by Michael Croban
He often dreamed of being alive; simple things like gazing at the night skies, or smelling the freshly cut grass in the early spring would occupy his mind. It was funny, though, he never noticed any of those things while he was still among the living. His death wasn’t the sort of where they cremate you and scatter your ashes at sea, or where they bury you and leave you to be eaten by worms. No, it wasn’t like that at all. He possessed all the qualities of a living person such as breathing or thinking and even talking, but there was no soul inside of his body; it was just an empty shell, devoid of any real feelings. It was as if he was an android, a thinking machine that had to obey a line of code which was programmed inside of his artificial brain to keep him from self-destructing. An automatism that manifested itself through eating, pissing or any other command that his body would order him to do.
Every night he would lie down next to his wife, Mary, and watch her fall asleep. Then he would turn around and lay on his back staring at the ceiling until dawn. Sometimes in the middle of the night he would get up and walk slowly to his son’s room, and every time he would peer inside hoping to find Jeremy asleep in his little bed. Seeing the bed empty always felt as if a hammer hit him in the stomach. Mary kept the room in perfect order, just as it was on the day Jeremy left them. Jeremy’s toys were neatly placed next to his bed. Above Jeremy’s crib, the solar system was hanging, its planets frozen in the motionless orbits around the orange toy-sun. He would close the door slowly not to disturb the thick silence the house was engulfed in. He never thought he would miss those nights when baby screams were waking him up at 4 a.m., when he had to rush to the kitchen to make baby formula while Mary was shushing the baby back to sleep. Those nights, now felt eons away. Happiness, such an ambiguous and relative term, he knew he’d never feel it again.
He would go back to bed and lay next to Mary. Her steady breathing felt so unfair. Anger would start to rumble inside of him and then he’d resent the world for carrying on as if nothing happened, he’d resent the birds in the morning for singing their songs, but most of all he resented Mary. He resented her for still being alive. She didn’t die as he did, as she was supposed to. In the morning he could hear Mary in the kitchen making breakfast, she would say, “Good morning, how did you sleep,” or something similar. He would respond with, “Fine,” and then he’d watch her eat the cereal and read the newspapers. She’d never notice him staring at her.
It was almost a year since he died; seasons changed, days became longer. As usual, at dawn, he came downstairs and watched the sun rising. He wanted to appreciate it but he couldn’t feel anything. Mary came down just after a few minutes. She was all dressed up and ready for work. “Listen, I’m going with some friends after work for a drink, you can join us if you want,” Mary said while opening the fridge. He was dumbfounded. He couldn’t say a word, he just stood there as if he was frozen. “What do you say? Call me later.” Mary left. He was still standing right there in the middle of the kitchen, not being able to move. He could feel something was different. It was in the air. Was it spring already? Then it came to him, it was the perfume, a flowery scent of lilac Mary left lingering in the air. He realized not only Mary was still alive, but Mary started living, again. He went upstairs into the bedroom. He lay on the bed with a blanket over his head as if it would shield him from an onslaught of despair. Hours passed, he didn’t notice. Sometime in the middle of the night, Mary came home, he could hear her footsteps wandering around the house. There was that scent again, paler, but still strong enough that he could feel it. Mary came inside the bedroom.
“Why didn’t you call me?” she whispered. He could smell alcohol on her breath.
“I don’t know, I…”
“I know,” she said and kissed him. He kissed her back.
For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, they made love. As the morning sun crept in through the windows, he opened his eyes. Something was different; he slept. He slept all through the night. Mary was next to him, he could feel the warmth of her naked body. Her breathing was steady. He smiled at her sleeping face and stroked her head. The birds were chirping outside. It didn’t make him angry. He got up from the bed and opened the window. He felt the warmth of the morning sun on his face. He inhaled the fresh air and realized, he was alive, again.
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Michael Croban hails from Croatia. He is a former musician and a music editor. He equally appreciates Dostoevsky and Lennon. His work has recently appeared on various micro and flash fiction sites such as 101words.org, The Drabble, Flash Fiction Friday, etc.