I’m standing at the washing up bowl, looking out of the kitchen window at our back garden. In just under a fortnight, it will no longer be mine. The garden never really was mine, though. It was yours. You cared for it, you tended and looked after the plants, you cut them back when they became unruly, you knew what they were all called. You bought the bird feeders, and kept them topped up.
Croci are already pushing up and showing hints of flowering. You taught me the plural during one of our email bat-and-ball games, long before you even visited. I sent you a picture, you said I was lucky to have such a lovely garden. I loved you then. I loved our messages.
I push the soapy dishcloth into my morning coffee mug. I’ve recently noticed concentric grey rings around the inside rim of my favourite mugs. It’s the kind of minor detail that, I’ve absent-mindedly noticed, and have been sub-consciously processing. It's something different, a glitch in the everyday patterns. One that I can't quite work out, but don't need to.
The Monday after you died, I collected your things from the hospice. That included your wedding ring. I placed it on the little finger of my right hand. It has barely left it since. I tap it against the brake lever of my bikes while I ride. I twiddle it with my left hand when I need a pause in conversation… something to focus on that, something to grab on to and steady myself and collect my thoughts into a cohesive reply. The only time I remove it, is when I go climbing. I slip my feet into the snug shoes, which are perfectly formed to my feet. They are so close to wearing out, I fear that my toe will poke through the thin rubber as I smear against the wall. I remove my chalk bag, which used to be your chalk bag. It is the latest in a long line that I’ve owned. Others have fallen apart, been left at various crags, or just gone walk about. Lastly, once I’ve taken a layer or two off, I take off my ring, and your ring, and clip them on to the carabiner that doubles as a key ring. I repeat the process in reverse when I’m done. I have to push the rings on to chubby, tired and swollen fingers, dry with chalk dust.
I got a tattoo of a heart on my ring finger. I wanted something that I didn’t need to remove, something permanent. Something that even at the time, I knew would last longer than you.
The Archers is on the radio while I wash. It used to remind me of growing up, sitting in the kitchen while my mum made a week day tea, or caught up to the omnibus while preparing a Sunday roast. Now it reminds me of you, and is maybe more part of me than I want to admit. I forget the names, but the voice carry a warm familiarity, the plots progress at a pace that means it doesn’t matter that I have missed a week or two, or barely absorb the actual words.
Running the dishcloth around the bottom of the mug, I feel your ring chasing a circuit inside, near the top. It makes a gentle ting and scrape. I leave another feint ring on the white china, place it upside down on the draining board and pause. You still leave your mark on me.
Washing up done, I return upstairs, and sit down amongst half-packed boxes. Some will be unpacked almost as soon as they enter the new house. Others won’t need to be. They aren't needed for practical things. I open the drawer that contains your jewellery. There is the necklace that I gave to you when I proposed, sitting on the grass in Wales, watching the sun dip below Cader Idris. You wore it so often. It suited you. There is the necklace that I bought the last time we went to Skye. You picked it out as a one year wedding anniversary present. You didn’t wear it. I think you were saving it for a special occasion. For whatever reason, it never came. And, there is your engagement ring. My great-grandmother’s. I was afraid that it was lost. I didn’t want to look, in case I couldn’t find it. I should have known that you would have kept it safe. I place it back in its box, and close the lid.
I’m surrounded by stuff, things, possessions. All at once they feel both utterly worthless and the most important things in the world. I would swap every one for more memories, more time, for you. I’m angry that I won’t get to see you wearing them again, that you won’t read your books again, or fill the half-completed notebook. I hate that I can’t even read the last thing that you wrote, because it was a little scrawl while you were sedated.
I am so scared that I will lose the little memories, that they will blur into one picture of you, rather than the beautiful, complicated, impossible, maddeningly wonderful person that you were. In the same way that your necklace carries memories, so does this house. It is so heavy with them that it no longer feels like my home. It stopped feeling like that as soon as I knew you weren’t coming home from the hospice. I don’t dislike it here. I don’t want to leave. I need to, though. I need to view the memories from a distance. I need to get home from a trip away and not be knocked to my knees by the emptiness of a home that has mementoes on every spare surface, bookcases sagging with them. Still empty though.
And so, I carry a few boxes out to the van, the little finger of my right hand tapping against the cardboard as I go.