Copyright is held by the author.
CELIA’S SWOLLEN EYES watch the sun’s slow rise. She closes her eyes and feels the heat even on the insides of her eyelids. Red spots and dancing patterns. One of them looks like a lily.
She pulls herself away from the window and goes out of the room. Her eyes still carry the imprint of the red spots, and the kitchen seems a lot darker. She bumps her foot against a large cardboard box lying near the door, and winces. As she gently massages her foot, she wishes she had unpacked the box immediately as she normally does. It has been there since Susan brought it over a week ago. Her best friend takes care of all the finance and management side of things at their stationery shop, while Celia is more than happy to search for, pick out and sort through new stock. She’s even started designing her own these past few months.
Her foot still hurts where it squished against the box. She squints, and blinks her eyes until they re-adjust. The first thing she sees is the kitchen counter. Dust particles swirling around in the unspoilt early morning sunlight. The vase near the window glows as its cold surface absorbs this gentle heat. Intricately patterned blue and white china. They had found it in an antique store in town soon after Peter had asked her to move in with him.
Blue and white things are all around the house, on the mantelpiece in the living room, on the coffee table next to the sofa, on her dresser, even in the bathroom! She smiles at the vision of the plastic Smurfette plastic cup she keeps her toothbrush in. Peter had bought it to cheer her up when she was really ill with the flu a few years ago. It had been the inspiration for their Halloween outfits that year. A framed photo from that night stands on the table in Peter’s study. Something about remembering to laugh when blue.
Celia can’t find her favourite mug. Black with tiny white polka dots. She has been using it since she was a teenager, and even though it has a tiny chip on the rim, she doesn’t like to use any other. Her eyes travel across from one end of the room to the other, before going back and pausing at the corner table. It is half-hidden under the scattered spreadsheets and work-papers. You can tell that Peter had been there. He always just picked up his precious Asus, invariably forgetting about everything else. Hints didn’t always work and she ended up being the one to clear it all away. The last time was two weeks ago. But now she can’t bear to clean up, the urge to want things tidy overpowered by the urge to leave it untouched.
She had sat at that table yesterday, slowly sipping her coffee until it went cold, and eventually falling asleep among the scattered sheets. Celia can imagine Peter still sitting there, his fingers tapping against the table surface as he studied and analyzed data, his laptop squashing half of the papers. She just wants to blink and have that image wiped out. Instead, she picks up the mug and walks over to the sink to rinse it out.
Celia steps out onto the porch with the steaming freshly brewed coffee. The sun has not done much for the nip in the air, and she wraps the dressing gown tightly around her. She loves sunrise. The fresh, crisp air, the subtle beauty of the world lit by the sun’s soft glow, solitude that is different in the hope and promise of a new start. Peter had never been one for early mornings and this time has always been hers. It is like just another day, many before and many to come. The comforting constancy of early mornings is better than everything else she has tried since the phone call 10 days ago.
Celia cannot believe that she ended up at Crescent Road again. Her mind running through, for the hundredth time, something that she wasn’t there for, but can never forget. Every single time she hopes her feet will lead her far away. She wonders why she keeps inviting the dull pain, why she craves it, when the only thing she wants to do is to forget, feel better, belong to the living once again. The sky is a brilliant amethyst purple. She is about to put the key into the lock, when she hears her name. It is her neighbour, Mrs. Cooper, standing against the fence that separates their two houses, a bouquet of lilies in her arms.
“These came for you…”
The smile that follows is too brief to hide the look in Mrs. Cooper’s pale blue eyes behind her glasses. Celia accepts the bouquet, and her heart stops for a millisecond, before she can feel its renewed beat thump against the inside of her chest. She flashes the old lady a half-smile and murmurs thanks, but Mrs. Cooper’s slightly hunched form is already halfway to her own house.
She wiggles her shoulders to ease the sudden tension. Cobalt streaks have slowly started to appear in the sky, hazy enough to seem hesitant. There is something magnetic about the unrest, of the struggle before the inevitable surrender of day to night. A compulsive attraction. She feels so unsure at that moment, holding in her arms, yet another reminder of what today should really have been like.
Celia goes inside and puts the flowers on the kitchen counter. She can see the recipe books scattered all over the living room table. A misguided post-lunch attempt at feeling better. By this time she should have already been halfway through preparing the three course meal she’d planned. A brightly lit, warm kitchen, mingling smells and flavours, the lilies in the Chinese vase set on the counter. Peter’s favourite tomato and feta cheese salad, chicken lasagne made from scratch, and dark chocolate pudding with his preferred blackcurrant ice-cream. The lilies seem to be staring at her now. A delicate beauty that makes her eyes water and her vision blurry, the pain travelling through the rest of her body. She has to clench her fists and look away. Look anywhere else but at them.
