In physics there is a concept known as string theory, which dictates that the universe is held together by strings. It is in the same such manner that the strings between two hearts can hold a life together.
Alice shivered and watched the procession pass by. She watched the men as they carried their burden towards their destination. Her breathing caught and her pulse accelerated as they reached the spot for them to lower their burden. Their burden… She had to think of it that way. If she considered it as it really was… The tears were already forming in her eyes. She had tried to prevent these tears from coming but it was too late. The torrent of emotion she bottled inside suddenly burst out, as the men lowered her love into the ground. The tears poured out as she shuttered and tried to control herself.
Casting her eyes about, she found the face she was looking for. Jasmine, her sister-in-law, was standing solemn in black, holding her son close as she watched her brother pass. Jasmine and her had never really gotten along, and the loss of their only bond seemed to separate them more than ever. Yes, this moment now strengthened her perception on how alone she was. The gathering had only twenty or so people, and Alice was the only one who stood alone. Soon though, this would be over.
The rain began shortly after they lowered him into the ground. Men and women came and said their tearful farewells and shook some dirt over the place where her heart laid, cold and quiet. The people left shortly afterwards, going to continue their lives as if nothing had happened. People came to Alice occasionally and left their condolences. She nodded and thanked them all, not meaning a single word. No apologies mattered. Nobody could say anything to resurrect her former life. After an hour or so, Alice alone was left. She approached the hole and looked down on the black hardwood box. Her voice cracked as she tried to say her final words. “I… I haven’t… I haven’t lived without you for so long Alexander. I haven’t been away from you in so long. I… I can’t do this. I’m sorry.”
Alice drove alone back to her home. The Victorian style home was once a beautiful monument to their life together. That life was just a memory now, that monument shattered. She walked into her house, barely making it to the door before grief overtook her again. She slammed the door behind her and slide to the floor, sitting with her back to the door, knees in her chest. She wept openly and loudly, for the first time since she heard the news. Tears rolled down her face, streaking black mascara along her face. Her sobs echoed through the empty house, passing through the kitchen, up the stairs, and through every open door.
As the tears poured out, Alice floated through her memories, settling not on the happy ones, but on the only ones that compared to the misery she felt now. She never planned to go back to these memories that Alexander had saved her from. She never wanted to see this story again…
The air was cold, and a storm howled outside as Alice hid under the table. Thunder boomed outside as she tried to listen and watch for her father. Her eyes shifted trying to detect movement from any direction, when the door slammed open. Her father stumbled in shakily into the room and dropped a bottle on the ground, shattering it. Even from her hiding place beneath the table, she could smell the pungent odor of whiskey where it was spreading across the hardwood floor. “A-A-Alice. Where are you you little bitch? Come clean this up now girl!” Alice shuttered and got out from under the bed. If she had tried to hide now, the pain would only be worse later. She stood and moved to go get a towel to clean the mess, trying to get past him without drawing too much attention as he plopped into a chair. However, as she moved towards the kitchen to grab a dish rag, her father finally took notice of her. “Oh, so there you are. Thought you were too good to come clean your old man’s mess eh?” Alice shuttered. “No,” she thought, “Please not tonight.” Her father stood and began to remove his belt, as she tried to turn and explain to him, “No, no dad I didn’—I mean I was—“and the belt connected with the flesh on her face.
“No, no, no! Not now.” She shook herself out of those memories. Her father was dead for years now, taken by the substance that stole her childhood. In a moment of irony, she desired that same substance herself. As she stood from her position on the ground, she realized she had been collapsed there for over an hour lost in memories and misery. She walked over to the kitchen counter and opened a small cabinet by the fridge. Reaching to the back, Alice grabbed a bottle and a glass. The tall bottle was three quarters full of bourbon, and she knew that this would not last her the entire night. The carried them both, one in each hand, to the dining room table. She poured her glass full, and downed it immediately. She reached up and began to refill the glass again. She did this a total of three times before she finally decided to give up the glass. She grabbed the bottle and began to feel the alcohol coursing through her system. “Good,” She thought, “This will make things easier.”
