Red Sky in the Morning:
I woke at dawn. To this day, I can't understand why. I wasn't one of those 'early to bed, early to rise' people. In fact, I got a kind of buzz when I finally lay down to sleep just as the silver door of morning was opening. I couldn't have gone to bed more than two or three hours before and certainly didn't wake refreshed. There is no explanation for it. I just woke up.
It took a while to gain my bearings; I felt as though I had been yanked out of somewhere familiar and there was the same dizziness you experienced when you stand up too fast. For a brief, panic-filled second, I didn't know where I was. Maybe it was the time of day, because I had certainly never seen my bedroom lit up in such a way. The whitewashed walls blushed, glowed in the most beautiful shade of rose. It was exquisite, it truly was and I was drawn to stare out of the window at the source.
The windows had no glass and were really only square holes in the clapboard walls with blue shutters on either side. It was just an old beach cottage after all. The main window was in the wall at the head of the bed. The idea was that we would wake with the warmth of the morning sun beating down upon us. Curled around the pillows, I sat up and rested my arms upon the ledge. It was still early and the air was relatively cool, so I pulled up the blankets around my shoulders.
Red sky in the morning; the colour was fluid and writhed across the light blue horizon to dance gleefully in flames. The skyline was crimson, a far deeper, intense colour than the diluted shade upon my walls. The sky appeared transparent, like a glass of water and the morning light was blood, snaking through the liquid, fusing with it so slowly and yet so fast; Even during the time I had been watching, the burning tip of the Sun had gained a firm grip on the edge of the ocean and was dragging itself up with each passing second.
Even if you're not a sentimental person, you can't help feeling sort of moved by dawn. Maybe it's because of the relevance it has to all of us. There's no one in this world able to ignore the simple passing of day, dawn and sunset. It governs all our lives and it's a greater power than anyone. Even if you don't believe in God, there is a higher authority up there and it's one we can all see. It will still be there long after all of us.
Just as it had painted my walls, the warm light of the early morning tinted me with a glow. I rose feeling safe and content, blessed with that rare and fleeting sense of perspective that a glimpse of the superiority of nature brings. I was smiling, my mouth seemed beyond my control and I beamed at nothing in particular. I was planning to make breakfast, maybe even attempt pancakes. Tugging the blanket tighter around my shoulders, I tapped on the bathroom door.
"Jude, are you in the tub?" There was no reply, no sound at all in fact. Nothing out of the ordinary, I was used to her little games. "I'm going to make breakfast, do you want some?" I paused expectantly, but there was still no response. Rolling my eyes, I opened the door, because there were no locks- a rule from day one.
A candle flickered in the corner as the draught from the open door tickled it. It was shadowy, the rising sun had not yet reached the bathroom window and only a small chink of cherry red light sliced across the rough floorboard and cut the bathtub diagonally. The dwindling steam from the full tub swirled lazily across the air, giving the room an eerie ambience and I shivered involuntarily.
"Jude, are you okay?" The half-light and haze made it difficult to make out the figure reclining in the tub, so I crept forward, a teasing smile playing on my lips as I assumed she was asleep. "C'mon, sleepyhead, it's time to wake up." I never even touched her, my hand froze when I reached to shake her bare shoulder. My entire body became paralysed as my eyes, singularly unaffected by the big freeze, took in Jude's lowered head, hair falling in curtains onto her otherwise horizontal body and eyes half-open, sleepily and emptily staring at her toes. My blood turned to icy disbelief and expanded in my veins.
Even the movement of the air ceased and everything was still as I gaped in incredulity, grief, shock and at least six or seven other emotions at the woman lying in the bathtub. If it had been up to me, that moment would have lasted longer, perhaps even days. Despite the crushing agony of devastation, there was still a cool safety from the torture that came later. I was conscious of many things, the cool breeze on my cheek, the grain of the wood beneath my feet and the fierce beating of my heart. My brain sought out any kind of distraction from the sight that lay right before me, and in that bitter second of immeasurable sorrow, I found myself so completely aware of my own existence I was ecstatic to be alive.
All too soon, however, the blissful paralysis passed and I leapt forward, falling on my knees beside the bath. I already knew she was dead, I don't remember even checking her pulse because I was utterly convinced. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach, an icy wave of emptiness that was gradually diffusing throughout my body. Instead, I spoke in a whisper, as one would to a sleeping child.
