She has the memories of a life she can feel slipping away, a life which is becoming nothing more than a handful of images and names, people and places, and they are slowly fading. Her dark eyes fill with sorrow as she watches the rain pouring outside. Hands fumble with a small shiny object, silver and about the size and shape of an egg, blue lights that create a dotted line around the circumference flash in a rhythm similar to that of a human heartbeat. She is going back, back to the place where she had lived, her home, to meet the people and places of her memories before they are gone completely. Her only regret is that she will leave behind the only one she has ever truly loved, but this world is not her own, she can’t stay.
The creak of a door, a rustle of fabric and the soft footfalls coming steadily closer tell her that she is alone no more. She slips the device out of sight into her pocket and smiles softly, trying to mask the sorrow she feels. A warm arm wraps around her waist, a solid body presses itself close to her, warmth seeps through their clothes, and she leans back into his embrace.
“You coming to bed soon?” his voice is soft and gentle in her ear making her wish once again that things could be different.
“Yes Michael, soon,” she replies and turns in his arms so that they are facing one another. She stares into his bright blue eyes and lifts a hand to run through his hair, the short strands soft and silky to the touch, light brown with blonde highlights. She will miss this, the time they spend together, and he will undoubtedly miss her as well, but it is the way things are meant to be.
He leans down slightly and kisses her gently, a simple brush of lips, but it sends a spark through her all the same. The desire to pull him closer and finish what she so wants to start is strong, she resists. He squeezes her in his arms briefly, brushing another gentle kiss, this time to her hair, before he turns and makes his way back to the bedroom.
A small sigh escapes her lips; it is now or never. She removes the device from her pocket and holds it in her hands once more, cradles it like a fragile piece of glass. As she thinks about where she needs to go, never wants, the lights begin to flash faster until it becomes a single line of blue lights and the device starts to emit a high-pitched whirr. Time stops, for just a second, and it is in that second that a tear is created in the fabric of the universe and Claire Novak disappears from this reality.
The room she arrives in is just as she remembered it, bleak and all white with only one door, no windows, no decorations, just seamless white and one bright light hanging from the ceiling. She tucks the now silent device back into her pocket and makes her way to the door. Visiting hours are over and it is time for her to go home.
She leaves the building, she would rather not stay longer than she has to, to be honest the building gives her the creeps, it is too dull, too cold, too much of nothing. Outside the White Room is just grey and pale dirty blue, cold metal surfaces and moulding wooden doors that leave flecks of dry paint stuck to the palm of your hand as you push them open.
She has done this so many times before that the screams and cries of the damned hardly even register in her mind anymore, she passes the guards silently and makes her way home.
When she sleeps that night she remembers, remembers before, when her husband, best friend, lover, was still with her here in this world but mostly she remembers being there when he was sentenced, watching everything with tears streaming down her face as he was made ready.
Her dreams are filled with that day when she had entered the prison, the first time she’d been there and the screams had been almost overwhelming, she had tried so hard to block them out. She remembers being led to the infirmary where her husband lay motionless on a crisp white bed, tubes sticking out of his body and eyes open but unseeing.
They had told her on the day of his sentencing, on the day he was found guilty, that she would need to be there as witness. She remembers crying silently, tears streaming down her face and making her shiver in the cold of the room as the surgeon had cut him open, had implanted a device into his chest right next to his heart. They told her it was
to keep track of him in case he ever escaped or went where he was not meant to go. He was awake through the whole thing but he was lifeless.
These memories are the worst, she wakes up in a cold sweat, and tears drying on her cheeks and making her hair stick to her face. Sometimes she forgets that he is not there with her, sometimes she reaches for him in the dark of the night and is left with nothing but empty air and a cold side of the bed that feels wrong.
It is always the same, for the first few weeks after each visit to her husband in the Otherworld she drifts around the house like a ghost, eyes tired and ringed red, bottom lip swollen from where she worries it with her teeth and clothes that seem to hang off of her as she forgets to eat. The memories are always so much more vivid during this time.
