Darts jab me in the back as the too-cold shower aims to shake me alert, dispersing the remnants of my dream which still lingers. She was there, but not. A ghost of a memory, a hint of a feeling. Her hair falling across her face as she laughed, yet when I reached for her she frowned. She couldn’t stay. Or was it that I couldn’t?
My hand hovers over the mango bodywash; less than an inch remains. I can’t bring myself to throw it away but I’ve promised myself not to bring it to my nose as much as before. “You don’t even like fruity scents,” I imagine she says, the smile back in her voice.
She’d always called my black pepper bath products savoury. “Would you prefer it if my scent were unsavoury?” I would tease. She’d curl her lip at that and I’d say, “Whassup, Elvis?” and she’d make the uh-huh-huh Elvis noise and we’d laugh.
I reach for the towel, part of the Mrs & Mrs set we were given for our civil partnership, checking that I’ve not grabbed hers by mistake. While ostensibly identical, the care label on hers is more faded through extra washing and drying. She had to launder hers after every single use whereas I will wait until mine walks to the machine by itself.
Hers is still in the airing cupboard; I’m careful not to use it. It’s one of the many things that reminds me how I rebuffed her desire to upgrade to marriage once it was allowed. I didn’t see the point. Now I wish I’d given her everything she wanted.
Today’s the day, I promised them. A new start. Get back out there. I wipe the condensation from the mirror and floss my teeth, ignoring my ruddy-cheeked reflection. Everything is an assault on my senses, the light too bright, the extractor fan too loud. Mouthwash stinging like apple sours.
It’s all just too much.
On my own, I’m just too much.
Where I am sour, she was sweet. I am – have always been – prickly, with rough, uneven edges. She would layer me with the softest blankets, as if wrapping bubble wrap around a rusty knife, making me safe for others to approach. Without her I am a landmine, a disaster waiting to happen. Finding her was a miracle; I can’t expect it to happen twice.
I abandon dressing midway through stepping into my jeans, averting my eyes from the photo on the dresser as I reach for my discarded robe and shrug it back on. It’s the photo from Italy, the one I chose for the order of service at the crematorium.
I kick the jeans free and back away from the photo. It’s too soon. I’m not ready.
I text work and tell them I’m not coming in before cancelling tonight’s tentative plans. I’ll try again tomorrow.
I return to the bathroom and open the bodywash, gratefully inhaling the mango-scented memories that once sweetened my world.
Emma Robertson is a dance tutor and writer from London, UK with recent pieces in Lunate, Fudoki and the Daily Drunk. Longlisted this year for Cranked Anvil and Furious Fiction, she was also runner up in the TL;DR Word Herd competition and published in the anthology ALCHEMY. Twitter: @emmadancetrain