Nice of you to drop by. Tell you the truth, I was beginning to think I'd forgotten your name.
James. It sounds so odd now, murky and distant. Even though there's not much reason to say your name aloud, it still surprised me when you appeared in my dream.
We were driving in your shitty old car, which smelled like cheap leather and pond scum. I wasn't tall enough to peer over the passenger side. That must've been what I was annoyed by, the obscured view. I was kicking my kitten heels under the seat, squirming, complaining about the seatbelt itching.
And you? Well, you were stone silent. You might have been a corpse were it not for the faint motion of your hands occasionally turning the wheel.
"Laura," you said, your eyes fixed on the road. "Do you think there's a heaven?"
I awoke before I could answer. The cat was sleeping on my neck, half-choking me. I pushed her off my throat and, finding it much easier to breathe, screwed my eyes shut to conjure you again, only to meet more darkness.
Why now? I don't know. I don't know why people still come up to me at twenty-two and ask me about the murder-suicide, the end of the closest thing to a mother I would have had at the time. They wonder what it felt like to have spoken to you, to have learned the truth from you directly. Everything that needs to be said about that particular issue has been settled.
I want you to know it's not as though I don't care. You and Mary share a headstone in North Ashfield. I tried visiting it once, but what I saw was a smooth white plaque nestled in the ground, crowned by weeds.
Believe me when I say I really did try. I tried so damned hard to feel something other than a dull sense of absence. All during my adolescence I hated you, until what you said finally sank in. The Mary I knew was gone, and when the rage at you taking her away from us dried up—because that's the God's honest truth, James, you stole her from all three of us—so did the loss. All that's left is drought.
So I guess if you want to know, it's been some years since I came home and told the nuns about my little adventure. About Eddie who drove me to Silent Hill in his beat-up van, blubbering about shooting another kid's dog and wiping the snot from his nose—and you, you weirdo, who spoke as though you'd never conversed with another human being in your life. You didn't love Mary anyway, you gave up on her, she was sick and you killed her, so why were you looking for her? Why did you look so pained when I asked you?
The sisters balked at my tale of a town shrouded in a lonely fog. They called the police, and made me pray for the souls of the runaway shooter and the husband who murdered his wife.
I bounced from house to house, as you would expect of a bratty foster kid. Wasn't that I was a problem child (because I was always up to something) but rather, these older couples expected a sweet, pliant little infant instead of a stormy eight-year-old who would accidentally shatter their good china.
You'd find it funny. I occasionally entertained this morbid thought that the couples would be just like you two would have been, you and Mary. The wife tried to be nice and gentle in her discipline while the husband would outright go, "What the hell is wrong with this kid?" and parade all that macho crap that the wife pretended to be startled by. So many puppets with your faces plastered on danced through my life.
For years I convinced myself I didn't need anyone. I was fine on my own.
Really; I am.
I want to tell you maybe heaven isn't real. Maybe it's just a delusion we use to comfort ourselves, and the best thing to do is face tomorrow without fear of it. But that would be predicated on me talking to the dead, which is about as sane as expecting to wring grief from a faded headstone.
Mary's letter, the one you never saw, is tucked inside my purse. For some reason I feel compelled to read it again.
It's not her writing anymore.
I just realized.
Today is the anniversary of the day I arrived.
Looking for you.
Finding blood and terror instead.
Laura, she must be alive.
Did someone take her in?
I hope to God they did.
I keep thinking, what's real anymore?
And how many more years will go by
before I figure it out?
This nightmare started with my selfishness.
The minute the doctor gave the diagnosis,
something inside me splintered off from myself.
And I was ashamed of that part.
"Walk away," it said. "You can be free.
You still have time."
I wanted freedom.
Not to be chained.
Mary, there were so many things we hadn't gotten to do.
All the places we said we'd go—
That house you wanted built.
You said it would be an adventure.
All of it, broken promise after
You got sicker.
The bills needed to be paid.
The house went to the weeds.
I'd grown tired.
I wanted life, Mary.
I wanted everything life could offer,
even if it meant leaving you behind in death.
Horrible but true.
What kind of husband was I to think those things?
"In sickness and in health."
That was the vow I'd made to you.
But fear had blinded me.
I'd forgotten you …
No, not forgotten.
I could never forget.
I love you too damn much, even here.
Forgive me, Mary,
but I didn't want to die alongside you
I'm sitting on a bench waiting for the train to take me to work, my breath misting the icy air as I whisper a dead name. The paper is so fragile, so ancient, I fear it may crumble to dust in my hands.
The train grinds to a halt. Shadows linger in the cabin.
Briefly, I clutch the letter to my chest.
"It's okay, James," I say. "It's all right."
And after a while, you quiet down.
In my restless dreams, I see that town.