Regret

"I'm sorry."

She doesn't so much as blink in response to my apology. Instead she continues to gaze into her untouched mug oh coffee, a meagre offering of support made by our concerned, burdened son. It must be ice cold by now.

"Please," I whisper. "Yell at me. Throw something. Just don't sit there anymore. Please?"

Still, the love of my life acts like I don't exist, like I'm just another spirit from the war raging outside, a lonely, wandering trooper watching her and dreaming of home.

And then I chuckle ruefully as my finger passes through the table, swimming in the brown of the wood. A bitter reminder. "Oh, right. You can't hear me, can you?"

Silence.

"Of course not." I sigh, then. "I'm a ghost."

It's strange how you forget such important things when your emotions take over. Like she's forgotten to turn off the tap, water pouring down to flood the kitchen while our boy sits up in his room, strumming that old guitar he got from his grandfather.

My beautiful wife. Beautiful, miserable wife whom I want to hold and kiss and soothe.

She just thinks I'm dead. That letter she'd got in the mail a few weeks ago said so. She's not religious or superstitious, she doesn't sense my presence. Doesn't believe I'm actually in the same room, trying to reach her.

I got blown up. I'm dead, now. That's it.

And my beautiful wife is still alive, as is our son. But she's so broken and empty, and he hardly ever leaves his room or stops his strumming, always playing some sad song or another. The atmosphere in the household is so morbid. Did I really mean so much to them?

All my faults. All my mistakes. My infidelity that almost tore this little family apart and formed a permanent rift between me and that beautiful woman. I've been trying to make it up to her since then, but never got the chance to truly make amends, because I died. I'm dead.

And my absence lingers. The dead shouldn't be able to see this.

This is what hell feels like.

Now I merely wander about this house. Visit our son. Visit the dog. Will the tap in the kitchen to turn off. Go back to my wife and cry without tears when she lowers her head in her arms and pushes her mug away weakly.

I apologise again, and it really doesn't fix anything. It doesn't make up for what's happened. It does not make amends. If I couldn't help them when I was alive, I surely cannot offer anything to them in my death. I deserved this, I think.

But they didn't. I'm just making it all so, so much worse. The damage is irreparable.

But I can't go.

My wife suddenly pushes her chair back, stands, and makes her way outside.

I follow her, simply floating behind like a balloon on a string, tied to her waist, calling her name.

She leads me to the garden and busies herself with the flowers, our dog clumsily trying to get onto her lap to be stroked by muddy hands.

I can't see colour anymore. It's like death is an old film, black and white, but with a haunting, echoing noise that only mimics the real world's rhythm. Like I'm in a hazy, numb bubble.

She talks to the dog and his tail wags, thudding like a distant drum over the lawn. She kisses his big, blocky head and the mixed breed, the runt of his litter, stretches to lick her face, which makes her smile just a little.

I envy the dog. I want to be the one who sits in her lap and licks her face. I want her to smile at me. I want her to run her fingers through my hair and giggle at my poor attempt at an excited wiggle of my hips. It should be me, her husband, dammit. I should be here right now. Tangible.

And when she stands again, she walks straight through me.

I lower my head, watching the dog trot back to his little house.

My wife slides the door shut behind her.

I follow, passing through the glass, and trail after her as she finally turns off the tap, swearing under her breath.

She looks like she's going to cry again.

"It's okay," I tell my wife. "Don't worry about it."

She grabs a dishtowel and begins to mop the mess, getting on her hands and knees, ruining her favourite dress. The dress I'd bought for her years ago when I'd been cheating and felt bad about it. And now that I'm dead, she wears it. A symbol of my utter inability to be a decent husband.

I try to stop her, try to stop her angrily scrubbing hands, and nothing. Just nothing.

Four dishtowels later and she finally gives up, tossing the wet cloth down and storming out the kitchen.

Worried, I hurry after her.

She goes upstairs and I'm a few paces behind, my hand reached out to touch her back, but never managing to.

I know she's going to our bedroom, and when she reaches it, she slams the door shut in my face, like we were having an argument and she didn't want to see me anymore. I wonder if I should leave her to be alone.

I hear her sob, and that makes up my mind for me.

I poke my head through the door, my body following after me. I make my way over to the bed, where she reclines carelessly with her face hidden in a pillow, and watch her shoulders shudder. "Honey?"

She sinks her fingers into the soft, puffy white, twisting the fabric, whimpering.

I make as if to sit down, merely balancing an inch or so off the bed and floor, and pretend to stroke her back. "I'm sorry."

The only consolation I can offer is that this time, I'll never leave them. In death I will be there, silently guarding them. Even if my presence is useless. I just can't bear to go into the light. I cannot leave this world and venture into whatever else there is out there. I've already left them too often, so now, daddy's here.

I'm here.

And you'll never, ever know.