She rewound the message and sat there wondering if it was appropriate to be grateful. Being grateful would mean that she might not be going crazy. She could love the full scope of his life and not just the few years they spent here.

Every time she would try to accept his death as something that completed him, the feeling would wither her into a faded bloom of regret. The jolt of his death had shaken her so that she wasn't sure if she could even remember him without feeling bitter.

She had turned his pictures down, hid him in drawers, and stripped the house of his face only to find his memory hidden in the silverware drawer or in the medicine cabinet.

His CD collection towered unused. His movies collected dust. His voice on the answering machine tape spoke to her from the grave. His whispers buzzed in her ears.

They used to drive with the radio playing softly in the background, his lips moving soundlessly to 'One' or 'Fat Bottom Girls'. He knew his voice was worthy of hearing but his volume went in direct proportion to the knob. She loved the sound of that whispered hiss when he mouthed an s.

His quiet singing would never return, so she unplugged the stereo, turned her clock radio to NPR and banished his music from her life. Somehow she felt some inexplicable joy that she'd had a chance to hear the tiny noise of his lips and breath and resented the feeling entirely. He should have sung forever.

Perhaps, if it had ended badly, she could have hated him for everything. She could have allowed herself to turn the love she felt into a simple, burning hatred. It was easier for her to get over hatred than love. If he had left her hating him she'd be able to release this longing.

This morning she'd woke up loving him. She had, once again, misplaced the fact that he'd been dead for three months. She knew he was gone, but her mind kept bringing him back to life - sometimes he would be at the bathroom mirror trying to stop a bleeding cut on his face, or sitting at the kitchen table, doing the taxes, casually watching TV and laughing at some mindless sitcom. She could always hear his whispered songs in the background, there was always him answering her phone.

This morning he rolled over beside her and caressed her arm, tried to tickle her awake. The tips of his fingers traced the fold on the inside of her elbow, his face gently scruffed her bare shoulder. She had turned with a smile to find his side of the bed cold.

The revelation punched her in the gut. She sprinted to the bathroom and vomited. The harsh pain in her stomach brought up more tears as she sat on the floor with her hands pressed against her face, sobbing. She fell back asleep, exhausted at 7 am, on the cold tile, her flesh still tingled from his imagined touch. His soft s whispers in her ear of how much he loved her.

When she pulled herself together that morning she went around the house and cleaned, set up a new bank account, turned over her new leaves with the fervor of a religious conversion - she threw out the sympathy cards from his family in Toronto and Vancouver, took away the knickknacks from the mantle. She lobbed a few of them, those she'd always wanted him to throw away, into the fire and watched them burn. She stored his remaining favorites in a small box. She dumped out his coffee beans and bagged up the clothing he left under the couch cushions, the top shelf in the closet, under the bed, in the hamper - she hadn't decided if she would give them away or trash them.

She was afraid that, on some street corner or airport, she would see someone wearing his jacket or shirt. Even in this brief flash she knew that she would feel a thrill of recognition and then disappointment. She didn’t want to break down crying again on the street. Yes, that was his sweater but he would never wear it again - he would never occupy that space - his smell was only his shadow. His ties, his cologne, his goddamn work shirts, his stinking workout clothes, his brand of shampoo, his brand of shaving cream, his brand of soap, his brand of toothpaste...

He'd left in such a hurry that he even forgot his toothbrush and toiletries. He'd called from the airport to let her know that he'd pick more up in San Francisco and that she shouldn't worry. He would be home that weekend and he loved her.

She spent the first part of the morning feeling guilty, as if she'd sent him off unprepared, and the rest of the day crying to the smoke and dust rising from the Manhattan skyline on TV.

She felt, for days, that she should do some mundane task so he would enter the house like a storm - as he used to - speaking fast and excited about some silly sunset he'd watched from the Santa Monica pier or dinner at some fish place on the ocean.

Today she knew that she had to kick him out. He had to go. Letting him stay was driving her mad.

So she cleaned it out- all of it. Because it galled her to still pick up his things. The feelings that went though her made her wish she never heard his name. Still loving him, this hard, made her hate his memory. Every stupid little plastic smurf toy, the coffee mug with the light ring around the inside, the crystal pitcher he used to make lemonade, all these things made her feel as if she had missed something in her life before him. All these things reminded her that she would be missing it forever.

Now her path was solitary and she hated loving that hole in her life. She hated feeling as if the world had moved on while she scratched and clawed to stay in the past - her fingernails scraped the walls.

She had to take it all down, pack it away, clean up the messes, send him into the past - throw it all away.

When completed, her apartment sparkled, smelled like pledge. She lit vanilla candles in the foyer and the dining room table. Within a few minutes the whole house smelled like warm lemon custard.

She bought new towels and sheets, changed the curtains, found new matching covers for the living room furniture and sprayed his scents from the cushions. She put up some old framed prints he'd hated, re-arranged the furniture, changed the locks, and hauled out bag after bag of history to the dumpster.

From all of this she kept a book of his photos, his journal, handwritten in his lazy, looping scripts, and a tiny fragment of memories with his death certificate. She only saved enough to fit in a small, flat box under the bed.

By evening he was gone from the house.

She relaxed on the couch absently channel surfing and painting her fingernails. She wasn't sure if it was during the evening news, or later, when his whispered songs in her ears stopped playing.

When the phone rang, and she let it roll, she knew the last thing that needed to happen.

"Hi, you've reached Deena's. I'm not home right now, so please leave a message at the tone. Thanks."

She was grateful.

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