He died that morning after a year of illness, but still Clarissa could not bear to call the authorities. Now it was almost midnight and she sat, numb, at the round table by the window in their bedroom. Staring out the dark glass in which her reflection swam, she combed her long hair with regular, mechanical strokes. The full moon hung centered in the window frame and flooded the room with silver light almost as bright as day. Clarissa’s hair swayed and brushed the carpet as she combed, flowing down her shoulders, waist, hips, and the bowed, carven, clawfeet of the old chair where she sat.
It was beyond grief, what she felt, beyond any emotion. It was just an empty, echoing vacancy that would require days, perhaps weeks, to become inhabited with the immense loss that had occurred. When that happened, the immediacy of pain might be able to drive her to come to terms with the situation. But for now, there was only the promise of that terrible redemption, like the pressure of a far-off thunderstorm sensed in the subtle barometer of her soul.
Clarissa combed to fill the vacancy as she had sat combing almost all day long, watching his face on the pillow, a still white patch in the moonlight, almost unrecognizable now. He’d never been handsome in life, in the conventional sense – an elongated and dour man of introspective demeanor to everyone but her. But when they had been together, a personal universe formed in which they each had been so fully and perpetually present to the other that their own identities submerged.
Her hand poised at her crown, ready for the next downstroke, when she felt a curious pulling in her hair, a sporadic, tiny yanking, as if small hands were grasping it. The sensation drew her back into the room from the empty spaces where her mind had been wandering, and her eyes focused on near things once again. She heard a soft rustling and felt a scuttling, scrabbling movement communicated up to her scalp. With capacity neither for curiosity nor alarm, Clarissa resumed combing, but felt her descending hand stop against a yielding object. She looked down to see two bright spots peering up at her from amid the thick curtain of her hair.
Her lips parted and her brow contracted in hesitant recognition. The bright eyes were unblinking but seemed to acquire a strange familiarity as a small still voice said to her, “It’s me, Clare. I’m still here.” Her heart began pounding, fairly leaping in her chest as it raced blood to her flushed face. She dropped the comb and with gentle fingers explored the hidden shape in her hair. The eyes narrowed, as if in pleasure at her touch. And, in the cold pool of moonlight on the pillow, the white line of her husband’s mouth seemed to curl upwards, contracting in the rictus of death, into the shade of a smile.
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Gary Poplawski graduated Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Writing program in 2005. He has lived in Chicagoland all his life and makes a living developing online training courses.