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The sound of the clock ticking keeps me awake most nights.


It doesn’t help that I put a scarf over it. It doesn’t help that I took the batteries out months ago. It just keeps ticking. Second after second.

I never used to mind the ticking. I never really noticed it. When he lived here, when he shared my bed, the soft sound of him breathing drowned out the other noises in the house. I wouldn’t get startled every time the house settled or a neighbor set their car alarm.

I could sleep back then.

But it’s been fifteen months and I don’t think I’ve slept a wink. My eyes close and when they open again, feeling as though morning must be right around the corner, only a single minute has passed. Sometimes two minutes, on a good night.

I thought about getting a night job. I applied all over town, but no one is hiring. I get rejection emails more frequently than I hear from my kids. I have had one call-back, but once they met me in person, they decided I ‘wasn’t what they were looking for.’ I wasn’t a spring chicken anymore, sure, but I could still clean houses or offices. I could still make someone’s space look presentable.

It isn’t about money - I still get his disability benefits. Survivor Benefits, the Social Security Office calls them. As if I lucked out and won something, by outliving the man I wanted to grow old with.

But instead of working, I lay in our bed and hug his pillow tightly. I haven’t washed it since that last night he laid down on it. I cannot stand the idea of losing his scent. After fifteen months, the pillow doesn't actually smell like him anymore, but I still pretend.

Sometimes I can dream for a few minutes - a half-awake, half-asleep mirage of images and sounds and lights.

I lie in bed, curled around his pillow, and I fall into one of these dreams.

I can hear him in the bathroom, shaving. He is humming something - a song from his Swing Jazz album. It’s a riotous tune, full of upswings and drop offs. I smile as I press my face into his pillow and catch the scent of him. Of his aftershave and medicated shampoo.

“Say, Dolly,” he calls from the bathroom, just as he did every morning. “You got a kiss waiting for me?” His voice is youthful and full of love.

“When don’t I?” I say back, just as I used to. I keep my eyes closed and let the waking dream wash over me. I allow myself to feel the steam floating into the room from the bathroom, muggy and stiffing from his hot shower. He always did take scalding showers - I never understood how he could handle the temperate.

“Dolly?”

“Hmm?” I hum. I feel my eyelashes scratching across the pillowcase.

“Don’t ya ever miss it?” I didn’t hear him enter the room, but he’s suddenly there, sitting beside me, the weight of his hand on my hip.

I raise my head slightly off his red-tinged pillow, so old it’s now turned into a brownish, ruddy stain. “Miss what?” I ask softly. I don’t dare open my eyes in case it ends the dream.

“Me,” he replies. His voice is the epitome of remorse.

“Every day,” I whisper, nearly choking on the sob that tries to rip itself from my mouth. “Every second.”

“Why won’t you join me?”

He has never asked this before. Why won’t I join him? I suppose because I was born and raised Catholic, and taking your own life was never promoted. I suppose because the children might still need me. They were only just out of the house - one was twenty-three and the youngest twenty-one. What if they lose their jobs or their apartments? Where would they go?

“Don’t you love me?”

“Like the ocean loves the moon,” I say. He said that to me when we first laid together, wrapped up in an old blanket under the stars, our love warm and thick like the Louisiana summer sky.

He chuckles and I feel his breath, so warm on my neck, his fingers at my scalp. “I’ve missed running my hands through your hair. I’ve missed singing to you.” He hums and his soulful voice makes my tears slip past my closed eyes.

“All you’d have to do, love, is bring the razor along your throat,” he murmurs, and I feel his finger trace over my throat. “That beautiful ebony throat. Damn, Dolly, I’ve missed kissing it.”

I open my mouth to agree. I open my mouth to beg him to take me with him. Up to Heaven. To whatever was after this… this dreary wasted grey life without him.

My fingers curl around his pillowcase and I feel it, grimy and unwashed, against my palm. The pillowcase, still stained in blood after all this time. Stained from when he drew a straight razor across his own throat fifteen months ago.

I gasp a little, and I smell something else. Something not like Albert. Something….

“Remember the mariachi band at that Mexican restaurant?” I whisper. “Our first date?”

He moans softly and chuckles - the laugh is too rich, too deep. “Yes, mon amour. Take the razor.” He’s pressing something hard against my hand.

“Remember the last football game of the season?” I ask. I can’t open my eyes. I just can’t. “How the stands were empty except for you and I. Our team having lost every other game, no one bothered to show?”

“Yes, mon amour. Take the razor.” More insistent this time.

The smell of sulfur is growing stronger. “Remember when Abby was born?” I continue. My cheeks are so wet I don’t know how I’m not drowning in my tears.

Yes, mon amor. Take the razor!

I take a deep breath and wrap my hand around the razor. “That’s odd. Because we never had a daughter.” I open my eyes and lash out with the razor and it sinks deep into his neck - the same way he had done to himself all those months, days, seconds ago.

Black, thick tar-smoke bellows out of the cut I’d made and he only laughs. “I suppose I’ll have to try harder next time, won’t I, Dolly?”

The demon fades in a rush of sulfur and the clock ticks back, louder than before, second after second.


Credits to: Neepha_Pheepan

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