In his despair, Kostya found memories of other funerals, other burials, other moments when they heard the news. He and Simone were together in all these memories. When he’d found her in the kitchen, staring blankly, having dropped the phone on the floor. Somehow, he’d known without her saying a word, even though her mother was still young, and died accidentally. And when Tom was killed—well, it still broke him to think of it. He could see Simone’s face, the way it looked when they sat on the floor amidst all Tom’s things, after weeks of pretending his bedroom didn’t exist.
A twinge in his chest ripened into pain as he realized he was mourning her alone. Simone wasn’t here to squeeze his hand through the service, and she wouldn’t be there to cry with him later. How could she leave him like this? He’d never had to go on alone before.
Anna gave him a concerned look and shifted in the pew, turning her nylon coated legs towards him and putting her face too close to his face.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said.
His thoughts kept drifting back to that day. The way the framed photographs, scattered knick-knacks, and baseball trophies all seemed surreal and unfamiliar, like he and Simone weren’t in Tom’s bedroom at all, but some strange hotel room, or someone else’s house.
In the depth of his disconnection to these items, to this space, and the person it once belonged to, he felt a clarity. One huge thought singled out in a white space: Someday, it will be Simone who is gone. Someday I will have to touch her things and be faced with their existence without her. He didn’t know these thoughts in words. For a prolonged moment, he simply saw the world without her in it, and it took over his entire mind. He felt he was the wall or the carpet. No longer a man, but an absence. Brought into non-existence by losing the tethers he had to the world. In losing them, he was lost.
The hem of Anna’s black skirt brushed by his knees. Was it over? Could he finally get out of here? No, Anna was going to the lectern. She was about to say something poignant and moving which would tear his soul into a million pieces. He felt a strong urge to run. He needed a distraction. All the thoughts that had swirled around and tried to drown him had abandoned him. He couldn’t bear to hear what she would say. He twisted his hands in his lap. He panicked. He ran.
Anna found him outside in the snow. He felt guilty for making her worry about him when her mother had just died.
“You don’t have to come back in,” she said. She handed him his coat.
“I’m worried about you. You don’t look so well.”
He didn’t feel well, either. He sat on the bench by the door. He didn’t even clear away the snow.
“I’ll be back as soon as we’re done with the service, okay? Don’t get too cold.”
The wind was light and whooshing in the trees. It was snowing again. With the clear, empty air close around him, cold and clean, he settled into a place without thoughts. An open white space like that day in Tom’s room. And there she was with him, in a big winter coat and blue hat, holding his hand.
“I don’t want to go on without you.”
She wasn’t crying this time. He looked up at the sky and the seed began to grow again in his mind. All the things that were left behind, without any connection to anyone. Dissolving into nothingness. Without them. Without him. Alone.
When Anna found him, he was stiff as ice. She couldn’t forgive herself for leaving him outside. It was strange, though—it looked as though he had been holding someone’s hand. This broke through the wall she had built around her grief. She sobbed at the feet of her father, a full inch of snow in his lap, who hadn’t put his coat on.
After her father’s funeral, Anna stood alone in her parents’ house, faced with sorting through the remnants of their lives. Looking around the living room, she saw each item in a singular, unfamiliar light. The books and pairs of glasses, the chairs, and balls of yarn. Any significance they held was lost. All the moments that led to this were in the past, far away and cold. The distance took her mind, and presented an all-encompassing truth. Without them, she thought, I would be nothing.
I would be nothing at all.