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The light danced across the room, casting an eerie glow over everything it touched, and illuminating selective concaves of her face.
It had been a year since she had been there. The place was exactly as she had left it - still cold and dark and lonely and untouched, even by the small warmth that radiated from the angry flames.
She had kept to the same routine she had followed years before; a delicate bunch of lavender flowers in a makeshift vase, a glass of champagne and the annual postcard from a long lost cousin in Italy that she had neither met nor planned on meeting any time in the near future. All were perfectly in place on the table. Where they would most likely stay, for the evening at least.
A clap of thunder drew her back from the world of the flames she had found herself immersed in. Finding it impossible to return to the reverie that had supplied her comfort, she stood, allowing the blanket to fall to the floor in the process.
The window held her attention for a good few minutes as she studied her reflection; distorted by the torrents running down the glass. As she inhaled, her nostrils were met by the overpowering aroma of perfume. The sickening sweetness made her dizzy and she found herself possessed with an incredible urge to run.
The perfume stain had long ago faded into the carpet. But even now, years after the bottle had been knocked over in a moment of haste, the scent was unmistakable and still had the potency to make the bile rise in her throat as it forced her to recall things she would rather forget.
Disturbed by a sound, she turned to find her grey cat, Timmy, slinking alongside the sofa, blue eyes wide and all-knowing. Dismissing the noise that had startled her as one of his mews, she snatched her car keys off the kitchen bench and made her way to the door.
The rush of cool, crisp air was a relief, and she welcomed it, ignoring the sheets of rain that were saturating her hair and clothes as she hastily slid into the driver’s seat of her black sedan.
She was now aware that she would not be able to stay in the house tonight. In fact, she doubted that she would ever be able to spend a night there ever again. The daytime was bearable, but with the night came darkness and desolation and an unstoppable flow of memories. Just knowing that He had been there made it unbearable.
Her only solution was to drive. Drive until something compelled her to stop; whether it be sunrise or exhaustion or the end of the world. There was no rational thought behind it other than the release it gave her. For while, she felt removed from the darkness that had invaded her life.
She was unaware she had reached the hotel until the car had come to a stop. Not bothering to wonder why or how she had arrived there, she sighed and slid out of the car, unconsciously shivering as more icy droplets slid down her skin.
If the desk clerk was perplexed by her rather ragged and weathered appearance and general lack of belongings, he did not voice it. Instead he silently handed her the keys to room number eight and bid her good evening.
It was still raining steadily outside when she reached her room. She headed immediately for the bathroom, throwing the window a fleeting glance before stepping across the threshold and drinking in the sight of the stunning whiteness of the room.
The small suite was clinical and detached. It held a past, but it hid it well. All it took was a ten minute room service and any history was erased. There were no signs left behind that told the tale of the customer that had stayed beforehand. It started with a clean slate, every time.
She paused to observe her reflection, and a hand came up to wipe her mouth before returning to its position, mirroring its twin, on the side of the sink. Her head fell down; eyes in the basin and dark, damp tendrils of hair still wet from the rain cascading down to frame her face.
A single tear slid down her cheek and she, out of habit, wiped it away, discarding it as a sign of weakness.
With a final quivering breath, she slipped quietly out of the room.
* * *
She stayed outside, alone, on the steps, until well after midnight.
As far as motivation went, there was none. Just enough for her to drag herself out into the frosty night air for a cigarette and to pass over a few more notes in exchange for a way to drown the sorrows away. Not that it ever lasted long, of course. The problems only resurfaced in the morning, hand in hand with a migraine to boot.
Life was a fatal disease. Some just had the misfortune of a greater drawn out illness that sucked every bit of their spirit dry before it spat them out to continue on as a body. A shell. An echo of existence.
In the end, it screwed everyone. Certain, naive beings were cursed, or perhaps blessed, with the ignorance to not see it.
Leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces.
* * *
It was still raining the following night.
