He lay on the bed still as a stone, staring at the spinning ceiling fan.
She had been dead for almost a month now and Robert had yet to think one coherent thought about anything other than his lovely Alice. His lovely, dead Alice.
A tear wound its way down his cheek, tracing the channel others before it had followed and he blinked. Life would never be the same without her, he thought sadly. Hell, his life may as well be counted as over. Half of him was now gone forever. No one could live with only half a soul. It was impossible.
Somewhere inside his head a small voice was yelling.
"Get up, you stupid fuck!" it screamed. "You have a life to live. She may be dead, but life goes on. Live with it."
"But if I don't want to live with it?" Robert asked of it.
The voice was silent.
Somehow, he dragged himself up off the bed, and into the bathroom where he got into the shower for the tenth time that day, trying desperately to wash the grime of a sad world off.
Skin raw but clean, Robert stepped back into his room, wisps of steam trailing from his body, and looked at it. It was his now. No longer something shared, but something owned. Suddenly he was standing in front of their dresser, staring at the dull, empty face in the mirror- dark-rimmed eyes, messy hair prematurely graying, pale skin. He used to look so much happier. He could remember that. But that was a different time.
A ray of light struck his eye, reflected from something on the top of the dresser- a locket of hers. He smiled. It had been a gift on some anniversary. He opened the locket lovingly. Within was a picture of himself, the same himself that he could vaguely remember.
In a sudden movement, he had ripped the small face from the locket and angrily cut another face from another photo. Her face. Her face was now in his locket. He sat on the bed and stared at it. It was not right, he knew. Nothing could replace her, not even in picture. A picture of her within the locket would do nothing. He needed something more. Something more concrete to hold onto- he could feel at the back of his mind the pulling of some force, pulling him to the ground and stopping him from living as he wanted. What was this feeling?
"What will you do now?" asked a voice from the air.
"I don't know," he said truthfully.
"Go look for her."
Robert looked up at the voice. "I wouldn't know where to start."
"Start at the beginning. And if that doesn't work, try the end. Anything is better than not starting at all."
Robert nodded. That was true. Alice would be sad if she knew he had wasted his last years of life.
He found himself standing at the final resting place of his wife. A small and sad stone in a corner of the cemetery of their preferred church. She deserved better, he thought. Something that justified her glory and beauty in life. But life had not been so kind on their happy couple. The best he could manage was under a small sprawling tree. It was peaceful there, at least.
He held out his hand to the grave, the locket dangling from it, turning slightly in the cool autumn breeze.
"I found your locket," he said softly. "You didn't want it when you left, so now it's mine, I guess. Just like everything else of yours. I put your picture in it, you know. I hope you don't mind." He paused and took a deep breath. "It's not the same, though. Nothing is the same without you. The house is empty. I'm lonely at night. I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go from here."
He glanced at the tiny unmarked stone beside his wife's, already beginning to wear down from the elements. Touches of frost showed on its edges. Not even named- not even a proper person.
He sat at the bar hunched over his drink as if it might get up and walk away. His hands held it closely, soaking up the chill of the glass. It was his.
"Come on, Robert," said some voice beside him. "You need to wake up and get back into the world of the living. You need to get back to work."
Robert's dark eyes slowly curved to meet those of his friend.
"Leave me alone, Geoff." He turned back to his drink. "I just want to be alone."
"I can't leave you, Rob," said Geoff. "You've fallen apart. Do you really think Alice would want you to be wasting away like this? Because of her?"
Robert held up his hand. "Please. Don't talk about her."
"She's why you're acting like this, right? You're still shaken up by her death. Look, no one will fault you for grieving, but you can't go around as if you've lost your will to live."
"I want her back, Geoff," Robert sighed. "The house is so empty without her there. All of her things are there. That house is supposed to have two people living in it. It's just wrong to have only me there."
"So get out of the house. Walk around the city. Find something to do- go back to work. That'll take your mind off of her."
Robert was suddenly on his feet holding his friend's throat. "Don't you ever try and make me forget about her! If I do that, she'll die!"
Geoff slowly placed his hands on Robert's shoulders. "Rob. She's already dead."
His fingers loosened and he fell to the ground, heaving. He clutched at the locket now around his neck. "No! Not as long as she's with me. Only with me."
Walking though the city was eerie, he thought. So many people living their lives, not knowing that their happy little lives could end at any moment. That man there, he could have been run over by that car. That woman could have been shot by that man there. Those two cars could have collided. So many options. So many lives.
