Rachel stood in the middle of her living room, large eyes surveyed the furniture in a sweeping arc, taking in the expensive carpet, the beige leather sofa, coffee table with its customary one or two magazines carelessly strewn on the polished ash effect top.
Jim's television sat brooding and silent in the far corner, silently observing her return to her home after so long. Her reflection dimly mirrored her image in the black glass. A still, thin figure, dressed in jeans and a shirt as it surveyed the room. The television was Jim's, he bought it on a whim, not discussing it with her, just rubbing his hands together like Uriah Heap in anticipation of the delivery truck. Rachel hated it. For one thing, it was way too big for the room and dominated more than the corner it had been banished to. The remote was also on the coffee table, partially hidden by one of her magazines.
She continued her sweeping survey. Seeing the familiar, but feeling like an intruder on a past life.
And then, her hand flew to her mouth in an effort to stifle it before it escaped from her mouth, between her teeth to rattle around the room and bounce of the walls. Either her hand wasn't quick enough or the gaps between her fingers allowed the sob to pass. It was only the one, heaving sob, short, but full of sorrow and a lonely anguish. It came from the heart, a place she had hoped her extended stay away had capped off, but returning home had reopened the wound.
The memories of Jim, lying on the sofa, watching the figures on his prized possession, yelling at the team or the referee or contestants in a game show, were so stark. The time since his death had not diminished the expectancy of him. Painfully close was his voice, his space, even the smell of him.
Rachel stood; eyes closed and relived snippets of conversation, demands for food, tea, to get out of the way. The cadences of his voice so familiar, the way he growled as he snoozed in his favourite place. And then there was his smell, ingrained in the cushions on the settee, absorbed in the leather and permeated into every surface. The polish that had been used by the cleaners did not have a strong enough scent to mask Jim's musk. A smell that she missed now and in a heart aching moment of remembrance, craved in the basest sense.
It was more than she could take in. Rachel almost bolted. She even felt her feet shuffle in readiness to fly from the house, slam the front door and just keep on running until she fell off the edge of the world.
Her six months away had not been enough. The wound was still too raw for her to return to London and try to pick up her life, sans Jim.
She didn't bolt from the house though. Instead, she stood in the middle of the front room, her face in her hands as she soaked up the misery until it spilled over and she sobbed in wracking heaves.
Jim being taken from her so violently was not how it was supposed to be. Being a victim in a road traffic accident was not part of the plan. He was standing in a queue for a bus when the drunk driver mowed him and two others down. It was not fair and was cut short, all too soon, their plans for the future. Marriage, kids and a long happy life had all been extinguished in a fraction of a second. Being told he would not have known much about it didn't help. She knew he would have looked to see what it was hurtling towards him, bouncing off of a brick wall. She knew he would have seen it coming and that was the real horror Rachel could not cope with.
For six months, spent at her parent's home in Surrey, she had sobbed, had grieved and tried to overcome the heart break. Dad had been especially supportive, silently grasping her and holding her head against his chest while she cried her anguish out. He rarely said anything as she broke down. He was just there. He had been her rock and steadying post. Then, when he judged the time to be right they talked and talked, far into the night and early morning. It was the point in which Rachel decided to take control of her life again; return to the house and become Rachel; on her own two feet, ready to face the world again.
Her resolve had been solid and even she had begun to believe in it, but then, here she was, in pieces and totally undone.
Her grief exhausted her. Rachel was bone weary again, a condition she thought was better, until her return to the house. Perhaps it was too soon. Perhaps it might never be right. She was too tired to think about the immediate future. She went to bed, not even taking her clothes off and slept a fitful night, full of dreams and memories that hurt.
The sound of cheering woke her the next morning. At first, she could not work out where it was coming from, but then, as her sense came back to her, she realised the sounds were coming from downstairs. The television was on with the sound far too high. A football match was playing, a re-run from the weekend she guessed. Rachel hit the remote and turned the sound down and spun on her heel to admonish Jim.
He wasn't there. How could he be? Jim was dead. In that brief moment, she had fully expected to see him slouched across the settee in his boxers. It was a shock that he wasn't and then a deeper shock when she remembered why he couldn't be.
She picked up the remote and pressed the power switch and wondered how the set had come on without her pressing buttons. Perhaps it had a timer or switched on when certain programs were scheduled. The screen went black and reflected her dim outline. Suddenly, the silence of the room was oppressive, enough to drive her out and into the shower.
Rachel dressed and realised she was hungry.
A little while later, after a bacon sandwich and a large mug of tea in the local cafe, she felt much better and began to think about the practicalities of her immediate future.
One; she would need to go shopping. There was little food in the house, so that was a priority.
Two; she would need to speak to her boss. The company had given her compassionate leave, but that had expired two months ago. She had maintained contact with the HR department. Chances were that she could get her job back. There are not that many experienced legal secretaries.
Three; She would need to re-acquaint herself with her circle of friends. Rachel thought that it would be difficult at first, where sympathy would adjust their interactions. But, she hoped, in time, things would settle down as they became used to the fact that she was alone now.
Four; she would need to sort her finances out. The pay out from the insurance company, although substantial, would not last forever. It would be a good idea to invest what was left and keep it as a stand by.
Armed with her new resolutions, Rachel toured the local supermarket and realised, suddenly, that they are geared up for families and definitely not for single people, unless they could happily survive on ready-made meals. Everything came in packs of two or more. It would mean separating and re-bagging for the freezer.
The television was on again with a game of rugby blaring out from the sound system as she struggled into the living room, laden with her shopping.
