Anyway it’s not how that bothers me, it’s why. The how almost doesn’t matter. Everyone has a story of how or where or when. It happens every day, it happens to everyone. But that’s all people want to ask: how. How did it happen? How are you? How? I feel like I’ve rehearsed the answer now, perfected it. Just the right amount of emotion so they don’t get uncomfortable. Like the realness of it scares them more than the answer. They get more uncomfortable when I ask them why instead. Nobody answers; nobody tries save for those reflexive statements hollowed out from overuse. Mostly they touch my shoulder, tilt their heads at me; change the subject. I keep asking until I feel like a toddler. Why why why why? Why is grass green? Why doesn’t the sun fall out the sky? Why-
‘Back in 20 minutes. Don’t eat breakfast!’ The note was stuck to the fridge door among the alphabet magnets spelling sporadic words. Fuck. Hello. Buy milk. I made coffee in those twenty minutes, wrote a note to replace the leaky kettle that floats specks of spilled sugar across the worktop. After half an hour I made a slice of toast. After forty minutes I panicked; fifty minutes I got the call. I see the note every day when I’m in the kitchen. The yellow paper follows me wherever I move, and soon I eat my meals in the living room. Her last written words. I can’t move them. It’s unfair that that’s all she gets. That she didn’t keep that promise.
I try to recall the last things we said to each other but I can’t. Something about what we would do the next day, probably. I hate that I can’t remember. That the last time I spoke to her was like any other time and the world doesn’t care about goodbyes. I look at the last text she sent me. There are a lot of lasts, none as meaningful as they deserve to be. Her text is a picture she’s taken of a pigeon holding a large chip in its beak and she’s captioned it is this you? And then it’s fucking freezing. It actually makes me smile because she’s there, alive in these words, and soon I’m scrolling through our conversations.
I wonder if she was going to that bagel place I like that’s out of her way and if she’d gone to the usual place she’d still be here, sipping coffee she pretends to enjoy to look mature. I take to writing these questions on scraps of paper, leaving them around the apartment as they come to me as though somehow she’ll find them and answer. In reality she’d complain about me making a mess. I wouldn’t mind. Do you remember the time we got lost and ended up in that chocolate café? What was that called? One day I’m walking past a sign that would make her laugh and there’s no paper so I send her a text. I don’t know where her phone is or if it’s still her number but it feels familiar. It becomes my crutch when I see reminders of her or hear a song she loves. After the funeral: walking around until it’s dark because it all seems too real now, and strangers giving me funny looks. Why did you promise me twenty minutes? My best friend is dead and you’re the only one I want to talk to about it. When I stumble home I make my way to the fridge and take out the first thing I see. The note flaps with the closing of the door and I abandon the apple in my hand for a pen.
I write my reply. I miss you.
Her parents come to get her things one day. They disappear into her room whilst I linger in the hallway. I make three cups of tea which go untouched, and sit at the table. I should have done something about the notes scattered around before they got here. I didn’t want to move them, though. Not when the last traces of her are leaving in cardboard boxes. They leave one for me. Pushed into my hands by her father who told me she’d want me to have it. Pictures, things we bought together, stuff like that. Her mother comes out to stand in the kitchen and I see her eyes linger on the note, my neat handwriting next to her scrawl. She hasn’t mentioned the other scraps of paper.
‘It’s nice to see you.’ It’s not. She’s thinking that it could have been me instead. That she’d rather it had been me. So am I. So do I.
‘You too.’ It seems stupid. Standing here and talking like nothing’s changed. Like I’m at their house again for lunch on a Thursday and she’s late as usual. If she were here she’d joke about the uncomfortable silence that’s stretched on for too long now. The one that says all the things we’re avoiding talking about. The fact that she’s not here will never be here won’t answer my calls. Her father comes out of her room with the last of the boxes, looking lost now that everything’s done. He nods to me and gestures to his wife and after a rushed hug they’re gone.
My phone is out of my pocket at the click of the door, fingers hovering over the keyboard. Your parents were here. It was weird. I nearly drop the phone when it buzzes in my hands, and swear to myself. THIS NUMBER HAS BEEN DISCONNECTED. It isn’t her, of course it isn’t. I lock the screen, try to focus elsewhere. The apartment is a mess; I’ve probably wasted a stationary shop on unfinished thoughts and questions and it’s beginning to look like the home of a writer with a deadline. I pick up the nearest note to read it and soon my hands are full of them, all save the one on the fridge. I leave that one in my drawer. Can’t imagine throwing it away with the others as much as she’d want me to. Or maybe she wouldn’t, I’ll never know. And I can learn to be okay with that. I write goodbye on the note anyway.
The only functioning appliance we’ve got is a kettle. The cheapest one we could find, bought with the cash scraped together after moving in. We’re both broke after the first rent payment so a housewarming is the last thing we need, but she invites the rest of our friends anyway. ‘Hopefully they’ll bring food,’ she says, ‘if not then we’re living on these for the next week,’ she shakes the box of teabags in my face. Exaggerating, but not by much. The apartment is tiny and its bedroom can barely be called a room, not to mention the living room. She calls it a waiting room. It’s about the same size and just as inviting, even with a duvet thrown across the old sofa. Cosy, I call it: I don’t mind. It’s home now.
(Influenced by the structure of Ali Smith’s ‘Erosive’)