She sat at the table a moment more before trying to walk to her room. She managed to make it to the stairwell easily, but her initial attempt to climb up the stairs while holding the alcohol proved difficult. Eventually she managed to make it up the stairway, though at one point she nearly fell backwards down the stairs. She stumbled her way towards her room and collapsed onto her bed face first. Her grief was muddled now, and Alice could barely keep her emotions straight. She barely knew whether her sorrow came from her father or her husband at the moment, and she wished the pain would stop. Glancing up she caught that it was barely 6:00 o’clock, but she still felt consciousness slipping away from her.
Alice’s eyes fluttered open. There was no light in the room, and her bed reeked of alcohol. She sat up and groaned quietly; her head was light and sore. She walked to her closet and gathered her clothes that she slept in. She went to the attached bathroom and stripped, preparing to clean herself up from the mess of the day. She was a mess, from her bedhead and smeared mascara, to the smell of alcohol that seemed to cover her entire body. She got in the shower and washed her body quickly before going to dress herself. As she dressed her eye’s once again caught glimpse of every one of the collection of scars across her body. Memories tried to surface again as she briefly recalled the source of every scar, but in the end she settled on what ended them all. Alexander.
Alice’s father had gone out of town for the week. Presumably for his job, though Alice had a feeling he would be chasing tail at the local bar wherever he was. She was sitting outside in a tree on the edge of her property. Her mind was wandering to places it should never be, when she heard a voice beneath her, “Hello.” Alice jerked and had to steady herself to keep from falling off of her tree. She glanced down to see a boy not much older than her. She climbed down from her position in the tree and raised her eyes up to look into his stormy grey eyes. She immediately cast her eyes back down to avoid the awkward feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Who are you, and what exactly are you doing here?” Alice asked. It suddenly occurred to her that this person could be a bad person. She was alone her in the woods at the edge of her property. If this boy wanted to hurt her she couldn’t do anything at all. The boy replied though with a satisfactory answer, “Hi, uh, yeah, I guess it’s rude to just come up to someone while they’re lost in thought… It’s just that I just moved, well I mean my family, just moved to the house, um right over there.” His hand rose and he pointed through the trees in the direction where she knew an empty, well, formerly empty house was. “Oh”.
That had been the day she met the love of her life. It wasn’t some kind of romantic movie meeting. It wasn’t the stuff of legends, but that moment held firm in her mind as the moment she was destined to live through her childhood. Alexander had become her home. He had become where she went when her father was home. And soon, the abuse ended. Alexander’s father had found out and threatened her father, and in the end they worked out an arrangement; she came to live with him, and they sent her father $300 a month. Of course, she lived in the spare bedroom with his parents in between. She was thirteen when she met him, and she was thirty-three when she lost him, and now she had no idea what to do without him.
Alice touched the scars on her stomach, in particular the one that went from the left edge of her stomach beneath her ribs, to her shoulder blade on her back. This was the last scar her father had ever given her, and it had been the mark that Alexander finally saw. The cause of the mark was something she tending to forget about now, but she did remember the fallout afterwards. Her father and Alexander’s father had nearly come to blows, and in the end they came to the arrangement where she stayed with them.
Alice went to her bed and frowned. She wanted to go back to sleep, but the idea of lying in the alcohol stinking mess of a bed made her cringe. She instead made her way to the stairwell and proceeded to her living room to lie on the couch. She lied there, her eyes vacant as her mind meandered through the corridors of her memories. From her first birthday with Alexander, to her last birthday with him. Her joy and despair commingled within her, and in the end her weariness took her yet again.