"This is weirding me out." Rachel said aloud to herself. She dropped the bags and hit the remote power switch and then, unplugged the set from the wall.
All hell broke loose. The moment she pulled the plug, the sidelights flicked on, as did the radio and the small fan heater. She jumped at the sudden cacophony of sound and light then realised that, judging by the noises coming from the kitchen, all the appliances had come on.
One by one, she turned things off. The lights and radio and then in the kitchen, the mixer, cooker alarm, kettle and so on until all were either switched off or unplugged. In her haste to regain control of her home, she didn't have time to feel frightened or wonder what was going on other than to assume it had been a power surge caused by her unplugging the television.
But, then, as she returned to the living room, she could hear something rattling upstairs. All of the lights were on, stairs, landing and her bedroom. The noise was coming from the other side of the bedroom door. Now she was getting worried and gingerly pushed the door with her foot, leaning backwards, ready for flight.
Her bedside alarm clock had fallen off the dressing table, the rattling was the vibration of the clock bouncing on the laminate flooring where alarm and vibrate were both working. She picked it up and flicked the switch across to silence the clock with its red led lights showing the time in numerals.
She could hear her rabbit vibrator buzzing in the drawer and as she turned that off too, realised that it was not plugged into the mains. How had a surge in the electrics started that off?
Rachel, not usually given over to panic, suddenly felt fearful, bordering on panic. This was too weird. She felt quite vulnerable and terribly alone. It felt like the walls were crowding in on her and the house had become sullen, malevolent, even.
It took her quite some time to settle down during which she plugged the kettle back in and made herself a cup of tea. Irrationally, she checked the fuse cupboard to make sure all was as it should be. Her knowledge of electrics was sufficiently poor that she would not have recognised a problem if there were one, unless there were scorch marks.
She stored the groceries in the fridge and kitchen cabinets. The mundane action helped to soothe her.
At last, exhausted, she reconnected the television and settled into the cushions to watch the giant screen and anything to take her mind off of recent events. She reaffirmed that the screen was too big for the room as contestants in a banal game show seemed to be almost life size. It boggled her eyes a bit and the resolution of the screen allowed for every facial blemish to be shown in perfect clarity. The television would have to go, she decided.
Wishing to avoid a headache, she hit the power button of the remote and saw the screen go black. Her reflection shone back at her, mirror imaging the room and her slouched position on the settee. And then, she saw a movement in the reflection. Some dark shadow appeared to have passed behind her, near the door to the kitchen.
She spun around, but saw nothing. The fright she had felt came back as sharp and consuming as it had been earlier. She shivered and wanted to run from the room, from the house that suddenly, did not feel to be the safe haven it used to be.
"Jim, if you're fucking about. Stop it!" Rachel did not believe in an afterlife and did not expect that she would get an answer, but it felt good to stamp her authority, even if it was on someone departed. She had to be in control of her environment and was not going to be frightened out of the house. It was hers, her property. Nothing happened except that she felt better in having said it and perhaps, stamped her authority.
She dreamed that night, reliving some of the best times with Jim. Remembering sunny days in the country, walking for miles and miles, aimlessly and then finding a secluded place. Their love making, slow and sensuous, always culminated in a climactic finish with both of them breathing hard and quivering from the joy of each other's bodies and the harmony of their respective orgasms. Jim had really been the perfect lover. He had his faults, but when it came to sex, his consideration and natural athleticism provided her with a partner second to none.
She woke in the morning to sunlight streaming into the room from between the curtains that had a small gap where they were not quite pulled together. The alarm clock was blank. She hadn't put the plug in. Rachel stretched and threw back the covers. The bed was soaked with a circular stain that was familiar. Always I get the damp spot she thought to herself and then giggled. She felt the way she normally did after a good session; Invigorated, alive and happy and very much in need of a shower.
She was sore she discovered. Her sex was tender to the touch of her bath sponge as if she had been on the nest all night. It brought back happy memories.
"I must have frigged myself stupid last night." She said out loud and then told herself off for talking to herself.
She was famished; another of those, morning after rituals when the local café did a brisk business in feeding the two of them following a night of passion. Usually, they were red-eyed and almost incoherent with exhaustion, but managed to convey the need for food and steaming mugs of tea.
Rachel dressed and entered the café, feeling much happier than she had in too long a time.
She called her previous employers who said they would be happy to have her back. A meeting was set up for the following Monday to discuss terms and her role. Even the law does not stand still, there were new elements of the job that she would need to be trained in. It was a positive call and fed into her feeling of wellbeing. Even the sun shone on this crisp early spring day.
The shopping centre was as busy as ever. Rachel didn't like crowds, but would put up with the discomfort when searching for clothes.
A few hours later, she stepped out of the mini-cab and unlocked the front door. The television was again, paying to itself with the sound turned up to a pitch far too high. For a moment, she didn't know quite what to do. But, then decided to leave it on, not wanting to cause the pandemonium of yesterday. It still weirded her out, but she felt some acceptance.
She placed her carrier bags in the bedroom with the contents to be sorted and hung later. Then made a cup of tea, which she took into the living room.
Rachel sat on the settee at the opposite end the where Jim would have been while watching sports. She sipped her tea and stared warily at the space he used to occupy. She could see nothing nor sense anything, just the vacancy of the three-seater sofa.
It was cricket. The game on the television showed the bowler running up to the crease to deliver a fastball at the batter. Hang on, she thought to herself, Jim doesn't like cricket. Correction, didn't like cricket. The screen went blank suddenly and she couldn't help but to smile. A small victory, she thought. If the television is going to turn it's self on, then it should be for something worth watching.