She had returned to the house briefly during the day, taking only the time to change her clothes and feed Timmy the remainder of the cat food, taking mental note that she would have to buy more.
Now she was back in the car, headlights on and the radio droning out an old Beatles song that she had never really liked but wasn’t really motivated to switch off. The soft hum of the windshield wipers set a tempo to her train of thought.
This time, she did not stop at the hotel, but pulled up outside a field of green surrounded by an iron gate. She did not get out. Her eyes unblinkingly followed the path of a moth as it flitted around beneath the dim glow of the street lamp.
After what seemed like an age but could have been a minute, the key was back in the ignition. The motor came to life and she was back on the road with every intent of returning to the hotel.
Not once did she look back.
* * *
Her routine the next day was much the same. The storm continued, and not even the thick walls of the hotel could block out the sounds.
She broke the short lived tradition of a late night drive and flopped back on the spongy double bed, staring up at the ceiling fan with a blank expression on her face.
It had been stupid for her to believe that the memories were something that could be pushed away. That they were something that could be placed in a box and stored away on a shelf gathering dust until one rainy day when she decided she wanted to remember.
Her hand moved to the pocket of her jacket and withdrew her keychain.
Slowly and methodically, her fingers traced the smooth surface of the platinum bunny that hung, suspended, from the ring that held the keys to her car.
It reminded her of a time that seemed so far away and long ago. She had not been happy for a long while. She had been so consumed by fear, despair and sadness that the sun had not shone in her world for as long as she could recall. But now, something was stirring inside of her, and she knew what she had to do.
* * *
She had never been inside the cemetery. Not even for the funeral, though she had been the one that pressed for it. The only glimpses she had of it had been from the roadside, through the fogged up windows of her car.
It had taken several attempts before she had gotten anywhere near the iron gates. Her heart and her head were in conflict with one another, and in the confusion, her legs had refused to move.
Yet here she was, walking amongst the headstones, the rain soaking the lush greenness of the grass with every step she took. When she stopped, it was in front of a fairly bare grave. The headstone was small and relatively new; only one year old in comparison to the other graves, the majority of which were decades in age.
Her initial reaction, after the primary sense of despair, had been anger. She had been livid, furious that she had been left behind. Forgotten. Alone. It had gone from there to flare into hate. Hate that was aimed at herself as much as it was at the person lying below her, beneath six feet of earth. With time it had slowly turned to fear, and on to become helplessness, then the numbness that she felt now.
It was becoming increasingly apparent to her that the emotions had not been deleted but merely suppressed. Her fingers tightened around the bunch of lavender flowers in her hand as those feelings struggled to come to the surface.
Maintaining composure for a moment longer, she dropped to her knees and let her eyes fall shut. Rain drops slithered over her closed lids and fell down her face as the tip of the index finger of her right hand traced the inscription on the white marble.
J A R O D
At that moment, she opened her eyes and allowed her facade to fall away. The sudden exposure unsettled her and left her feeling vulnerable and frightened. Her whole life, every moment of it, she had held control, and now it seemed it was trickling away with the rain, each firm rock on which she had once stood being washed away like pebbles in a stream.
L O V I N G S O N
The droplets were rolling steadily off her face to the point where she didn’t know whether it was the rain or her tears. She didn’t care. As scary as it was, this was the release she had been looking for. The closure, the acceptance.
D E V O T E D F R I E N D
The death had come as so much of a shock to her that she had vehemently refused it. The one constant in her life and been ripped from her, and she had believed so strongly that by pushing it away, rejecting the truth, she was protecting herself.
H E R O T O A L L
It hadn’t worked. She understood it perfectly now. Like a ghost trapped in limbo, this was her unfinished business.
S O U L M A T E , she added silently.
Finally feeling peace, she let go of the final thread of torment that she had been harbouring for the past year. She lowered the bouquet to the ground, and for the first time, she was not holding back the tears.
Sometime during the night, the rain stopped, the stars came out and finally, she was free.