I was there in the room when the policeman told my wife I was dead.
“A terrible accident,” he said. “An explosion. There couldn’t have been much warning, the particle collider…” he trailed away. “He wouldn’t have felt a thing.”
I wanted to shout, to scream. Instead I held my hands before me and saw nothing but the crimson carpet. I wept and wondered that even my tears were invisible.
I was there when Hannah told Lisa that her daddy wouldn’t be coming home. They held each other until they both fell asleep, their eyes red and their faces pale.
“I’m here, Hannah,” I could have said. “I’m here with you.” But instead I held my silence, ashamed and afraid of my condition.
I attended my own funeral and wept as the empty coffin was carried away.
“Such a terrible thing,” Uncle Joseph had consoled Hannah. “So terrible.”
But, as is the wont of terrible things, time passed and they became less terrible. Hannah began to smile more and Lisa didn’t cry herself to sleep so often. The trees in the garden turned a burnished orange and then powdered white and then a flushing green and occasional laughter could be heard through the house and it made my heart cold to hear it.
I should have felt joy in their happiness, but a man can turn melancholy, drifting quiet and alone in his own house, unnoticed and unseen.
Was I a ghost? Was I truly dead? Was this some kind of hell I had brought upon myself?
But I couldn’t be dead, could I? Did the dead eat? Did they drink? I had to do both, and then hide in the basement, shivering against the cold until I had digested the food.
“Lisa, you’re sleeping at your Nan’s tonight.” Hannah stood in front of the mirror putting on her earrings. She was wearing makeup and a red dress. The trees in the garden were heavy with snow.
I roused myself in the corner. What day was it? Every day merged into one when there was nothing to do but wander disconsolately around the house.
“Lisa?” Hannah shouted. “You going to get ready?” Hannah sighed and checked herself in the mirror, turning sideways to look at her figure.
His name was Steven and he smiled a lot.
Lisa would look at him with serious eyes and Steven would smile and tell jokes and help around the house.
Nobody smiled that much. Had I ever smiled that much? When they were out, I would go through the photographs and see myself smiling. I stood in front of mirrors and saw nothing.
“When’s Steven coming?” Lisa called out. “He should be here by now.”
I started in my corner. Had I fallen asleep? My head hurt. Lisa sounded excited.
“He’ll be here in a minute.” Hannah smiled as she washed the pots.
I clasped a hand to my head. Lisa liked this guy. She was only six. Or was she seven now? The birds chattered on budding trees and sunlight streamed through the kitchen window. The brightness hurt my eyes and my head.
My family. I had to protect my family.
Lisa was asleep when they returned and Steven carried her from the car and into the house. The sight made me weep and clench my fists.
I sneaked into the car and it seemed a long time before he came from the house.
He was evil, this man. An intruder. I wanted to kill him as he drove. No, first I wanted proof of his evil intentions. I wanted to know what it was I was saving my family from.
I lay on the back seat and watched the ghastly glow of the streetlights smear the darkness of the night.
Steven’s lair was a fashionable apartment overlooking a fashionable canal. I imagined pornography parading on walls and handcuffs hanging from bedposts. Instead I got an apartment that was neat and fashionably sparse.
He checked his messages when he got in. Five calls to his mother. He would ignore them and chat to women on dating sites. But instead he called his mum on his mobile.
He sat in a reclining chair, loosening his tie. “I do have a mobile, Mum.” He took off his shoes and placed them next to his chair. “Well, if you used the one I bought you.”
I looked at a bookshelf. He liked history and sports biographies.
“I’ve been out. Yeah, with a woman.”
The kitchen was tidy. The fridge had lots of meals for one.
“I’ve had women before, just never wanted to tell you about them. This one’s different.”
I could tell he was smiling as he spoke.
“No, just different. A widow. Poor guy died in an accident.”
I looked in the bedroom. Flowers on the table.
“One. She’s sweet. Misses her dad, course she does.” He laughed. “She’s great. Hannah. No, I don’t want to rush it, but I think we could make a go of it. Listen, are you going to be in on Sunday? I’d like you to meet her.”
My head hurt and my heart hurt. I slipped out through the door, closing it quietly behind me.
It was a long way home under dark skies and glaring streetlights.
I slipped into the bed as quietly as I could. Hannah rested her head on my shoulder, snuggling in and breathing deep. “Dan,” she whispered, half smiling. “Dan.” She draped an arm across my chest.
I smelled her hair and held her close.
When the first breath of sunlight touched the window, I went to see Lisa. She was fast asleep clutching a toy bear. I stroked her hair. “I love you,” I whispered. She clutched the bear tighter and smiled.
My hand shook as I opened the door. The morning sun was shining, and as I took one last look back at the house, I saw my footprints were already fading in the dew-wet grass.