I used to tell people that Steph could see into the future. It’s how she lived. She knew we’d get married before I asked her. Vivid memories of learning that lesson. The ridiculous and elaborate dinner where I invited her parents over, after spending half the week trying to figure out how to roast a chicken without turning it into a lump of stringy charcoal. The minor panic attack I had after pulling her father aside to ask his permission. Seems silly in retrospect. I thought so at the time, too. But I figured that’s how people did things.
At least her father turned his head to spit beer on the floor instead of my shirt.
“Why are you telling me?” he asked.
“Isn’t that how people do it?” I was feeling the evening heat keenly out there on our apartment’s small balcony.
Her father leaned against the railing. “I didn’t even do that when I asked Hellen, and that was before you were born.”
I shrugged, rubbed at the itchy sweat running down the back of my neck. “I don’t have much experience with this sort of thing,” I said. Which came out of my mouth faster than I realized how obvious a statement it was.
This time he spat the beer out into the empty air. “You need to stop getting life advice from old Life of Riley reruns,” he said, putting the beer down. “And besides, she already knows.”
“What?” I asked. “How?”
“Beats me,” he said, looking at the remnants of the sunset over the narrow grey rooftops. “She said it would be this year, and so it looks like it is. But, hey, that’s Steph, right?” He turned and clapped me hard on the shoulder.
So I asked her, and we got married. And things were good.
Steph was the type of person who knows who she is and what she likes. A decisive personality that drew me in from the day we met. It was her insistence that helped me quit the job I hated and retrain for something else, after years of miserable indecision. She knew I could do it, and I believed in her future. I think that’s what it really was, now that I look back. Obviously, nobody can see the actual future, but Steph had a way of convincing me that her vision was the truth. That it was truer than my doubts, my insecurities.
When she pushed me to reconnect with my brother, whom I hadn’t seen in years, I barely hesitated. The relief I felt after our first phone call in a decade, hearing his voice and realizing that I couldn’t muster a single ounce of the anger I once had, was so intense I felt giddy and lightheaded for the rest of the week.
“That girl,” I’d say to people, adding a bit of knowing elbow, maybe a nod in her direction, “she knows how to scry. I swear I’ve seen the crystal ball and everything.” And they’d look at me funny as they thought of the quickest way to escape without being too rude.
I called my brother a month after Steph’s funeral. I’d thought about her parents, but couldn’t do it. He and Steph met at the wedding, and a few times after, when I started going to family gatherings again. I called him, and I heard him answer, but that’s as far as I got the first time. I let the phone ring after hanging up. I left it on the counter and went for a walk.
I tried again the next day. “You can talk to me,” he said before I had a chance to end the call again. “Whatever you want to say.”
So I said it. I said, “Why didn’t she see that coming? I believed in her, and she didn’t tell me . . . ” The words tasted like bile, I felt like I was betraying her, her memory.
And he didn’t judge me.
It was the first time I cried after she died.
The second came a year later, on my birthday. It was an email from Steph’s personal account, sent through some sort of time-delay system. Opening it was an automatic action, as natural and immediate as the first deep breath after waking from a long sleep. The subject was my name, the body read:
“I’m going to tell you tomorrow that I won’t be around much longer. I know it will crush you, and I don’t want to do it. But I have to. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry it had to end the way it did.
When you read this, I know you’ll be alone, lonely. I understand. You should talk to someone. Call your brother if you haven’t already. He’s a good guy. He’ll understand, too.
You’re going to get better.”
At the bottom was a link to one of her favourite songs--Electrelane's "Birds"--the one she would play on repeat, sitting by herself with her headphones on after breaking the news. She would tell me that, “Music is catharsis,” if she were here. And I decided if she thought that, if she believed that I could get better, then I could believe it, too.