The day it started I was on my way to work. The sun streamed through the windows, great sheets of warmth. The daffodils were out, the prunus in full blossom – a beautiful late winter’s day. Lost in daydreams, I would have missed my stop but the tram jolted. I jumped up and rushed to the door and leapt down the steps.
I stood there on the road, the bumper bar of a small blue Fiat against my legs, my hands steadying myself against the bonnet. Images of my body tumbling over the bonnet shuddered through my mind. Everything was silent. I could see the white face of the driver, frozen in anguished concentration. Passersby stood staring. It was as if the whole city had been leached of colour and sound. I walked through that pool of silence to the footpath. I don’t think I was breathing. Then the world erupted in a roar, people yelling, the lanky driver unfolded himself from the car and moved towards me. I backed into the crowd and turned and ran.
It hit me, a physical jolt, when I got to work, sent tremors through my body. I felt my bones crumble, my flesh disintegrate. But I was still standing there, by the photocopier, entire and whole. The pale shapes of my work mates moved around me, oblivious. When I remembered to breathe, sound and colour flowed back.
I put it down to delayed shock.
* * *
Then I started seeing him. I thought nothing of it at first. There are so many people you see every day; you recognize them but you don’t know who they are or what they do, don’t give them a second thought. He was different yet unremarkable – average height, average build, no distinguishing features, but so very familiar.
He reminded me of the man I saw at the Bay. We were on holidays about ten years ago. Garry and I had a massive argument, let the sun set on our anger. So important then, I have no idea now what it was about. I got up early the next morning and went out for a walk: away from the town, over the bridge, and down onto the beach near the Point. A fishing boat had gone down there two days before. All hands lost they said. The thought of it added to my misery.
I wanted to walk home along the shore. Then I saw him – middling height, dark hair, dark coat. His face was shadowy from that distance. He stood on the other side of the stream, his hands in his pockets staring intently out to sea. A black and white Border collie ran around him barking, dancing the way dogs do. The previous day the stream had been not much more than a channel, but that morning, with the tide in, it was flowing too fast to wade safgely through. I went back up to the road and crossed the bridge. By the time I got back to the beach, both the man and the dog were gone. I knew he would be, he wasn’t there for me. He didn’t leave a trace either. The dog’s tracks were everywhere, but not a single footprint.
* * *
The more time passes from the day of my near miss, the more often I see him. I have seen him in the street, at the library, in the queue at the supermarket. I have even caught a glimpse of him in the lift at work, a shadowy figure among the colours. Each time he is just that bit closer.
About a month ago I was coming home after a visit to the cinema with the girls from work. Victoria Street was completely deserted, the moon hidden by the clouds, the few streetlights giving off a feeble yellow light. All I could hear was the echo of my heels on the footpath and the faint rustle of the warm breeze in the bushes.
I hurried past the houses, their beautiful summer gardens hidden by the night. There is one house though, on the corner of Richards Street, dark brick arches, small conifers, concrete yard. I never give it much of a glance even in daylight. As I crossed the road I saw the shadows move beneath the arches. I didn’t dare look back until I was across.
My skin prickled, my shoulders tensed. Someone was watching me. I forced myself to turn right around; I walked backwards a few steps and stared. There was nothing but darkness around the house. I wanted to run, sick panic churning in my stomach, cold sweat trickling down my back. I forced my shoulders down, forced myself to march smartly on, to appear confident, to show no weakness.
I turned into our street, home in sight – safety. The shadows were thick and dark, all the streetlights were out. Halfway down the street my stomach lurched. His breath was on my neck, raising the hairs, sending a chill of panic right through me. I couldn’t turn and face him, too scared of what I would see. I ran. Home. I fumbled the keys, nearly dropped them. I didn’t look out as I shut the door. Locked it. Checked again that it was locked. My heart thudded as I peered out the spy-hole. Only shadows and breeze.
It was dim in the hall, the only light came from the bathroom. I stood in the hallway and listened to the murmurs and soft snores of my sleeping family. Even in the house eyes peered from every dark corner. I undressed and climbed into bed beside Garry. He muttered and turned his back to me. Bed can be a lonely place when you are awake in the dark.
* * *
He is a constant presence. He fills my mind, obliterating all else. Garry and the children are the shadows now, drifting beyond me. The faces that filled me with joy, the silky heads, the skin I buried my face against are a fading dream. I look in the mirror – I am a pale shade too. I look down at my hands as I work and marvel that they belong to me.
Last night I woke in the middle of the night. The darkness was solid. It surrounded me, pressed down, held me fast, forced the breath from me. I struggled to breathe but lost all will when I smelt it, the stench of corruption – rancid decaying flesh. I tried to scream but my voice was dead. Then the darkness faded and I could see shadows. Garry lay beside me, warm, oblivious. I reached out, my hand resting on his side. I could feel the rise and fall of his chest, hear his gentle snores. He felt like a tender illusion.
* * *
He was here this morning, in the yard, standing in the shade of the apricot tree, staring at the house. When I looked properly, he was gone.
Next time he will be in the house. I am not afraid. I am almost eager. Each moment brings him closer. He will stand in front of me. I will see him face to face.
©Catherine Merrick 2016