The strong summer morning sunlight was insistent, piercing her closed eyelids, willing her to wake. She struggled to hold on to sleep, because even asleep, her mind knew that she was protected, safe. But the sun won, consciousness overtook her. Her eyes opened. For a moment, serene, comfortable, rested. Then … loss! She squeezed her eyes shut, but it was too late. The pain followed very quickly.
She spent her days alone. Wandering the silent house, listlessly. Talking to the cat, checking her voice still worked. But he never spoke back. And when, in fits of sadness, she would hold him tight, rocking back and forward in her grief, desperate to feel another living thing close to her, he would struggle against the unfamiliar grip and the strange raw animal sounds she was making, and break free. Leaving her scratched, scarred, and feeling even more alone.
Mostly, she lived with the ever present sadness hovering close to the surface. She kept it in check by a thin veneer of calm, covering the cracks as they appeared as quickly as possible, usually before the tears leaked out or the voice faltered, but not always, usually before others noticed, but not always. She found herself weeping easily, at the simplest of things. Unaccustomed to tears, it was as if the tap had been turned on, and she feared that now it could never be shut off completely.
She dreaded the phone ringing, having to make conversation with someone, anyone, having to deal with questions, pretend she was cheerful. Home was a haven. But of course, there were unavoidable chores to do.
“How is your day going?” asked the cheerful, spotty youthful checkout operator at the supermarket. She hated this question. “Fine,” she mumbled, struggling to look normal, incapable of raising a smile. Supermarket shopping was daunting. She was reluctant to go when there might be crowds. She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing someone she knew. Having to make conversation, appear cheerful to those who didn’t know, or sense the pity in their eyes, their judgement of her situation. So she went in mid-morning, quickly, furtively. With the retired folks and the new mothers. A double-edged sword. She looked only at the floor or the shelves, avoiding all others.
After the supermarket ordeal she escaped to the nearby cafe for a latte and the opportunity to sit for a while, incognito, for just a while being normal, doing normal things. She would take that when she could get it. The other customers largely ignored her. The teenage girls from the school down the road were appropriately happy and boisterous, beginning the new school term. She was invisible to them, and that was fine by her. The business people unnerved her a little. Usually she was one of them, in another café, discussing the latest office gossip over a coffee. But now she wasn’t part of that club. And felt lost. Because then there were the mothers and babies. Usually one or two were pregnant, a few loud toddlers, and a crying newborn. They would settle next to the play area, spreading out, taking over, leaving their buggies in the way and their toddlers to play, so that no corner of the cafe was safe. A boy ran along the banquette seating towards her, and stopped. He stood, turning his head on the side, looking at her as if she were a strange alien being, this woman sitting alone, with the sad face.
And she felt she was – a woman without a place in the world, in society. She wasn’t at work, and she didn’t belong to the happy mothers’ club.
She drove home. “SORRY” said the neon sign on the big yellow bus as it wound its way down the gorge. In an odd way, she felt comforted. Not too many people had said they were sorry. Or meant it.