That’s when she notices the answering machine, its red light blinking in a steady rhythm. She looks at it in a daze, before going over and pressing the button. You have five new messages. The metallic voice grates against her eardrums. They are all from Susan — Are you okay? Please call me back, hun. I’m worried about you. Might be good for you to come back and be around everyone … She erases all of them. A sharp beep. Her fingers linger over the Replay button next to Erase, eventually giving in and pressing the hard round circle.
Instant warmth spreads through her as Peter’s voice recites a message from a month ago, a message she has now committed to memory, even the small gaps of silence. Soft spoken, with just the hint of a deep husky tone.
Celia rushes into her room, their room, and the door closes behind her. The loud click echoes through the empty space. She finds herself lying on the bed, and then under the covers, but is careful to avoid the side next to the window. His tangy cologne lingers everywhere, growing fainter, but refusing to leave.
“I’ve got to take this” meant long conversations and complicated financial terms, and most certainly more silence and work when it was over. Yet, Celia had always stayed around for the sound of his voice. She misses it. The silence presses around her now, and she fumbles in the bedside drawer for her I-pod. She keeps pressing rewind and the same song plays over and over.
“He’s my sunshine in the morning,
He’s my fireworks at the end of the day …”
Celia absently hums along to the melody. If Peter were here, he’d surely have said something about how it was his life’s mission to get her to sing a little less off-key.
“He’s the warmest chord I ever heard
Play that warm chord, play and stay baby
Keeping away my blues …”
She can’t get the image of him strumming along to Joni Mitchell, out of her head. How many times had they listened to her Blue album?
“But when he’s gone
Me and them lonesome blues collide
The bed’s too big …”
The ache she feels is that of a puzzle piece wedged in the wrong place. She closes her eyes, imagines that he is lying beside her, holding her and rubbing the inside of her palm with his thumb. Slow, circular movements that always sent her to sleep.
It is already nearing midnight when she finally wakes up. Her throat feels prickly and she swallows gingerly. Her slippers make a muted sound on the floorboards as she walks out into the corridor. The sharp smell of the lilies drifts in through the kitchen door as she goes in and boils some water in the kettle. They are lying where she left them earlier. She hesitates for a moment. But her hands make the decision for her, as she adds some water to the vase on the counter and gently unwraps the flowers from the shiny paper and foil.
There is a note attached to it, but she already knows what it’s going to say. Peter changes it only slightly every year, his handwriting the same as it’s always been — strong strokes and soft-rounded p’s, b’s and d’s. The biggest change is usually the year. This is their 10th. He always places the order well in advance. She places the flowers in the vase, and adds the lemon and honey to the hot water.
Celia walks over to the window and looks out. By this time they were supposed to be having dessert with Nat King Cole playing softly in the background. The stars are clearer tonight than she’s seen them in a long time. They are but a memory, the imprint of something from far away and long ago, a hope that things last. She fingers the tiny silver star in her earlobe, and wonders whether it is futile to hold on to them. Her hands tighten around the brew. By now, the temperature has cooled down just enough to be perfectly comforting.
Back in the bedroom, she places the mug on the dresser and looks in the mirror. Dark brown hair with tints of auburn hangs limply to her shoulders, her skin is paler than it normally is, her hazel eyes are tinged red, purple circles under them. She attempts a smile. It comes out more like a grimace.
The memories of 10 days ago threaten to choke her. Memories tinged with black. Memories that are soon replaced by other images, which offer little solace. She wishes she had been there with him. Crescent Road. The collision, the explosion, the heat, the pain. She keeps hoping that it was too quick for him to feel anything. Her body aches, and it hurts to take the smallest breath. Through her tears, she plays with the sapphire that fits into the white gold band on her finger. She even misses him leaving damp towels in their room after showers. She’d tolerate any amount of the musky smell it always left behind on the wood and on the bed, if only it brought him back.
Celia doesn’t remember how long she sits there, her head resting on her arms, her tears darkening the wood on the dresser. The first thing she sees when she lifts her head is the starfish paperweight to her left — blue and white crystal. She stares at it long enough for the edges to blur and merge with her surroundings. But slowly her eyes refocus on the light glinting off the surface of the delicate crystal. A wordless siren song. On an instinct she picks up the starfish and holds it against the night-lamp.
For the next few minutes, Celia feels like someone has slowed time down. She sees the tiniest of details down to every single particle in the air, feels every single bit of the emotion floating around her for the last 10 days. Everything’s magnified. She sees a thin beam of light, tiny photons clumped together that move towards the sharp edge of the paperweight and dissolve in the crystal surface in one fluid movement. The briefest of moments where everything stands still, expectant, before the light rushes back out. An explosion of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and purple that softens the lines of everything around her. For a fraction of a second, she fears that she will drown in those colours, but they are gone as quickly as they come. And she is surrounded by the white.