A.N. If you're into listening to music while you read, I'd recommend Ludovico Einaudi's 'Dietro Casa'. I listened to it on repeat the entire time I was writing and is pretty much the reason for this story's existence. Enjoy! xx
I remember the beautiful days when the world was bright. Springs filled with the familiar birdsong that hailed the return of warmth and green growth on the trees, sprinkled with blushing pink blossom. The ice relented and freed the pond that it had held captive during the months of cold winds and short nights; chicks once more filled the nests in the trees: their incessant tweeting as the sun rose was our alarm clock. Pattering rain replaced biting winds, like a drum tapping out the rhythm of the world on our tiled roof.
Blossom and showers faded to glorious summer nights, where we would sit with our instruments – he on his fiddle and I on my pipe – and fill the air with music – beautiful music, that danced into your ears and engraved it's melody on your brain. It would take all day to rid your mind of that sweet song, and by the time it had departed it was time to replace it with another. Long strolls along the beach were brightened with magnificent stories of myth and magic, and whoever wove the greatest tale from the strands of their imagination would be rewarded with the last strawberry at dinner.
Slowly the long nights and green leaves gave way to the golden shades of autumn, deep reds and tawny browns carpeting the ground. That gnarled old apple tree in the garden would let her fruits drop like precious stones, emeralds and rubies waiting to be found in the grass. In the evening we would walk in the woods and hunt for the treasures that always littered the ground, tucked away in their spiky shells. Not a night went by when we did not find scores of these jewels in their green cases to take home and compare.
And then came the winter, concealing the beauty of the world with layers of white snowflakes. They would land on us, catching on our eyelashes so that we had to blink our eyes to see anything but white. When they landed on my lips he would smile and take them with his own, the cold forgotten as we pressed together. I can remember his mouth, lips slightly chapped, warm enough to melt the flakes to water which would become lost in our mouths as they joined. He was the king and I was the queen in that mysterious land of silver and white, back when the days were joyful and we carried life like it was weightless.
Those days are gone now.
They departed the day he did. I gave him my life, my world, but it was not enough. For three beautiful years we were wonderful together; for three beautiful years our lives were lived locked together like two pieces from separate puzzles that fitted together to make a breathtaking new image. But then the pieces slipped away and became deformed, no longer fitting together as they once did. Other pieces advanced on them, pieces that were twisted and dark. They surrounded his piece, locking him in a world of misery. He tried to fight it – god knows he tried! And I tried to help him, tried to help him with everything I had.
But he couldn't see. His vision was black: the world he saw was not the one I knew. The woods were not havens of peace and serenity - they were forbidding and dangerous, the homes of wild beasts that would gut you from throat to hip. The garden pond was the stagnant pool where slimy creatures would gather to copulate and leave their offspring to fend for themselves against the predators that loomed above them. And the cliffs – the cliffs were his escape.
I found his note on the kitchen table when I got home from my evening walk – he never accompanied me anymore. He couldn't face the world; it was too bleak. There were one hundred and fifty nine words – I can recite them perfectly, even now – in that note, written in his neat italic hand and ending simply "I'm sorry."
I despise those words.
"Sorry" helps nothing; "sorry" is just another word that means you know you'll hurt someone but you're going to anyway. But I forgive him. I'll always forgive him. How could I ever hold a grudge against the one person I loved above all others?
I remember running, running as fast as my legs could move out of our home, down towards the cliff edge. I didn't know where exactly he'd gone, where I would find him, what I would see. I didn't care, not one bit. I just knew that I had to get there, had to stop him, had to save him from plummeting to those rocks so many miles down.
I was too late.
I ran along the cliffs for hours, long after the sun had set and the owls and bats had come out. I screamed his name, screamed it so loud that I was sure it carried over the sea, across the channel and far enough that the French could hear me - that the Parisians in their cafes would look up in surprise at that heartbroken wail of anguish. It was only after I had searched every inch of land I could think of that I stopped. My throat was hoarse and my eyes stung with tears. My entire face was soaked with salty water, both from the sea spray and from my own grief.
I did not go home that night. I sat there, in the darkness. Gulping and crying and hurting: hurting more than you can possibly imagine. I had tried to help him and I had failed. Failed him and now he was gone, forever. No matter how warm the day, the wind at night is always cold yet I didn't feel it. I could feel nothing but the blinding ache in chest, the ache that threatened to consume me at any moment. I was afraid to stop crying, scared that if I let myself stop and think properly the horrible truth of it would paralyse me.
I did not sleep that night. I didn't want to. Finally I understood what he meant when he said he had become too scared to sleep. Your body and mind long for rest, but you are too afraid of what your dreams will hold. You just sit there, pinching yourself to stop yourself from dropping off into oblivion.
It was morning before I went home. I had come so far in the night – the walk took me over two hours. It seemed strange that I felt so numb after feeling so much mere hours ago. I wondered if it was possible to use up all the emotion you had left so that you were left an empty husk.
The day seemed so normal. I did everything I usually did, and it wasn't until the evening that the grief hit me. I curled into myself, huddling on the bed where we had slept side by side, and cried. I cried until my face was red, until the sheets were soaked. I cried until I had no tears left, and then I slept, clutching his pillow for comfort.
For weeks I continued that way, until one day, on a whim, I packed my belongings and moved to the city. I did not stay long – only a month – before I moved back to my remote little cottage. Our remote little cottage. Somehow I felt closer to him there.
Decades have passed. I live there still, through all of those seasons. I never told anyone what became of the man I had loved. After all, who could I tell? Nothing would change the fact that he was gone. And life does not hurt as much as it did then. Still I long for those beautiful days to return, so that I can finally be free of this sorrow, but the hours pass more easily now, and crying at night is a rarity for me. Rarely a day goes by where I do not think of him, of what might have been. Sometimes I wish I had never met him and spared myself the heartache. But somehow the good times we had together outweigh the sadness I have experienced. Those times when we would sit beneath the apple tree and make beautiful music together, and when the song finished he would give me his one dimpled smile, head slightly tilted in the way I knew so well. Those were the best days of my life.
The beautiful days.