by Celestial Bedford
She jolted back as she stepped into the rain of scalding hot water.
“They were supposed to fix this two days ago,” Ruth murmured.
Retreating to the corner of the small tub, she closed her eyes as she rested her forehead against the sweaty tile.
“No, no…no,” she protested as tears swelled in the shadows of her eyes. Ruth watched blurrily, as they vacated into the pool of water indolently draining at her feet. Determined to repress her emotions, she wiped her face and leaned back into the stream of warm water.
“Rudy?” a bassy voice filled the bathroom.
She opened her mouth to scream, but fear yanked the sound from her voice. Rendered motionless, she stood in shock trying to assess what she’d heard. Her face turned ghostly and the water trickling down her back felt like dancing fingers. Only one person called her by that name- and he was dead.
“It’s in my head,” Ruth finally chided.
She turned off the shower and got dressed. While putting away a few linens, her hand grazed over a tiny etching on the hallway wall, near the closet. She knew the initials belonged to her and Gunther, but she hadn’t noticed it there before. Peering at the engravement, she traced it with her little finger desperately straining to…
“Remember when we did that?” a jovial baritone interrupted.
A balloon of air lodged itself in Ruth’s throat as she tripped over herself, slamming into the wall behind her. A violent vibration let out as a picture frame crashed to the floor shattering beside her. Chest heaving, Ruth frantically darted her eyes around the apartment in search of the familiar voice. With every word bathed in fear, she erupted,
“Rudy, please. I don’t mean to keep frightening you. Please don’t be afraid of me.”
Sliding to the floor, Ruth gave way to defeat and accompanied the fragmented glass. She drew her knees to her chest and rested her head.
“Gunther, how are you here?” she breathed.
She could feel Gunther’s broad stature kneeling in front of her as he raised her chin.
“You needed me” he replied, staring intently into Ruth’s lifeless eyes.
“But you’re dead.”
“Well, I don’t want you here, please go!” Ruth blurted out breaking the focus of Gunther’s piercing green eyes.
“Please don’t say that.”
Pulling her delicate frame into his embrace, Gunther tangled his fingers in the coils of Ruth’s tightly wound hair. He pressed his lips tenderly against her temple, inhaling her scent.
Ruth’s composure hardened, as she pulled away.
“I…I…I’m sorry Gunther, but I don’t remember this.”
She stared at the broken glass wanting to dissolve into its pieces.
Gunther grabbed her arms firmly, “You will not blame yourself for what happened. That accident took just as much from you as it did me.”
Ruth glanced up at him, but said nothing.
“Rudy, it took the last two years of your life. Your memories, erased. Our marriage, like it never existed. It won’t be easy, but if you’re willing, I’m here to help you remember.”
“If I’m willing? Gunther, For the last year, I’ve done everything in my power to remember: medication, therapy, all of it! Nothing has worked! I don’t remember being in love with you,” she said precisely as she stood. “Why come back to remind me of everything I lost?”
“Memories can be cathartic Rudy. I know it doesn’t seem like it. It’d be easier to throw all those packed boxes in the dining room into storage and leave this apartment behind, but hiding from what hurts won’t make you happy.”
“Can you really bring them back?” she said staring at the floor.
“Rudy, you already have the power to remember, I’m just here to help you believe in that power.”
“But my amnesia…”
“We don’t have much time, but, just trust me,” Gunther interrupted, extending his hand.
“For some reason, I do.”
Gunther ran his fingers across the engravement Ruth had been studying and let out a laugh that echoed off the walls, filling the home with a light air.
“What?” Ruth chuckled.
”You were so mad at me for doing this. You hated this apartment and Brooklyn. I had to decorate most of it myself.”
“That explains those dreadful curtains in the bedroom.”
Ruth followed Gunther as he made his way over to the packed boxes in the corner of the dining room. He pulled out a vintage picture frame and handed it to her.
“Our wedding day,” she gasped. “I slept with this picture hugged to my chest every night during those first few months after the accident. I knew it was the happiest day of my life and I just wanted to feel that way again.”
Ruth’s heart kicked her chest as she searched Gunther’s eyes.
“You can be happy again Rudy,” he replied, lightly stroking her arm with the back of his forefinger.
A rushing wave of memories from that day flooded her senses : the song she walked down the aisle to, Gunther’s face as he unveiled hers, the father daughter dance.
“My father,” Ruth cried, breathless as her legs faltered.
At once, she was wrapped in the safety of
Gunther’s arms as she sobbed into his chest. She clung to him as the details of her father’s passing manifested in her mind.
“He was proud of you Rudy.”
Ruth laid her head on Gunther’s shoulder.
“I know, but it’s like losing him all over again. He was so petulant that last day. I tried getting him to eat, but he wouldn’t. I finally gave in and we spent the rest of the day just talking.”
Ruth slipped her hand beneath Gunther’s, “He was glad I had you.”
Gunther kissed the top of her head as he closed his hand around hers.
“I’ve missed this. I would sometimes lock myself in our bedroom for days, looking at old pictures and letters you sent me. I spent so much time trying to fall back in love with you through old memories. When I couldn’t, I packed most of your things away…it was too painful.”
“You’re stronger than you think Rudy.”
Recovering from the floor, Gunther headed for the bedroom, “C’mon, I want to show you something,” He motioned to Ruth.
Passing through the living room, Ruth doubled over in laughter.
“Gunn, remember when I had that week from hell and we camped out in the living room all weekend eating oreos and pizza?
“I do. You were so miserable by the end of that week. We made up for it though.”
“Yeah, by gaining 7 pounds each.”
Ruth caught up with him as they entered the room giggling.
“Rudy, I don’t want you to open it now, but reach under the bed and grab that box.”
She examined the box as she pulled it out.
“What is it?”
“It was our safety box. Any feelings we had- good or bad- were safe from judgment in it. Every three months, we would open it and discuss its contents honestly.”
Ruth ran her fingers over the top of the box before setting it on the bed.
“Should I be worried?”
Gunther smiled sympathetically, but said nothing as he left the room.
His dark hair glistened in the amber light of the sunset as he stood, looking out the small window in the living room.
“The sunsets have always been my favorite part of this apartment,” Ruth sighed joining his side.
“Ruth, never again let the darkness of your pain build up a wall that blocks the light of your future.”
They stood in silence watching the orange sky fade to a faint gray. Ruth swept her long bangs behind her ear and crossed her legs.
“I love you Gunn.”
Reaching for his hand, Ruth was met by a cool sting of absence. She knew her time with him was over and made no attempt to inhibit the subsequent tears.
Stepping into the space where Gunther had stood, Ruth felt the lingering peace of his spirit and was instantly calmed. She could feel her memories seeping into her being, as her tears cleansed her of her pain.
Confident in Gunther’s parting words, Ruth returned to the room and opened the box. It was occupied by a single sheet of paper.
Things have been rough between us …maybe we did rush into things…maybe we should consider some time a part.
The letter was dated exactly two weeks before the accident.
Ruth tossed the paper aside as she sat on the edge of the bed. Her heart was untouched by the shocking revelation as she reflected on her visit with Gunther.
“Cathartic, huh Gunn?”
Ruth closed her eyes as she laid back on the bed. For the first time, even amidst the shadows, she felt awakened.