We were at the ocean, swimming, when the tide took him away. I stayed on the beach till they found me, half-frozen, staring at the vast empty expanse of water expecting him to surface, certain he was hiding under the waves, waiting for me to look away so he could startle me.
They took me home and remained for the first few days, denying me the beach and the waves where I knew I’d find him in the folds, in the rise and fall that was once the chest I’d lay my head upon and hear the heart that beat to the rhythm of my own.
Then they left, one by one, leaving me alone with the emptiness of a life half-complete, a mirror to the vast empty expanse of an ocean without waves, a sea without a name.
I wandered a house in which he was an ever-present shadow, and at times I could smell him, the scent he knew I loved and wore for me alone.
In the kitchen I ate the food that was his, closing my eyes to every taste, knowing that he was there in that instant, upon my tongue and sinking to my stomach.
In the lounge I watched the films he loved, the colours his own, pale and forlorn, entwined in a sadness I’d known but once thought poetic.
In the bedroom I wore his clothes and turned out the lights, drawing the curtains to seal myself in darkness with the skin he wore on his own. The material was coarse as I wrapped arms around myself and stood with my back to the mirror, seeing his arms in place of my own.
But then the stairs would remind me of his absence, both directions leading to a life left waiting till I turned away long enough for him to surface.
I read that I had to burn that which was his, to set myself free in the flames before the memories took the little I had left of him, the years we’d shared and the life that had been ours.
I refused. I couldn’t. He would return. He would surface, emerging from the water to run to me, dripping wet and cold.
Yet one night there I was, in the garden that had become overgrown without a reason to seek the sunlight. I lit a fire and held in my hand a book that had been his before he met me.
The flames ate its exterior before turning on the pages and I smelt autumn in the air as the smoke took form and I saw his outline, his shoulders, his stature. Him.
I stepped back, shocked and scared.
There he was, the man I loved above the flames of a fire I knew would soon die. He reached out a hand and I rose my own but it was too late, the flames vanished and with them the man who was mine.
I ran into the house and took from the shelves the books that had been his. In their flames he came to me again and I fell to the floor, his apparition too much, the sudden presence after such an absence.
He reached out an ashen hand and I leapt to my feet to allow it to linger upon my skin and feel there both age and the tears that were the waves I was lost upon.
I felt arms circle around me, arms containing a warmth that returned the love I had lost. I lent back and saw him there, the man who had been mine, the one who had been made for me as I had for him, the one who had entered the water and never returned, the one who had loved the waves more than me, the one who was going to father my children, the one who I could trust, who I could love, the one in whom I could lose myself and never worry to return for he would always be there, holding my hand in whichever labyrinth we entered.
Then the flames died and I was alone again.
I threw all I had upon a new fire and watched it rise, watched it consume the air till I could barely breathe, knowing that in his arms, the arms that rose from the flames and wrapped themselves around me, that in them I’d find once more the lips that looked for mine and kissed me with the powdery taste of ash and the flames of a desire that left me empty once extinguished.
Clothes fell upon the flames, pictures and possessions, everything I had that was once his. The heat of the fire seared my skin but I found that which had been taken from me, everything that had once made me whole.
Then it was gone and all I had of him were embers and ash.
I fell to the floor, lost in the loss I had to suffer a second time, knowing that there was nothing more, that I had burnt everything that was his and now had only my memories.
Then it swept over me and I turned to the house I believed was his, knowing that he’d paid for it, that it was as much a part of him as the books and the clothes.
Once inside I began to light all that I could, my hands soon numb from the flames while smoke swirled around me and I waited for his hands to form, screaming as the fire engulfed everything but still he didn’t appear, my words wasted by the time I realised that the house was not all that remained, for I had been his as well.
I stood and closed my eyes while the flames threw their arms around me as the waves had him and there, in the heat and the ash and the smoke, there he came to hold me once more.