Alice woke up and gazed at the ceiling. She took a moment to stop and recollect events, and immediately wished she hadn’t. It briefly occurred to her that this was her life now, toiling in despair day after day, wishing to an end of her misery. She cast her eyes down to another set of scars, one made by another person. These scars were horizontal across her wrists, and used to only pull regret out of her, but now her thoughts were on other possibilities. She entertained these possibilities in her head, before her phone rang and interrupted her. She glanced down at her phone briefly to see something surprising to her; it was Jasmine. She answered her phone, unaware of what to say.
“Alice? Is this you? God, I’ve never had to call you before… Look, I guess I just wanted to apologize. For, well for— “
“Look, Jaz, I don’t know if you’re just feeling some kind of guilt from losing your brother, but it’s fine. I know how things have been, and I know how things will be after some time has passed. Just don’t worry about apologizing.” The phone went silent for a while. Alice could hear birds chirping outside herself, and had considered hanging up the phone when suddenly;
“Damn it Alice, I know I have been a terror to you and honestly I have considered apologizing in the past. Honestly, the only thing I had against you was that I thought you would lead my brother down a bad path. Now that I think about it though… You, you were his purpose. You were why he tried in life. I’m just sorry Alice, honestly. I never had a reason to hate you.” There was a pause here again, and this time Alice was too stunned to say anything. She had wanted Jasmine to apologize for so long, or just to stop hating her. She was lost as to what she should say.
“Alice? Alice are you there?” Alice flinched slightly, coming back to reality. “Yeah Jaz, I, I’m just… I mean wow, I never expected this.” Jasmine sighed slightly on the other end. “Well, honestly I have always meant to apologize but… Alice, the reason I’m apologizing is the letter he had sent to me. He wrote about how we were all he had. He said now that… that I was all you have. And I just want you to know Alice, that no matter what, I am here for you. I’m your family, and me and the kids, we love you very much. You’re all I have left of Alexander. I need to make sure you stay in mine and the boys lives. Okay?” Alice paused for a moment. She had stood for a moment prior to this, but had collapsed back down to the couch. Her breathe was coming in short bursts, and her eyes were beginning to moisten.
Here they paused again for a moment, before Alice could calm herself enough to speak, “Jaz, I appreciate everything you just said, and I really don’t want to be rude, but he left you a letter?”
“Well yeah, I mean haven’t you read yours? He wrote that he was leaving us both with some final thoughts. Alice? Alice are you there?”
“I’m sorry Jaz, I… I have to go.” Before Jasmine could say anything else, Alice hung up her phone. She needed to check the mail for this letter.
Alice’s heart pounded as she went to the door. Her body was shaking slightly, and she honestly wasn’t sure what had caused this reaction. As she stood by the door trying to consider it, it occurred to her that she was afraid. She was not afraid that he had said something terrible. Truth be told, she wasn’t even scared about it not being there. Her fear steeped from the thought that she couldn’t handle it. She would not be able to process a posthumous heartfelt goodbye from the only person she ever truly loved.
Steeling herself, Alice opened the door and walked down the walkway towards the mailbox at the edge of the lawn. She opened the brick covered mailbox and saw only one letter. The letter was in a red envelope, her favorite, like a deep Merlot. She withdrew the envelope from the mailbox and closed it with more force than intended, causing it to rattle slightly. Alice though, was far too wrapped up in her letter to be fazed by this. She gazed at it intently, her bright blue eyes scanning every inch of it. Yes, she thought, this was Alexander’s handwriting. She could tell from the way he wrote her name. Alexander typically sped through whatever he was writing, making it rather messy. However, when it came to Alice’s name he always took his time, making each letter as if it were a work of art. Once she had asked why he did that, since it didn’t really matter to her. He had looked up at her with an intensity he remembered to this day, and she could still hear his reply to this day; “Alice, everything about you is beautiful. From your long black hair to your shining blue eyes. It only makes sense to write your name in a way that reflects this.”
