After putting flowers on the grave and spending half an hour in thought and prayer, David decided that it was time to go home. Just as he was leaving the graveyard, he took one last look behind him and saw two blue tits fly into a nearby tree, fighting over what appeared to be a worm. Smiling, he left and shut the creaky gate behind him.
He walked slowly back to his house, wanting to enjoy the sharp breeze on his face and fingers for a bit longer. The cold that crawled into his skin and bones was just enough to forget that it was not only her who was now beyond his sight. Linnea, the mother of his children, who he had loved through their marriage and parting from it since, had finally lost her battle to cancer only days ago.
The familiar rush he had felt when Linnea and his daughters needed him was what had driven him to the hospital in a flurry, ready to fight any doctor necessary to keep the woman he had loved alive a while longer. But as soon as he had seen his former wife bedridden and barely breathing in the hospital bed, he knew that it was once again time to say goodbye to yet another chunk of his heart.
Poor sweet Linnea.
Back at the house, he dug out his old box of old and secret memories, yet had not dared to look through any of it since…no, he refused to think of it. When he would open the box, he was determined to first relish what he had preserved of the lives of others he had loved before giving in to his regrets.
Only the sound of the grandfather clock echoed in the study as David sat at his ever faithful desk. He carefully pulled out stacks of photographs, paintings and hand written letters that had been laid neatly amongst other odd books and trinkets.
At the very bottom of the box was a navy blue leather bound diary, held together by silver chain and padlock. An empty smile on his face, he took the little book and held it out in front of him as though he were greeting a long lost friend.
David then reached for the silver necklace hung around his neck and pulled it over his head, holding the little key attached to the centre between his thumb and middle finger. Taking a deep breath, he put the key in the padlock and turned it until the catch was released. He opened the front cover of the diary, tears beginning to prick his eyes when he couldn’t block out the smell of paper and the faint whiff of perfume.
Slowly, David scanned and unravelled the days, the weeks, the months of his life like a chapter of a novel – except this wasn’t someone else’s story. This was the shadow of the man he wished he had been earlier on in his youth. Not because he regretted having to learn. But hindsight was a sadly common and beautiful thing. There were plenty of moments where if he had them again, he would do and say things that he had left too late to think about, let alone carry out.
After a few minutes of overwhelming nostalgia, he skipped to the end of the diary to find a little pocket where a corner of paper could be seen peeping out from underneath the sleeve of leather. David pulled out the folded letter, now yellow with years of having been spent locked away at the bottom of a dark, dusty box.
He opened it, the scent of her perfume more potent in this piece of paper as it hit his nostrils and made the tears in his eyes burn. His index finger then began to trace under each line of her wavy writing, each letter stabbing him with a sense of punishment.
With all my love.
That was how she had signed it. Even though she had known she was dying and that they would never be able to see each other again until a time after both of their lives had come to pass. And here he was – cursed with old age, whilst she had met the grave only ten years before now, when it should have been him.
No, that wasn’t fair. His two daughters had needed him. His girls still needed him, especially now that their mother had gone too. But that still didn’t ease the immense guilt he felt over the loss of a woman who had given him so much to make him a better person, a better man. What did the world need of people like him when it did far more good with people like her in existence?
The anguished tears began to spill down David’s face as he choked back his cries.
He let them all go.
Everything he had suppressed in feeling and emotion finally came in a tsunami and before long, he was slumped in his chair, crippled by the sorrow. Sat in between the haunted walls of what he called his home, he knew it wasn’t just him there. The lone comfort when the moonlight would shine through the window and almost as softly as it had appeared from behind the evening clouds was when he would feel her.
For perhaps a moment, he could almost see her, sat to the side further down the study on the window ledge, hands gripping the edge and her shoulders hunched over with her legs dangling from above the floor. His pain reflected in the water of her eyes.
Then he was remembering when it all began.
David had always found ‘Iris’ to be a rather simple yet mystifying name. It made him think of an eye, able to hide and reveal one’s true self if you dove in deep enough. And, as he often thought, eyes were full of colour, too.
That certainly summed up her when she had been alive.
He remembered all too vividly the first time he had seen her. He had been sat down in his favourite coffee bar drinking an almond latte and reading his usual daily paper. A then younger David had been completely oblivious to his surroundings. When he had often visited, most of the staff knew to leave him alone once he had bought his coffee and found a seat to quietly read at.
The indulgence of peace and quiet was something of luxury when he could escape life back at home since his divorce from Linnea. It certainly was a miracle to find the bar hardly filled without its usual babble of people who annoyed him with their small minded chatter.
All in all, he had disciplined himself to ignore and be ignored, to be one who was not easily distracted from his routine. But then it had been her voice, her presence, which broke the chain and brought him crashing back down to earth in a way he would never have imagined to have happened.
“A rather right wing paper you’ve got there.”
David had not jumped out of his seat, but to say he had not been shocked by the sudden disturbance was an understatement. He had looked up to see none other than a woman stood above him with a quirk in her brow. She was wearing the coffee bar uniform. He had not seen her there before. Maybe it was because he had always been so engrossed that he never really noted who or where the staff were.
“Excuse me?” He finally answered. The woman’s lips titled upwards at the corners.
“Your paper. Very right wing material.” She pointed out again, her dark eyes flicking between his expression to the paper now quivering in his hands.
Since when did people ever notice what political parties the newspapers promoted anymore?
“Yes, I...I suppose so.” David recovered from his astonishment, looking to her name tag.
“Are you new here?” He asked politely. Iris nodded and smiled as she placed a cup of coffee on his table.
“I’ve been here for about a week now. All the girls gave me pointers on who our regulars are and asked me to do your coffee top up. It is hazelnut latte with extra froth you like, yes?” She explained, indicating towards the steaming cup she had just put down. Raising an eyebrow, David looked from the hot beverage to the smiling woman beside him.
“It is, indeed. How did you? You have quite a few regulars here, including me.” He said, his tone not quite disguising how impressed he was that she had only been here a week.
Shrugging, Iris picked up the other empty coffee mug and placed it on her tray.
“I like paying attention to detail.” Was all she replied before walking away from him. The spring in her step had made her look like she was in a constant waltz.
From that day onwards, he continued watching Iris from a distance, unable to take his eyes off her.
He would occasionally exchange a couple of words with her about what was in his paper or simply ask for another coffee. Other than that, he could not shake the fascination with how she had always appeared so merry, so full of energy. He couldn’t think of a time in where she hadn’t been stood chatting to a customer or laughing away with a colleague.
When she would look over the bar and smile at him, he would even smile faintly back.
David looked up from where he had been sobbing into his hands, the memories of her now pulling him up to look. She was still sat there. It wouldn’t be long before he would face another night, dreaming of her in places beyond his reach. It was a comfort nevertheless.
The memories kept her almost real. Sometimes at night, when he laid in bed half way between deep sleep and the world around him, he would feel a weight on the bed just behind his back. Warmth would flow through his veins and maybe, just maybe, he would hear the faintest whisper of his name.
Getting up from his desk, David walked to the window and like always, she faded as he neared. He looked outside to see the night shrouded with clouds. An owl hooted in the distance. The trees stirred gently like shadows on a wall as the light of the moon cast down upon them.David did not close the curtains that night.