I took her hand from where it lay so peacefully upon the ceramic rim of the tub and stroked the limp fingers. I imagined she would be cold and stiff, subconsciously imposing such cadaverous qualities to remain dispassionate. This wasn't my friend, my lover, my everyone lying before me, this was a shell. And she would still be around, just waiting for me to find her.
Her hand was warm, her long, graceful fingers brushed against mine in such a way that for a blind moment of delusion, I was sure that all was well. It was the second blow, upon realising the reality, that fully met its mark. I let out a cry, too esoteric to be identified as a sob and pressed my lips against that soft, white hand. Muttering disbelief to myself, I knelt up and pulled her towards me the best I could. It was difficult, she was heavy and wet, but I struggled to hold her against me and to shield my eyes with her smooth neck.
Despite my utter conviction that she had already gone, I felt compelled to call an ambulance. I was conducting an argument with myself, still stubbornly clinging to hope in the face of formidable evidence. I rushed back into the bedroom. It was filled with a more natural light now and the silver sunlight cast everything in a shade of normalcy. A false sense. I scanned the room, not even sure what I was searching for, and saw the same books, and pictures and clothes littering the floor. Except, they no longer looked part of the chaos, but placed there by some metaphysical hand. I felt like a strand in some elaborate tapestry of destiny and realised that I had been tossing those books and junk onto the floor when somewhere it had already been decided that Jude would be torn away from me.
As I dialled, a weird shyness came down upon me. What would I say when the operator answered? How would I phrase it exactly? Should I just blurt it all out and then hang up? Would they think I was hysterical? I tried to think back to movies I'd seen. What did they say when they called the emergency services?
The moment I heard a voice on the other end, the shyness evaporated, to be replaced with detachment. It was just like in the movies, and I was playing the part. I heard the conversation and listened to myself apologise to the female operator for bothering her. It wasn't as though this was really an emergency because Jude was going to be fine. I even remember wondering whether you were given a fine for wasting hospital time.
Reassured that the ambulance was on its way, I replaced the receiver and stood still and silent in the hallway, musing over the vividness of the dream and wondering when I was going to wake up. I realised I was naked but for a t-shirt and, after opening the front door in preparation for the paramedics, went to get dressed.
Fully clothed, I rocked on my heels in the divinely ordered bedroom, feeling, for once, at a complete loss. No one ever talked about what you were supposed to do in these sorts of circumstances. I wanted to be with Jude, I wanted to be helping her, but just couldn't bring myself to return and see those glassy eyes staring expressionlessly up at me. I kept telling myself that I would wait, wait until the paramedics had attended to her, until she was awake. At the same time, a disembodied voice was whispering words I already knew, telling me to face reality.
The sound of traffic began to increase in volume outside, reminding me that soon strangers would be traipsing through our house and Jude was still lying naked in the tub. Embarrassment flushed through me, I knew how self-conscious she was about her body and she certainly wouldn't want unfamiliar men ogling her.
Seizing the blanket from the bed, a large patchwork item, I turned and darted back into the bathroom. She lay against the bottom of the hard grey tub and her skin was so pale it was almost transparent, like the water drops that lingered there. I took a towel and diligently, tenderly, wrapped it around her sopping hair. Surely, I wasn't worried about her catching a chill, right? The way her head fell back against my arm caused my stomach to contract in nauseated pain and I impetuously kissed her damp forehead to maintain the delusion.
"There you go," I murmured in a lullaby voice. "Doesn't that feel better?" A half-smile of devotion upon my lips, I reached out blind hands and smoothed her eyes closed. Again, to maintain this macabre dream that I had created for myself just to escape reality. My heart was beating fiercely, ignoring the rational messages my brain was creating in order to trick itself. That's one thing about the heart though, isn't it, it's free from the madness of rational thought.
My legs quivered as I climbed over the ledge, beads of sweats forming on my forehead with the effort of holding her up. I slipped behind her, like I had so many times before in that exact same place, and let her head lay against my shoulder and my legs bent like arm rests on either side of her. Almost immediately, the residual water spread through my flimsy dress and dampness began to seep in towards my bones. My teeth clenched in readiness for the cold, and I hastily pulled the blanket around us both, right up to Jude's chin.
Closing my eyes, I leant my cheek against her cool forehead and delved deep into denial, choosing instead to remember happier times. I understood the reality of my situation far better than most people in my place would have. I'd lost people many times before, so it would have been difficult to remain innocent about the procedure and the aftermath. I just wasn't ready to let go, we had only just had dawn and I couldn't accept the ensuing darkness quite yet.