The Widower

The flowers had all died. In the weeks since Jen’s funeral, one by one they had wilted and withered, scattering dried petals across the sideboard. Harry couldn’t bear to clear them away, to move on from the loss of the woman he loved, torn away from him so young by cancer. So the dead flowers remained. Like the medication the doctor had prescribed him, they were a numbing reminder of loss.

He was staring at the flowers the first time he heard her voice.

“I miss you, Harry.”

She sounded as warm and friendly as ever. For a moment, it was reassuring.

Then reality took hold. He looked around in shock. Had he really heard that or just imagined it?

The next day, he was washing dishes when he heard a voice just like Jen’s again, coming from behind him.

“I’m still with you,” she said.

He spun around but there was no one there. He searched the house for any sign of life and scoured the kitchen for hidden equipment that could have played the voice. Who was doing this to him? Why were they doing it? Was it just in his head?

That night he counted his pills, making sure he had taken the right dose.

The third time he heard the voice he was in the shower, the fourth time in the basement. By now he was getting frantic. Was she really there still with him? That was impossible. Was this someone’s idea of providing comfort? Was it some echo he couldn’t shake from his brain?

He needed to know. Losing Jen had almost destroyed him, his grief putting him on the sort of medication he had sworn never to take. Losing his mind as well, no longer being himself, that would be too much.

He roamed the house, looking for anything that could have played the noises.

Maybe it was something that Jen had planted, a reminder of her. He looked under carpets and behind picture frames. When that didn’t help, he smashed them open, scattering broken fragments of their shared lives in a desperate attempt to find her voice, to find her.

After that he tried the furniture. Chairs were overturned, mattresses ripped open, shelves heaved away from the walls. It no longer felt like he was the one doing this. Instead, it was like watching someone else from a distance, seeing them destroy his and Jen’s home.

He pulled up more carpets, tore down light fittings, smashed holes in the wall with a hammer.

At last he sat amid the debris of his life with nothing to show for the destruction. No sign of anything that could have played her voice.

“I’ll always be here,” she said gently, the sound echoing around a room no longer lined with furniture and decorations. A voice that still brought a smile to him even amid the madness of the moment.

Then the smile passed. Harry closed his eyes, whimpering with fear. This had to be him. It had to be his mind.

“You’re not real,” he said. “I love you, but you’re not real.”

The medicine. It had to be the medicine doing this. Forcing himself to his feet, he walked to the bathroom, opened the white plastic bottle, and held it above the toilet bowl.

“I want to be sane,” he said as he prepared to tip them away.

“More than you want me?” Jen’s disembodied voice replied.

Harry hesitated. Did it matter if that voice was real? Did it matter whether he was sane if she was still here with him?

He closed the bottle and put it back on the shelf, ready for later. Then he went downstairs, ready to throw away the dead flowers and the broken rubble of his life.