Doctor Maura Isles stumbled into her house, clumsily closing the door behind her as she carelessly kicked off her heels. The shoes clattered against the wall, forgotten and ignored. She weaved her way over to the kitchen bench, depositing her purse before making her way to her nearby stash of wine.
The evening had been a quiet affair; a few friends gathering at the Dirty Robber to commemorate the passing of an anniversary. Nobody had sent out invitations or passed the word around; everyone had just known where to go. They still shared the bond of friendship, despite the passage of time, despite the trauma of life’s inevitable challenges, despite the distance that sharing a loss naturally creates.
Maura didn’t quite remember who had encouraged her to take a cab and get home, but she was grateful that they had done it before she started making a fool out of herself. She was starting to wallow and talk, a bad combination. Secret feelings and uncomfortable truths tended to pour unimpeded from her lips in such a state, and she didn’t ever want to burden those who still tolerated her oddness with more discomfort. She felt fortunate to still have people who cared about her at all; making it more challenging to care was something she avoided at all costs. It didn’t matter how she felt or how much she wanted to give in and let someone else bear her troubles for just one night; it wasn’t an option.
Maura glanced down to find half the bottle was already gone. She squinted in confusion, not remembering pouring or drinking, before she shrugged, grabbed the bottle, and moved towards the couch.
The ungainly collapse onto the couch made her head spin giddily. She leaned over to lessen the impact, finding a comfortable position that would allow her to continue chugging the crimson liquid directly from the bottle. She stared blankly at her TV, feeling no desire to watch it. She had barely turned it on for the last four years. Not since the event that they had wordlessly marked tonight.
As she tried to smother her thoughts with the comforting fuzziness of wine and spirits she reflected that she was once again unsuccessful. As always, her thoughts inevitable spun around to the subject that could cause her to burst into tears in the middle of a conference, or reduce her to a whimpering, dangerous mess during a critical autopsy. It hadn’t caused her termination at work yet, but she had been forced to take personal leave three times in the last two years to get her head straight. She still wasn’t right, and everyone knew it, but she managed to at least recover her professional ability. She reconstructed the icy mask that was Dr Isles, Queen of the Dead, and left Maura at home. She built her persona with the mortar of indifference and separation, leaving all friendship and emotion outside her morgue.
But here, in her once safe sanctuary, she felt it all. She felt the loss. She felt the emptiness. She felt the hole in her life that had once been filled with a person. Although she still worked, still exercised, still talked to her friends, still lived, all the spark was gone. There didn’t feel like a point to all of these activities, she just continued them out of habit. There was no light at the end of any tunnel; there were only trains to avoid.
Maura raised the bottle again, only to discover that it was empty. She dropped it with a sigh of disappointment. It rolled across the floor, echoing eerily in the empty house. She watched it until it slowly came to a stop, away from everything, not even making it to the wall or shattering. Not making an impact. Unimportant.
As she closed her eyes and drifted off into her usual world of nightmares, she had one thought. It was the same thought that had haunted her for the last four years. It was the same thought that she couldn’t imagine ever being rid of.
It was her mantra. The stone around her neck. Jane.
I miss you Jane.
I wish you were here.
I need you.
Darkness took her and wrapped her chokingly, pulling her deeply into her subconscious. There were demons here; pain, anger, wrath, jealousy, envy, grief, sorrow, desperation. The demon she feared most reared its head last of all; truth. It taunted her as she realised that once she left this place there was nowhere better to go to. She would still be alone. It was a familiar realisation; one she experienced every night, but it still hurt as much as the first time. It seared through her, the pain stripping her bare and leaving her without hope.
She rocketed off the couch as she burst back to consciousness, her shin hitting the low table as she tottered across the room before hitting the ground, her limbs tangling painfully. A dull ache throbbed from her cheek which had collided with the edge of the bookshelf. She sighed as her mind caught up with her body. It wasn’t the first time she had woken up in this manner, and wouldn’t be the last. Judging from the light streaming through the windows it was time to get up, wash off the last day and get ready for the next one. There was no reason to think it would be any different from any that had preceded it, but Maura had stopped questioning why she continued to persist with her routine. To begin with, it was in the hope that someday she would recover and want her life again. Then it was to maintain the environment for the people around her: to provide a constant that they could draw comfort from. Now it was just because she couldn’t be bothered figuring out what else to do with her time.
Her morning routine happened without Maura really noticing. She grabbed the first clean outfit she could find, not bothering to consider whether she had worn it before. Noticing it was black she selected a pair of shoes that vaguely matched. She threw on some makeup mostly to try to cover the obvious signs of her hangover and the angry bruise blossoming on her cheek.
Before she left her room she glanced in the mirror and paused. For some reason she noticed her reflection, really noticed it, for the first time in months. Her hair was flat and lifeless, there were new wrinkles forming around sunken eyes, her mouth seemed to be incapable of smiling. Maura wondered briefly when she had become this stranger, before retreating back into her comfortable numbness. It was easier not to notice, not to care.
The day drifted by with nothing making much of an impact. A murder suicide was brought to her attention; the autopsy easily completed and signed off before she went for lunch. She had her usual salad, then returned to the morgue to complete some outstanding paperwork. It had been a slow month, which meant nobody came to bother her. She preferred it that way; it made it easier to avoid the pitying looks when people just avoided her.
After she got home, exhausted from the tedium of the day, she decided a run would be a good idea. Sometimes during a run her brain went blank and she could relax into the motion, forgetting the cruel facsimile of life that her existence had turned into. This was one of those days; the pavement disappeared beneath her sneakers, her mind leaving her thoughts behind and allowing her a moment of blissful peace.
Suddenly the spell was broken. She found herself in a park, a mostly empty park. The light was fading, the sun having set fifteen minutes ago. She looked around, not seeing anything suspicious but suddenly feeling unsafe. The surge of adrenaline was a welcome change from her usual apathy, but she still turned around and headed for home. She might be noncommittal towards her life, but she still didn’t want to risk it unnecessarily.
As she left the park she continued to feel uneasy. She felt like there were eyes on her, burning through her as she ran. She picked up her pace, feeling muscles protest as she pushed them further than usual. The feeling persisted, only intensifying as she neared her house. She whipped her head around, trying to identify the source. As she reached her door she scrambled for her keys, fumbling in her panic. As she finally got the key into the lock she heard a footfall behind her.
Instead of swinging wildly or screaming, she let out a defeated sigh. If her life was to end, she would try to go out with some dignity. She slowly spun around to look her assailant in the eye.
The woman standing before her looked like she had been through hell. Her bald head was littered with scars, new and old, consistent with injuries and surgical procedures. Her face was marred with a long, healed slash that meandered its unsettling way from the right of her chin, across her mouth, across her left eye socket, joining with the cluster of scars at her temple. Her stance and posture suggested strength and resolve, but her limbs were lean; the muscle standing out beneath pallid flesh. Her breathing was ragged, as if after a long run; her face was drawn and pale. Her expression was contorted in confusion as her eyes stared through Maura questioningly, demanding something that Maura didn’t understand.
Maura felt her knees grow weak, her hands grow clammy, her breath leave her chest in a frenzied rush. She focussed on those eyes. She knew those eyes.