So far: Richard’s ghost disappears into the lake.
When I woke, I was curled up on the couch. The few embers left in the fireplace glowed. The light in the kitchen was on. An empty bottle of champagne and two glasses, one still full, stood on the coffee table in front of me.
Cloud had tucked in next to me, snuggled into Richard’s favorite orange wool stocking cap.
I felt awful. Not sick, just achy, like I had clenched my whole body for too long.
I had been holding on tight for longer than I should have.
I shook my head.
It was the middle of the night. The snow had quit falling, but everything was covered in white. Except the lake. Since it hadn’t frozen over yet, it was a dark gaping hole that stretched farther than I could see.
Death was like that. You could never see the end of it.
I didn’t want to sleep on the couch the whole night like some despairing drunk woman. I wanted to climb into my newly dressed bed with comfy flannel sheets and the big down comforter.
As I was picking up the glasses, I noticed the tube of paint Richard had ordered was still sitting on the coffee table.
There was one thing I needed to do before I went to bed.
• • •
Richard and I always kissed each other before we went to sleep. Always. Even if we were mad at each other. Even if we’d just made love. The kiss came before sleep. The seal on the day. The end.
I hadn’t kissed him before I left to get groceries. I hadn’t kissed him before he had left in the ambulance. I would never kiss him again. The kissing was over.
I would think of those kisses every night before I fell asleep. I would always feel like something was missing.
• • •
I was careful not to disturb Cloud as I cleaned up. After I put the glasses in the kitchen sink, I walked down the hallway to Richard’s studio and stood in front of the door.
Maybe I hadn’t wanted to go into his studio because if I didn’t go in there I could pretend he was working, that he was painting some wonderful picture and when he was done he would come and show it to me.
But I knew he was gone now.
I had seen him leave.
I knew I would never see him again. In any form. In this life.
I felt his going in my whole body. Empty, empty.
I pushed open the door and turned on the light.
A soft moan came out of my mouth. The studio was so much Richard it was like his second person.
One wall of windows faced the lake.
On the wall opposite the door were sketches pinned up on raw sheetrock. He had left the wall unfinished so he could use it as a bulletin board.
Richard worked at a table, an easel perched on one end.
A small painting sat on the easel.
I walked over and stared at the painting.
A still life of a cup with a teapot. Tea pouring out of the teapot into the cup. Richard trying to capture movement, trying to capture a moment of life.
There was an arm holding a teapot, but the arm was just white gesso on the canvas. There was no color to it. It looked like the arm of a ghost.
I held out the paint tube. He had been waiting for this.
It was my arm.
I was holding the teapot.
He had been painting me.
He had not been finished.
He had not been finished with me.