Watching the surgeon stitch her husband back up, not caring that the stitches were uneven or messy, he’s just a criminal, he doesn’t matter. She had wanted to rage at him, at the surgeon, yell and scream and demand that he stitch her husband up properly because he was a person too but instead she had just stood there and wept.
She had gone home and had cried for days before she had been called back to the prison to be witness to her husband’s transfer from their world to the Otherworld. He had looked more alive that day than he had in the months prior, he had pleaded and begged, had called out to her, had cried, but it didn’t change anything. She had watched as the prison Warden had strapped her husband onto a cold metal bed and had sent him away forever.
It had taken months to get the court to grant her permission to visit her husband, once every six months they said and she had been so grateful that she had wept in joy. The Warden had given her the device, had explained how it worked and that it would only work on the designated days so that she could not visit her husband any more than what she had been granted.
They told her the risks the first time she went to visit him, her hands shook with nerves and anticipation as they had explained, the tracker in her husband also meant that he remembered everything of his life before. They had to make it clear because she didn’t have one, that she would only have forty-eight hours before her memories would start to fade and the device would beep to let her know that it was time to return.
Those forty-eight hours had been the best and worst forty-eight hours that she had experienced in her life.
She has a calendar on her wall that she uses to count down the days until she can visit her husband again, it has been five years and she has only seen her husband ten times in total and every time she has to leave him there, every time she disappears from his life for another six months, it breaks her heart. He is the only thing she has to look forward to anymore.
Sure, there is work and her friends and family – only her parents left now – but she has been slowly and gradually pulling herself away. She is not the only person to have a spouse or loved one in the Otherworld, there are others but she is still treated like something fragile, like a china doll in a lace gown. She thinks it is probably because of the severity of her husband’s crime, he is the worst of the worst to be sent to the Otherworld. She knows that but she still loves him so it does not matter.
She totters around the house, cold and alone and does everything she is supposed to, she cooks, she cleans, she eats, she wipes the table down, she draws the curtains closed at night, she changes into her nightgown and slips under the cold sheets, she settles in her bed and sleeps because it is what everyone expects. She does it all and yet the only time she feels alive is when she is in the Otherworld, held in her husband’s arms.
Sometimes she remembers the good times, the times before her life was broken like a mirror on the floor, seven years bad luck, and no way to repair it without cutting herself to shreds. She remembers Summers so hot and sticky that they had filled the bath with cold water and ice cubes and had sat in it all day because the air conditioner was broken and the whole street was without power. By the time night had fallen, they were wrinkled and soggy but it had not taken long for them to dry out, lying outside on the warm grass and watching the stars as their hands traced each other’s outlines.
She remembers going to the park, holding hands and watching the children play, they would talk about where they wanted to be in ten years, where they saw their life headed, two point five children and a white picket fence seemed like the perfect life. They had the house, they only needed the children and they were working on it.
Even though these memories are nice ones, happy ones, they still fill her with sorrow, she is never going to do those things again, she is never going to have the perfect life with two point five children and she has been thinking of selling the house too. But she doesn’t want to sell it with a half painted nursery and she can’t bring herself to finish painting it the vibrant sunflower yellow they had started with and she’s not sure she can paint over it with white. It is only one wall but she just cannot do it.
There is a handprint in the yellow paint, smudged slightly but there, when she looks closely she can see the whorls and lines that make up the handprint of her husband. Sometimes she places her hand over it, feels the phantom warmth of his skin and the wet paint. His hand is bigger than hers, fingers longer at least by half and wider too. On a whim one day, trying to bring the memory back because she cannot remember how it happened, she paints the room yellow and leaves her own handprints around the walls like the footprints of animals the Aborigines paint.
She curls up in the corner, back pressed to freshly painted yellow walls and buries her face in her hands as she sobs uncontrollably. She cannot remember.
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