could see her now though, lying there where he had put her, at his side. On their bed. Her beautiful hair brushed and curled. Her lips, meticulously tinted. Her favourite dress arranged carefully to hide the marks. But all the perfume was gone now. Every drop, from every bottle, from every room in the house. All the perfume in the world wouldn’t stop people from finding her soon. But when they did …they would find him too.