Empty (February 5, 2010)

The scent of jasmine was heavy in the air. He lifted his head and drank in the intoxicating perfume, remembering she who used to love the flower so much. She had been life and inspiration to him, and now she was gone.

Gone. There was such an awful finality to the word. He shuddered—a chill born of loss not temperature. In this humid air people struggled to breathe but for him the struggle was to merely endure. Her absence caused him misery and he wondered if he would ever feel happy again.

The lushness of the valley stretching out before him failed to make an impression. He slumped back onto his daybed and groaned as he heard the whispered conversation that drifted to his ears. They were talking about him again, like he was not even there; invisible. Staring out over the tropical forests he tried to block them out but the whispers grew louder and he knew they approached. He turned to the side in the vain hope they would leave him alone. No such luck.

“Tom? We need to talk.” She sounded lame and flat. He ignored her. “Tom. Really, this is ridiculous. We know you’re upset, but you need to keep it in perspective.”

Perspective? Were they serious? Had she suffered his loss? Of course not, she had no idea. No idea of the pain he felt with every waking moment. No idea of the bleakness of his soul, untouched by the beauty of his surroundings. He raged inside at their “intervention”. Heartless bastards.

“Tom!” Now she sounded exasperated and he felt a perverse pleasure over her angst. “Please, Tom, will you get off that chair and put this all behind you? We’re sick of this, it’s not healthy!”

What did he care about health, or their feelings? It was their fault she was gone. In disgust she stood up and stalked away, shaking her head at the other person, who stood with a concerned expression pasted onto his face. “Don’t bother,” she snapped bitterly. “We’re nothing to him.”

It was true, he supposed. They meant nothing to him. His flesh and blood—he really should care about them. They were just so shallow, so caught up in their petty lives that he could not relate to them. They were grasping, greedy individuals, and he wanted nothing to do with them.

He heard his son shuffle closer; he obviously thought better of it and spun around to follow his sister. A soft sigh escaped his lips as the footsteps faded. Alone again. Only his memories would keep him company. He looked once more at the green vista that she had loved so much. It gave him no pleasure, because it reminded him of her. Everything reminded him of her; she had loved life so much. “Perhaps it is better this way,” he murmured. A voice in his head cried out at this betrayal. “I’m sorry, my sweet.” His voice was hoarse. “When you needed me most I was not there.”

He would never forgive his family for what they had done.

As twilight shadows fell across the valley, darkening the treescape to a violet smudge, he thought back over the past week. Certainly it had been painful seeing her degenerate. Her sharp wit and insightful conversation had become less frequent, and the periods of psychosis had increased. The beautiful soul he had loved so deeply and so passionately all these years was barely recognisable amidst the rantings of a madwoman. Yet he lived for those moments when her soul peered out at him, fully her once more. He could endure; he must because he loved her.

He thought his children had been trying to help. It was out of character, to be sure, but he decided that adversity must have brought out their nobler sides. They had invited him and their mother to a tropical resort—a getaway they had said. He’d hoped the tranquil surroundings might succour her and quiet the paranoid ravings. It had, she was as joyful as a girl. His heart had bloomed when he saw the transformation. Already his mind was concocting plans involving selling up and moving here.

Then his daughter suggested he go scuba diving. It was something he’d wanted to do for years, but never quite found the time. He was torn: thrilled at the idea but terrified to leave her behind. Eventually he allowed himself to be persuaded.

He shifted uncomfortably as a mosquito hummed past his ear. It was getting quite dark now, and soon the mozzies would be out in full force. A ghostly moon hung to the east, a waning crescent. It held his gaze as he was sucked back into his memories.

It was a glorious experience. He’d seen rare fish, and coral, and even sharks. A turtle had glided close enough for him to touch had he been arrogant enough. He returned to the resort on a high.

Then he saw his wife.

She sat drooling in a corner of the room. Gone was the sparkle in her eye. Even the frenetic energy that preceded a psychotic episode was lacking. She was merely . . . empty. A shell. He stood dumbstruck in the middle of the room, his mind struggling to comprehend what he was seeing.

“Marion?” She did not look at him, and there was no recognition in her eyes. He looked frantically around and spied his children sitting on the sofa, his daughter looking grimly defiant; his son guilty and confused. “What happened?” And then, with an edge of anger. “What have you done to her?”

His daughter straightened her back and stood up. Facing him squarely she said “Mum wouldn’t have wanted to live like that. She wouldn’t have wanted to be a . . . psychopath.”

“She wasn’t a psychopath” he corrected numbly but she ignored him and kept speaking.

“Darren and I decided to check out an experimental procedure that is being offered on trial up here. We met with the specialist and, given the small risk involved, we went ahead with the procedure. We knew it was pointless asking you because emotion always clouds your thinking.” She glanced down at her brother, perhaps for strength, and continued. “Unfortunately Mum was one of the few who react badly to the treatment. They’ve said there is no chance of recovery.”

No chance of recovery. A mindless assortment of bones and organs, held together by skin. Never again would he see his love looking back at him. She was gone. He looked from daughter to son, who winced and averted his eyes, and then swung his gaze back to his wife. “But how?”

Mistaking his question, the woman who was his daughter replied “Electric impulses to the frontal lobe.”

“Electric shock?!” The bellow that exploded from him rattled the windows. Shaking in rage, he advanced on the woman his wife had given life to, with no other thought than to inflict pain similar to what he was feeling. The man who was his son jumped up and restrained him. “Dad!” he hissed. “What’s done is done!” The fear in his daughter’s eyes was gratifying but also deflated his ire. “Get out” he snarled and the two hastily exited the room.

He had sat on the sofa recently vacated and buried his face in his hands. A small sound to his right caught his attention and he glanced in hope at his beloved. It was, however, just a sound. A squeak that meant precisely nothing. His world had been crushed, and he put his head down and cried.

After that he had wandered to the sun lounges and refused to move. He just stared at the rainforest and breathed the scent of jasmine. They had brought Marion out in the hope that it would get him to move, or speak, or something, but he had just sat there looking through them. Much like Marion.

He must have gotten up at some point. He couldn’t remember doing it but he must have. He also couldn’t remember walking into the room. Glancing down at the gun in his hand, he wasn’t even sure where he had taken that from. He just knew what he had to do.

She was sitting on the sofa. Drooling. Years before she had told him, solemn, that she never wanted to be a burden. That she would prefer to die than live completely dependent on anyone. He had failed in protecting her; he could not fail now. Trembling, he lifted the gun and pointed it at her.

She gave an occasional erratic shudder. Staring, always staring without seeing at the same point on the floor. His strength was seeping out of him and he fought to keep the gun steady. “She’s already dead,” he mumbled. He heard footsteps and felt instant panic. His agitation made him shake and he heard a yell as someone glimpsed the gun.  Without a moment’s thought he swung the gun back towards himself and with a fleeting apology for failing her again, he pulled the trigger.

Running footsteps, screams, people pouring into the room. She sat staring at the same point on the floor, an expanding puddle of red. Staring, always staring without seeing. Just an empty shell.

———-

This was the first work of fiction I wrote after being inspired to try my hand at writing. I am not sure where the idea for this came from, perhaps I was exploring the idea of grief?

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