Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
The whisper in her mind helped stiffen her spine, and allowed her to finish listening attentively to the list of interminable tasks that she could not avoid. Her personal aide and well trained staff had taken most of the load on themselves, but there were some things with which only she could deal.
One day at at time; she had decided that was the best way to get through it. Though sometimes one hour at a time, or one minute at a time, was the best that she could manage.
The days were not too hard. The sun came up, as it always did, and always would. She kept her vigil, a promise still unbroken. Then she performed her duties; walking through the appointments, meetings, discussions; paying seemingly close attention to those who needed her, making decisions, giving speeches. They knew nothing of the hard knot of fear and misery that she carried inside.
The nights were more difficult.
She heard it when she came home to her empty rooms, straining to hear clattering from the kitchen, or the sounds of the shower in the bath. There was never any sound; no welcome greeting or warm embrace. She had taken to playing music; classical, or sometimes the liquid strains of jazz. It covered up the silence and divided the evening in parts. I will eat during this piece, work during the next, shower during the next; it kept her moving through the evening.
During her nightly meditation, she stopped the music. Here the silence was welcome, for now she could reach inside and pull out the memories of his voice, and play them, over and over again. Sometimes it hurt so badly she wanted to forego this part of her evening ritual. Part of her was terrified that if she did, she would begin to forget.
The first few days, she had found herself unable to meditate, for the first time in her life. Her constant comfort, and the one sure means she had found of understanding the universe, had failed her. Then, like sight returning to one struck suddenly blind, the ability had returned. She'd wept with relief, but not told anyone of the crippling fear she had felt; that another bulwark of her life had gone, disappeared without a trace. There was no one to tell.
The strangest part of life now was being part of it, and yet apart. She moved through the crowds of people in her life, smiling, interacting, yet disconnected in some vital way. Sometimes she thought if she glanced away, they would all freeze in place, characters in a play that only moved and spoke when she was looking. She found she could no longer imagine their lives and families and histories, even the ones she had known for years. It all seemed like an artificial construct, worlds and races and governments and people, cutout paper imitations of life.
There were people important to her; so few left, but they did exist. None of them were here, now, and so she moved untouched among the throngs of living ghosts. Friends, family; the idea of such was becoming remote and distant, something once concrete and now abstract. She was alive only in her own mind; in meditation, and at sunrise.
It was raining. The balcony outside her room had an overhang that kept her from being soaked by the cold drizzle. The chilly spray that reached her face had been invigorating and almost welcome, to her surprise. It had been one week, to the day, and the first day she had not been able to watch the sun rise. Sighing heavily, she went inside to change her damp outer robes. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she went closer, seeking recognition in the silvered glass. The lines around her eyes and mouth were dark furrows in her face. He had called them laugh lines. They had laughed a great deal at the beginning; in their innocence, and in their joy. Touching her face gently, she wondered what he would think of her now; her eyes wide and empty. If they were the windows to her soul, as he had often said, then her soul was gone.
The door to her quarters flew open.
Her son stood in the doorway, tall and broad-shouldered, a younger image of his father.
In an instant, he was there beside her, enfolding her in his arms. The world clicked back into place, like a dislocated bone being set in bursts of color and sound and pain. Clutching at the rough fabric of his robes, she felt as if she was being knit back together, woven back into the fabric of life. It hurt, so badly, and yet she welcomed it, revelling in the feeling of being alive, and no longer alone.
"I'm here, Mother. I got here as quickly as I could. I'm here." He settled her down onto the bed, sitting beside her, holding onto her as tightly as she did to him. Through his own pain and loss, he could not help but wonder at her reaction. Everyone he had seen on his way there had spoken of her bravery, yet she clung to him like a frightened child. Gently he said, "You remember all those recordings Dad made for me? Every birthday, every holiday, some for no particular reason…he called them his 'time capsules'."
She nodded, as yet unable to speak, afraid to reveal herself in words.
"He sent me one, a few weeks ago. I guess he knew this was coming. I started back as soon as I got it. The news reached me on the way home. I'm so sorry I wasn't here…"
She shook her head, and reassured him. "We didn't know exactly when it would happen. You couldn't put your life on hold, waiting. He never wanted that."
He went on, "I know. But he told me, in his last message, that I was to come home. That you'd need me, even though you would never admit it. That we would need each other."
She managed a smile for him, "Your father had a bad habit of being right."
"He did, didn't he?" He smiled back. "We'll have to carry on without him now," he paused to give her a short, sharp hug for emphasis, "but we'll do it together."