Cowley Literary Award finalist Julie Twohig captured the judges’ imagination with the simple honesty of her work, Delete, in which she puts words to the wish we’ve all made: If only the awful pain of loss could be erased with the touch of a button.
My hand swirls the water as the bath fills. I drop my clothes to the floor like unwanted skin. Skid the mobile across the tiles away from the threat of water. It hits the wall, reminding me of the many times I threw it, the madness after Marco. A divide had appeared in our bedroom, thin as a membrane. When I searched for him I could make out his silhouette through the misty veil. Hours spent waiting, hungry for him to appear. Occasionally if I kept very still he would step through and come to me. Wrap his body around me, tuck his knees into the backs of mine then snuggle into our familiar embrace. Infuse himself inside me until the pain disappeared.
In those first two weeks after Marco died I would imagine him serene as ever in our garden, propping rugs and silk cushions along the ornate marble bench seat, his latest acquisition. My usual rage at his flamboyant spending dimmed. Marco could buy whatever his foolish heart desired. If only I could have him back. When at last the cushion arrangement was to his satisfaction I would watch him disrobe then stretch out along the ancient bench seat, basking in the glow of the afternoon sun, dappled by our adored peppercorn tree. Marco’s angular face would be composed. Those inquisitive hands that knew me curled softly in his lap. As I slithered on top he would enfold me and groan, slide his legs between my own, then encircle me and rock us side to side until I cried out and curled into a ball. When I opened my eyes he would be gone. The divide had reappeared.
Perched on the edge of the bath still gazing at the phone I try to recall if I deleted his number. I can’t imagine I did. In those few days after his death I would call out to him. Marco. Can you hear me? When he didn’t respond I typed messages into my phone: I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I miss you I MISS YOU. F**k you. Oooo. I wish I could.
I feel awe for the time I removed the lid from the urn and peeked inside at the reduction of my husband. The way I fingered his ash, felt the texture of him slip through the pads of my fingers and thumb, watched as he formed little peaks on the white cotton sheet. Wondered as he sifted through my fingers what would happen if I added a drop of water? Would he reappear? A single tear had splashed onto his ash, forming a tiny cluster of Marco. I willed that tear to reconstitute him. Longed to inhale him and lick him from my lips. Promised the instant the tear evaporated he could return to ash. When he failed to appear I paced our bedroom, unable to fathom how to get through this. I stretched out on the floor quiet as death. And later scooped his grey-white ash back into the urn and returned it to the mantle. Picked up the card he had left for me to open on my birthday: the two red circles entwined, his handwriting so familiar:
Happy Birthday my love
Wish I could be there
Ps Back in 2 weeks! Pps Present on its way!!
Neither the present nor Marco arrived. Two weeks after the accident liquidators appeared at my door. Daily the mailbox filled with letters stamped in red demanding payment. Marco left a legacy of one point two million dollar debt that promptly ensnared itself around my grief.
Filled with rage yet again, I head to the kitchen for a tumbler of red. Rage is infinitely easier to deal with than grief. Its sharp edges are finite and hard. It drives me. Rage is my new default. If I am to recover from this sexually transmitted debt, or my STD as it is known in the trade – then rage is my friend. She drives me relentlessly through my working day, strengthening my resolve to slash these tentacles of debt.
Tea-lights flicker in the bathroom as I scroll through the contacts in my mobile. Sure enough his name is still there. My thumb hovers above ‘delete.’ A click is all it would take.
I slide into the bath and raise my glass, salute!