He kept walking on and on until he arrived at the gates of the cemetery; those huge monolithic sculptures of winged seraphs looking down on all who pass under their gaze. He entered and followed the paths throughout the well-trimmed lawns and odd shaped stones. How strange it is to put bodies in the ground? And then to put a rock on top. Strange.
The path went under a low bridge and he followed it, pausing in the quiet of the shelter. He stood in the middle of the overpass and looked from one side of the bridge to the other, standing at the divide of the two. Both seemed so bright compared to where he stood, in the darkness of a large man-made shadow. How strange. He walked on, searching for his corner and its tree, feet having memorized the way long ago he didn't have to think. Just follow them. They know the way.
"It's gettin' too cold out to be sittin' out like that, son"
Robert again found himself in the cemetery, sitting in a bench along one of the paths, looking at his family in the distance. Standing beside him was an old hobo who had wandered along, on his way to the church for the night. He held something large in his coat.
"I won't be long," said Robert, more to himself than to the man.
"Well, that's good. Wouldn't want you to freeze to death out here. 's bad enough that the dead have to suffer it, without the livin' doing it as well."
"What do you mean?"
The old man shrugged. "Well, here they are, all these dead people, layin' nicely in their coffins, and it suddenly gets cold. I imagine they're freezin' down there. Poor souls."
Robert's eyes widened in fear. "You think they can still feel things?"
Nod. "Sure, why not? Just because they don't talk much, don't mean they don't feel anythin'."
"But- but they're dead!"
The man pointed to himself and then Robert with his grubby finger. "They're still people like you a' me. Why wouldn't they feel things?"
Geoff walked into his friend's home and looked at the decay. It had not been cleaned since Alice died. It was sad to see a house once so happy, now nothing more than an empty collection of someone else's memories.
He went into the bedroom to look for signs of his friend, who seemed to have disappeared after their talk at the bar. He was worried. It was not good to be along in mourning for too long.
He opened the door to the bedroom and stopped short in surprise. Thrown about on the floor and every flat surface were photos. Photos of everything his friends had done during their time together lay everywhere. And all with Alice's face cut out.
Robert woke up to a shout of horror.
He begged his stiff and frozen limbs to move from their sleeping positions but they refused. He tried again and again, until at last they responded slowly.
Gingerly moving one arm out from under Alice, he stood up within the pit. He looked about and could almost see the shrieking woman running away to the church.
Bending over stiffly, he kissed the cold, hard lips of his wife and whispered, "Stay warm." With that, he scrambled out of the grave, nearly falling back in after tripping on the shovel, and looked around, neck yelling in pain at the work. He had nowhere else to go.
"Go home!" yelled one voice.
"Go get a drink!" yelled another.
He fingered the locket around his neck, and thought of the person inside, so very similar to the one in the grave. The living, breathing, laughing person who had occupied so many years of his life.
"So you came back again?" asked the old hobo from the night before, coming out of the church.
"I never left," muttered Robert.
"You look like hell. Could do with a drink, I'll bet. Here, have some of this." He fished around in his coat until he pulled a small flask from his jacket and held it out. Something in Robert seemed to laugh with joy.
"Thanks," Robert said and he took a long drink of the vile liquid. He handed it back.
"My wife died."
The old man nodded. "That's a shame. She was a good wife?"
"The best. I don't understand why she had to die."
"That's kinda the way of things," said the man, himself drinking from the flask. People always die. You have no idea how many funerals I've seen. Every day a new tenant."
They both went quiet as they listened to the wind howling through the trees and graves.
"What should I do?" asked Robert.
"I would move on. No man can keep the dead alive forever. Best to just walk away." He threw his arms wide as he said this.
"And if I can't walk away?"
The man took another drink and thought about this. "Well," he said, "maybe you should just walk away from the world, then."
"How do I do that?"
He laughed. "You're already in a cemetery. This is the best place to start."
Robert looked around at the quiet, well-kept lawns, the fading trees, and the rows and rows of headstones. Outside the walls of the cemetery, he could hear the sounds of a busy city.
"I guess you're right," he said. "This does seem a good place to start. Thanks."
"Hey, no problem, son. Good luck."
With that, Robert walked through the graves and wound his way toward the church, which stood tall over all the small stones and trees. The suddenly ringing bells of it's bell tower sounding throughout the cemetery like musical thunderclaps, telling all who heard that another soul had just died.