Alice walked back to the house, still staring at the envelope. She began to head to the study when she made it through the door. This letter she couldn’t tear open, and though she knew it was an archaic way of doing things, she intended to use the letter opener Alexander always kept as a decoration on his desk. She grasped the small knife and tried to decide the best way to do this. Normally she would tear this open, so she never really knew the “proper” way to do this. In the end she decided to just slide it through where the letter was sealed shut and break the bond. She closed her eyes tightly and inhaled sharply, before withdrawing a single sheet of writing paper. She looked at it and took the time to notice that he had taken the time to write this whole letter in the same style that he wrote her name. This thought touched her beyond her own understanding. She began to read it.
“My love, it comes to my attention that I am not long for this world. Truth be told, I only regret one thing in my life; you. Rather, not getting enough time with you before the end. Though honestly, a hundred lifetimes with you would not be enough. This letter though, is not about me. This is about you. Alice, I know, with all of my heart, that you are hurting. I know this because just writing this letter pains me beyond belief. Reading it won’t be easy for you either. Now darling, there are a few things I must say to you. The primary thing is to calm down. I have been with you how long now? I know what you expect from this letter, and I know exactly what you can’t handle. I will preface this by saying that this is not goodbye. Sorry if you expected a weepy letter full of goodbyes and farewells and such. No my dear, this is only a delay. I will see you again. I know that you gave up on faith a long time ago. I also know that as your husband, I have the right to call you foolish. Sweetheart, I know this is not all there is. I know I will see you again. If you can’t believe in a God, then you better at least believe in me. Our souls are bound together, in this life and the next.
“Now the next thing to address my dear, is your life after this. I know that you have never gotten along with Jasmine. I know. But my love, the two of you are all I had in life. I need you to have each other afterwards. You were both the people who loved me most, and I wish you would love each other the same. If not for my sake, if not for hers, then at least for the sake of her kids. The main thing though, the main thing, is that I want you to live. Sweetheart, I know what tendencies you have had in the past, and I know how easy it may seem to succumb to the temptations of despair. You have told me before that you would not live without me, but I need you to make it. Make it through this period for me. Please. Before we met you lived thirteen years. Please, at least live thirteen more. Forever in your heart, Alexander.”
Thirteen years. Alice paused to consider this concept. Thirteen years without the person that got her through the day each day. She did not know if she could possibly do it, regardless of her initial thirteen years of life. To her, the difference between life without him after she got used to having him there was akin to the feeling a drug addict would have if they stopped using drugs. Alice was going through withdrawals, craving one last hit of something she could never have. Alexander had no clue what it was that he asked of her, and she almost scoffed at the idea.
The original thirteen years of her life had been full of abuse and neglect. Her father had beat her, her mother had left her, and God himself; had given up on her. When Alexander had walked into her world, the universe around her had seemed to reshape itself, into a kind loving place. Alice had become so used to the soft delicate life that Alexander had thrust upon her, that she no longer had any idea how to combat the cruelty of the real world. It was like her training wheels had been torn off, and she had no way to keep her balance. Thirteen years? She was genuinely amazed that she had made it thirteen hours.
She carried the letter with her to the kitchen and began to boil water for tea. She couldn’t remember the exact moment it had happened, but somewhere in the period of time she had been with Alexander, she decided tea was the cure to all things. She sat there as the kettle heated up, her eyes gazing into the distance while her mind wandered. Her sorrow wasn’t gone. Not at all. But for some reason, something felt different. She felt that now, she had a goal, a purpose. She was wanted to honor Alexander as best as she could. The first part of doing that of course was to become a part of his sister’s life and bond with her again.
The second thing that Alice had to do was harder. For her, it was almost impossible. As the tea kettle finally went off, emitting its high pitched whistle, Alice made up her mind. In order to finally come to peace with what happened, in order to honor his memory, Alice was going to live. She was going to try for thirteen more years to survive, to do the best with the life he had saved. Because in the end, thirteen years was more than she deserved, and less than she lost the potential for with his death.