139. The Backpack

THIS IS WHAT IT did to us, our grief. We stayed up every night till three or four, sometimes till dawn, drifting from one room to the other like ghosts who do not yet know they are no longer alive, waking around midday or in the early afternoon.
Television was our friend. It was always on, the sound muted, rewiring us, reminding us of the happiness always slightly out of our reach. I felt myself resenting the good fortune of others, the young and the beautiful, the good and the great. Every now and then, I remembered with a shock that this was in hell's antechamber. The full horror of what had occurred appeared in bright flashes, like the flash of a press photographer's camera, or an electric shock. We tried separation, but it was harder to be miserable on our own than together.
Our chief distraction was our cat, given to us a few weeks before the thing that happened. I lost interest in everything except football. I wasn't proud of any of this of course, on the contrary I hated myself for all of it. I became twisted with regret like a coastal tree buffeted by wind that always comes from the same direction. And through it all there was always the backpack. She had been carrying it on her little shoulders at the time of the thing that happened. A policeman had given it to me when we arrived at the scene. I remember saying to him, you guys have the hardest job of all. The scene was lifted from out of a zombie movie. Everyone was walking around in a daze, with red eyes. Occasionally someone would bust into tears. The backpack stayed in the car a couple of days, then it was taken inside and left in the spare room. We didn't really need to know what was in it - we could guess easily enough. And there it stayed, through that whole time, and then through the next period, then the period after that. I can't say things ever got back to normal. We were charged. The feeling of being a ghost, of peering into life as if through a window, never really left me. Of course I learned some things, but never enough to make me glad it happened, I became stronger in some ways, but weaker in others too. I lost the taste for some things. We never really recovered, we just learned to get along. Years passed, slowly and quickly at the same time, and not once did we open the backpack. Every year, the time of the thing that happened was especially what it was. So were birthdays. We would become tetchy and remote. We stopped celebrating my birthday, so close to hers. We tried to mark such occasions in different ways, although no one way ever stuck. Then suddenly we realized it had been a decade. Ten years. She would have been... And when we did we looked at each other, and we probably had exactly the same thought, at exactly the same time. We didn't even have to say it out loud. So we went to the spare room, and there it was, lying there unobtrusively in a corner, still unopened after all these years, waiting for us, as it had been for all that time. Not that a backpack is capable of waiting, of course, it's just a figure of speech.