This story is by S.E. Laughter and was a runner-up in our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
S.E. Laughter (pronounced like daughter) is a working mom and spouse with a passion for herstory. She has had short stories featured in Short Fiction Break. In her spare time, she’s finishing up her novel. You can get updates on her next project by signing up at selaughter.com.
Colors have a taste. They also have a feel. Purple is feathery. Dark blue is rich like velvet. I’ll admit, if someone told me that a year ago, I would’ve figured they were high. But almost everything’s changed since dying.
I perched on the roof experiencing the sunset. To say I was merely watching it would be an understatement. Brilliant white smells slightly of confectioner’s sugar and tastes sweet. Orange is like swimming in a warm lake on a summer day with a hint of citrus. As you can imagine, the undulating colors at sunset or sunrise are a whole-body experience. Since I no longer enjoyed the culinary delights of life, these were my favorite times of day.
I heard Elliot’s car long before I saw it. It needed a new fan belt. I was always the one who took care of such things. Elliot pulled up to the curb, coming to a choppy halt, and stumbled out of the car holding his briefcase and a bundle of flowers. My dematerialized lips grinned and a school-girl thrill raced down my spine.
“Who are those for?” That’s Little B, or Big B depending on the day. Little B is a personification of me. At first, I believed she was some sort of guide in my afterlife, only with my face. She’s basically my cynical alter-ego. I’m not sure if she’s a comfort, an annoyance, or a figment of my imagination. Either way, she’s my only company.
“Obviously, they’re for me,” I said.
Little B crinkled her eyebrows. “You’re dead.”
“I don’t need a reminder. Today is the one-year anniversary of my death.”
“He doesn’t remember.” Little B pursed her lips. “He doesn’t remember anything.”
“I died. It was a pretty big day.”
“You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.”
I rolled my eyes, watching Elliott lumber inside with his tie askew and his dark hair flopping in his eyes. I shook my head and pop! went to the kitchen. That’s the nice thing about being dead; you can go anywhere in the blink of an eye.
Elliot was bustling around the kitchen. I glanced at the flowers laying on the counter. He should put them in water before they wilt but he left without giving them further attention. I followed him up the stairs. Elliot hurriedly stripped off his business attire and stepped into a steaming shower.
I would have lived my life very differently had I known what I know now. I was reminded of this as I stood next to Elliott washing and lathering himself in the shower.
“He’s going on a date,” quipped Little B.
“You can’t be in here!”
“Why not? I am you after all.”
I was so busy bantering with myself, I hadn’t noticed Elliot get out, dry off and begin dressing. By the time we found him, he was splashing on cologne.
“Told you,” Little B mocked.
I opened my mouth to respond but there was nothing I could say that didn’t sound desperate.
We followed him downstairs where Elliot grabbed the flowers, checked his watch, and raced out the door.
“I’ve been dead five minutes. How can he go on a date?” I pouted.
“Beatrice, you’ve been dead a year.”
“That’s hardly enough time to get over one’s wife dying.”
Little B, for once, had nothing to say.
Time passes strangely in this state. It can feel as if you’re drifting, dormant and only half-conscious. It was in this condition I passed the first few months after my death. But time crept by with excruciating clarity while waiting for Elliott to come home.
I passed photographs hanging along the hall; images of our wedding, the two of us on a mountain and a selfie at the beach. The agony of memory bloomed, and I heard our laughter and playful bantering as if it were captured in the pictures. The frames had a layer of dust over them. I reached to swipe it off but couldn’t.
Looking around, I became abruptly awakened to Elliott’s living world. Dirty clothes were strewn throughout. Empty food containers littered all surfaces. Dishes cascaded across the counter and were piled in precarious stacks in the sink. How could I have overlooked such disgust? How did I fail to notice Elliott’s decline? The walls began closing in and I felt suffocated.
The air was cleaner on the roof. Stars emerged in the twilight sky and smelled of rushing water. The deep purple of the eastern horizon tasted like violets and watercress.
“How can my heart hurt if I’m dead?” I knew she was there. She was always there.
“One doesn’t love with their heart.”
Pain shot through me like poison, and I gasped for a breath that would never come.
“A year’s a long time.” Little B was staring to the west.
“How could I have not noticed the way he’s living?”
“Because you didn’t want to.” She spoke to the wind with her eyes closed. Could she feel her heart shattering as I did?
I heard the squeal of Elliott’s fan belt and watched his red hatchback roll to a stop. A burst of elation erupted only to recede when a silver sedan slid in behind him. I stood, crossing my arms. A sleek blonde stepped out. She was nearly as tall as Elliott and wore a long flowy dress. Nausea rippled through what was once my gut as she joined Elliott on the sidewalk leading to our front door and clasped his hand.
“Why that little . . .” Pop!
Elliott glanced apologetically over his shoulder as he scraped debris from the couch. “Sorry. It isn’t always like this.”
Blondie smiled, showing her perfect teeth. “You needed a hazmat suit to go into mine after Danny died.”
Little B nudged me and inclined her head toward the couple as they sat too closely together on the couch.
“I hate her,” I pronounced.
“She’s obviously lost someone too.”
I gave her my most menacing star. “She’s too . . . perfect.”
“Bea, don’t you think he deserves to be happy?”
My mouth dropped open. “What Elliott and I had was the kind of love most people plan for their whole lives and never find. He can’t find that again.”
“Who says he is?”
“I hate you too.”
Had Little B not actually been an annoying version of myself, I would have strangled her. Instead, I swallowed the lump forming in my throat and escaped to the roof. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the beauty of the night. I only wanted the anguish. I conjured the feel of Elliott’s hands on my back, his soft lips, the sound of his laughter, his musky male scent. He was in every inch of me. How could I let him go? How could he let me go?
“I can’t . . .” I murmured. The wind rustled the branches. I opened my eyes and turned around. Little B was gone.
The lump in my throat grew two sizes and I pulled my arms tightly around my middle. I stood like stone until long after the moon set. Little B was not coming back.
I popped into our bedroom. My stomach did a somersault when I saw the cascade of blonde hair over my pillow in the starlight. I wondered briefly what ghost vomit would resemble, and turned to ask Little B, who of course was not there.
The fragile flicker of a flame drew my attention. Elliott had lit a small squat candle and placed it near a photograph of me. My brown eyes twinkled back. He’d remembered after all.
I heard Elliott sigh heavily and I turned to see him awake. He stared out the window with tears glistening in his eyes. I fell to my knees.
“Please, see me,” I begged.
He released a desperate, shuttering gasp. I was so close I felt his breath, but his eyes remained on the window behind me.
“I’m still here,” I whispered.
His face wrinkled with such anguish, it ripped through me. My eyes glanced toward blondie and back to Elliott. I couldn’t make him happy. But she could.
“No,” I stammered. “No.” The heart I no longer had ripped apart, sending shards tearing through me. I gulped for air and my vision blurred. I needed to get out. I couldn’t see him drenched in the pain of my death knowing I could do nothing.
The roof felt fresher. I faced east as the sky began to lighten. I opened my mind and soul to the sunrise. The essence of violet and watercress subtly shifted to frothy lavender.
Elliott would be happy again. Wasn’t that what I’d always wanted for him. I sighed, releasing a tether I hadn’t been aware I was holding. The sky felt closer. I was bathed in light as feathery hues caressed every particle of my being. I slipped away easily, becoming the tastes, the smells, the beauty of the rising sun. Yes, this was my favorite.