A man wakes up completely alone.
|The Grey Morning
He was a bit drunk. She was too. They all were.
They all talked, some louder than others. It was late; the night had ended and the grey morning begun. They had reached a time where couches were drawn together and lights turned low. Booming laughter rolled in from the lawn, and giggling trickled from a room down the hall.
He smiled at her, and she grinned back. He didn’t know many of the people here, but she did. Much of the night he had spent just watching her talk and laugh. He had danced with her briefly, but the music was not to their taste. Instead, they had just sat on a couch, where they now sat. Silently he held her until one and then a few more of her friends intruded. He stroked her hair as they talked.
It may have been an hour or two, he had forgotten his watch, but eventually he caught her attention and smiled again. She nodded and stood up, excusing herself. Her friends began to laugh, and it took several minutes further to extricate themselves and find the host. A short woman with a pretty smile, she thanked them profusely with mildly slurred words.
He turned and made his way towards the door. He crept awkwardly past the bedroom, but finally escaped into the early morning fog. There was another couple asleep on the lawn. The corners of his mouth rose as he made his way past and to the road. His house was only a block or so away.
There’s a story I want to tell. I don’t know where to start. I don’t want to start. Who is going to read it anyway? So I suppose it doesn’t matter what is said.
But it is the truth.
I think it is the truth.
I don’t know.
He became aware. His eyes didn’t open, and his mind was clogged. He had forgotten. He sighed and straightened his neck. He wondered why he was sleeping in a chair. Maybe he hadn’t made it to bed.
After a moment, his arms regained feeling and he reached up and massaged his neck. He then scratched his eyes, and felt grit give way. He suddenly felt filthy.
He opened his eyes slowly and his heart fluttered, seeing the darkness around him blearily.
He became aware. There was a dull pulse behind his eyes. It took him long minutes to open them. He still felt so very tired. Focussing on the clock beside him, he tried to work out what it said. Eventually, he realised that it wasn’t displaying the time. There must have been a black out.
He rolled onto his back and closed his eyes.
Minutes or hours later, he lifted his arm from under the blankets and studied his watch through half closed lids. Midday.
He rolled over to his other side and reached out to slip an arm around her waist. Instead he held only blankets. He opened his eyes. It rained outside.
Had she come home with him? Of course she had. He sat up, grimacing. The dull throb became an agonising drum.
She would be in the kitchen, making him breakfast.
He pushed the blankets down to his knees and stood up, naked. He stumbled into the tight hallway. The kitchen was empty. He coughed.
Maybe she was watching television.
Turning, he continued up the hall. He almost tripped as he entered the lounge. It was quiet. The television had a film of dust over it. She may not have come home with him, trapped by her friends. She was probably in the spare room, so she didn’t disturb him. How she loved him.
His heart trembled as he hurried. He threw the door open and stomped through. Empty. His headache was blocking all thought. He hunched over double, coughing and spluttering for several minutes.
Where had she gone? The garden? She liked gardening.
He almost ran back down the hall. He slammed into the door and almost toppled backwards in his haste to wrench it open.
Bright, burning light seared his eyes and he stumbled, water running down his cheeks. He blinked and finally his vision cleared. The garden was grey and old. It was empty. He looked up. The city, too, looked old.
And it was empty.
He threw up.
The end had come. And it had forgotten me. She was gone. They all were. As I fell through the fog, I knew it was true. I’m tired. I’m so tired. They aren’t coming back. I don’t know if I want them to.
Is this real? Or maybe, maybe I’ve always dreamt. Maybe this was always real and I just forgot. But now I remember; I was forgotten. She forgot me. They all did. If only I could remember her.
How long has it been? An hour? A year? Ten? My watch stopped.
He opened his eyes. It had been too long. He scratched his dirty beard. How long since he had washed?
Did it matter?
He stood up, both swollen knees cracking. He walked through the house. It wasn’t his, he knew that. He thought so, anyway. He lurched into the bathroom and faltered, leaning on the washbasin. He saw his bare wrist. He remembered throwing his broken watch away. His cheeks were dry.
He looked up and through the window. He recoiled, seeing a tall, emaciated, broken man standing on the other side, leaning –
It was a mirror. He remembered. It was him. He struggled to understand how he was alive.
He looked into his eyes; stared. How he hated them. He saw them every day and they told him nothing. How did she love him? Had she?
Maybe she had lied. She had left him; abandoned him.
Oh god, he had forgotten her; her face, her name.
He looked away, unable to see truth any longer. To his left, outside, a garden lay dying. Had she liked gardening?
The streets were empty. They were so quiet. What had happened? Where did they go? He tried to think, to remember. Instead, he tripped.
Where the fuck were they?
