At first, she cried herself to sleep. Then eventually, it grew more bearable, almost acceptable.
She still smelled him sometimes when something happened to remind her of him, just the passing scent of his shampoo or his deodorant. Once she grew aware of the scents, they always dissipated. It was almost as if they were never even there in the first place. And perhaps they weren’t ever there at all, not really. Perhaps they were just flaring synapses triggered by memories. But she knew the sensations to be real, in their way. Ghosts aren’t always visible, aren’t always poltergeists making noises in the dark. Perhaps ghosts can just be scents. Why not? And Lord knows she deserved a good haunting.
She washed her hands more often these days, scrubbed them under scalding water. The flesh of her hands grew dry and brittle. Sometimes her skin cracked and bled. She used lotion, a lot of lotion, but she always ended up washing it off. It felt too familiar, too viscous, too much like something else that once coated her hands.
The house they once shared seemed unbearably quiet. He used to watch college footballs on Saturdays. She always hated the way he screamed at the television after a fumble or interception or missed field goal. She hated the way he cursed the officials. It wasn’t like the poor referees were doing anything other than their assigned jobs. They tried to be fair. At least, she assumed so. She had no reason to assume otherwise. The world needed referees, needed justice.
But no one had ever called her out. No one ever expected it of her. No one even knew he was gone. He hadn’t had many friends, and what friends he had in his life were now more or less gone, moved on to other lives full of wives and kids. The days of keg parties had been over for a long time now. No one phoned for him. His family lived in other states and rarely spoke. It was summer now. She had at least until the holidays before the eventual invitation for a visit arrived. She might have to explain something then, but maybe not. Maybe she would simply answer the phone like she was now. Explain he’s not in, but she’d be happy to pass on a message. It wasn’t like he returned that many messages before. In fact, to the outside world, his predicament made no impact at all. It didn’t really even matter if he was alive or dead. The world moved on, kept circling, and no one really noticed the difference.
No one, that is, except her. She knew the world was different.
She fumbles with the floorboards when she is lonely. She looks into the crawlspace, past the growing spider webs gathering dust, to where the earth lies faintly disturbed and uneven. The soil there is mostly hard and whole once again. There is just a lump where it had once been a hole. The holes were the hardest part. The clay dirt did not give easily, and she had not had much room to work. Still, it worked. She worked. She could do that much, at least. She gave him a proper burial, almost.
She smells him strongest at times like this, can almost feel his smell envelop her like his arms once did. She lies there sometimes and watches the ground. There is another spot where the ground is sunken next to him. She will lie there next to him one day but not today. Not that anyone would notice her absence. They’d think she just ran away like all the others.
He was the only thing that ever made her feel alive, real. Without him, the nonexistence goes on. Days turn into weeks. She works. She eats. She sleeps. She reads. Sometimes she watches television. She even turned on the Bama game one afternoon, but she grew bored with it quickly. Some things never change.
If only he had loved more. If only he hadn’t been so full of hate and rage. If only he hadn’t done those things to those innocent women.
She had seen his videos, found them on his computer. He had rented out a storage building, bought chains and leather straps. Sometimes, she still hears the young women in those videos scream. She had even known some of them. They hadn’t been friends, not really, but she did know them. The waitress at the Waffle House where they ate breakfast sometimes before church was in a video. So was the pastor’s wife who everyone thought had run away. Even one of her coworkers whose transient, free-spirited nature had led everyone at the office to believe the girl had simply gone back to Portland where she had once lived a relatively care-free life of adventure on the streets. That girl had never seemed much at home in the office. Sometimes, she liked to pretend the rumors were true, that those young women were runaways who had simply chosen other lives without responsibility. She tried to forget the videos, but they were burned into her mind.
Outside her window, the world passes by. She sees police cars. At first, just after she took care of business, she expected to hear a siren or see flashing lights, maybe a harsh knock on her door. But these things never happen. The police cars drive past, making their rounds, keeping the neighborhood safe. And it is safe now. Now that he’s gone. She had done her part.
Not that anyone noticed.