‘What is left’

I’ve been gone so long that when I get home it smells like someone else’s house. Maybe there’s still ash in my nose. It’s cold, the air feels heavy and I know half a carton of milk’s gone bad in the fridge.

Absence. I feel it chill me. Louis is dead, but the house isn’t missing him. These walls have seen nothing of us, and they’re present, strong. It must be coming from somewhere else. From me? From the coat he used to wear?

I can think of nothing but water. My feet pad towards the stone floor of the kitchen with ghostly lightness. I felt truly empty, like a blown egg. Eight nights in that threadbare Battersea guesthouse would hollow anyone out. In a week I’d lived forty years. Each day I felt the weight of them and pressed feebly back. They were mine now, by some legal oversight; this life was mine to pack up and do something with. I was so afraid to unravel what was left of him.

I boxed up old records, junk shop cow bells, his velvet jackets. Paper, oh I fed so much paperwork to that bonfire; told myself it was invoices, receipts, notes, but I knew; I tried not to see the ‘darlings’ of his love letters as they turned to dust in the orange heat. Every minute I reminded myself to only glance, to never sit, not to hold any thing too long in my hands, or I would never get out.

Your coats. A camel overcoat I almost burned. Too expensive to go to waste. Good outerwear, good shoes, you said. All you need. Underneath? Pyjamas, suspenders maybe, one of your girls with nothing on, or why not nothing at all, nothing but a gust of air that moves like a person, which is all that’s become of me. Always unexpected, Louis. I kept it. The only thing.

Before I sleep I light a candle. It feels ceremonial. I fall asleep until it’s almost burnt out, flickering, sooting up the ceiling. But it’s not that that wakes me up – it’s a knock at the door. There’s nobody there, just my mind playing tricks. The smell of musk, cigar smoke, cheap vanilla. The friction of velvet against a bare arm. The rumble of a car engine pulling up the next morning. You’re not coming in, I tell you, but you already have.