He lay, rain falling sporadically around him. Eventually, he pushed himself back to his feet. He checked his watch. The batteries were dying, but he couldn’t get rid of it. She had given it to him on their first anniversary. It had their names carved into the bottom. He loved the watch. He loved her. He missed her.
Maybe she’d come back. She would. Maybe this was just a dream.
As he began to walk forwards, he heard footsteps. Not his own. Someone else. He whirled and saw someone disappear around the corner.
Come back, he called. Don’t leave me.
He tried to run, but his legs were stiff. He reached the corner, panting, but the street was empty. He coughed.
He had seen them before. He knew he wasn’t alone. Shadows reflected in mirrors, in windows, but he never caught more than shadows.
He let his mind wander silently as he began walking back to his house.
What is it that makes us human? Is it out flesh, our blood? If they are removed, are we still human? What of our mind? If we go mad, are we human? If we forget, are we still men?
Our soul, then? What is a soul, if we can’t touch it, can’t remove it.
Or is it our shadows? Our shadows are what make us human; the dark side.
What are they, who are they? Where did they come from? Are they responsible? Are they all that’s left?
Are they me?
His feet echoed down rotting corridors and broken houses. It had been two, maybe three days since he had had water. It had been longer since he had eaten. He didn’t know the last time he had slept. He stopped counting the cycles of the sun. He had spent too long trying to see a shadow, but he never could. He knew that now.
He stopped in the tight, dank hall of another house. A photograph hung from the wall in front of him. A man held a woman. He didn’t care about the picture; but he saw a shadow in the reflection of the frame. He didn’t look. Instead, he hurled the frame at the ground. A shard flicked up and sliced his hand. He grimaced at the pain, splitting his lips again.
A dot of red dripped from his lip onto his palm. The glass had buried itself amongst the other scars there. He sat down and thought; he hadn’t thought in days. It was hard.
How old was he? Forty? Fifty? Did it matter?
Fifty. He decided he had been alone for ten years. It didn’t matter if he was wrong. It stopped raining.
When the door groaned, he turned, but it just swayed in the wind. He stood, making up his mind.
He thought he could remember the moment. He was sitting at the park, holding her. He was almost sure he could remember it. But he knew he couldn’t trust even himself. It was a lie. It was all a lie; a dream. He was scared.
He picked up the picture and stared into her eyes. She must know how scared he was. Why didn’t she wake him up? He studied her face, tracing her body with his eyes. He etched the image into his mind. He would not forget her. No matter how long it took to wake up, he would not forget her.
He stumbled into the tight hall. There was a picture on the wall and it was of him. He didn’t look like that anymore. He pulled out the lie and replaced it with his memory. She would always be here for him to see.
The door creaked loudly as he opened it. He struggled down the stairs and through her garden. The streets darkened as he made his way through them. Time didn’t matter, though; He slept when he was tired, which was becoming less and less often.
But there! There was another one. He saw them reflected in windows, or standing on far roads, but he never met one. This one was close. He could almost make out features. A child.
Don’t go, he called. This one wasn’t fleeing. Maybe they were real. Maybe he wasn’t really alone.
He saw them turn and begin to shuffle away.
Wait. Please wait.
They moved quickly. No matter how fast he ran, he came no closer. He tripped on a decaying tree branch and crashed to the ground. When he looked up, they were gone.
He didn’t know where he was, he didn’t know how to get home. He stood up quietly and walked to the nearest house.
The door was open. He went inside.
As the Shadows close in around me, there is little more to tell. It grows late and I am weary. When I look around me, everything is clear. The city lies grey beneath me; the sky darkens above. I will find her, I must find her. There will be someone.
I must hope.
But as the moon leaves and the city again awaits the white sun, I discover another hope; a thought, a revelation.
And only one question remains.
It was hard. It was wet, it was cold. He knew what he had to do, but it was not easy. He heard them above him. They cried for him, but he was glad. He had drunk again, eaten again, slept again. As he pushed for another flight of stairs, they knew he was coming, and they wailed.
No, they cried. You cannot do this.
But he knew he could – he thought he could. They were him; they couldn’t stop him.
As he reached the final landing, a door waited before him. It was marked with a sign: ‘Rooftop Access’. The door opened and the wailing stopped. The night had ended and the grey morning began.
No! Go back.
His eyes adjusted to the dark, and he saw he was alone.
He walked along the low wall, staring out beyond the city. And then he waited. After a minute or an hour, he heard whispers behind him. He had known she would come. He smiled.
Come to me, she said.
He did not look. He would not see. Instead, he stood on the wall.
I remember. I love you, he said.
He took a step.
One question remains.
Did I fall down, or did I wake up?