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My grief is bigger than your grief.
My grief is so big it stretches my skin. My grief is so strong it crushes my bones, so hard it gives me black eyes, so cold I weep icicles. And my grief is so long that it dangles over my food when I’m trying to eat, causing me to throw up, repeatedly, onto my plate, and onto my grief.
When the grief first appeared, I was hanging out the washing. It’s amazing what thoughts can creep up on you when you’re pegging damp cloth to a line. Mine were: Fuck. My dad is dead. Forever. Then I dropped the pegs, sat on the grass, and wailed.
We didn’t have a funeral, because it’s Not What He Would Have Wanted. He wanted the hearse to drive him to the crematorium without an audience. He wanted the cheapest coffin and the cross pulled down off the wall, and he wanted to drift down the aisle without anyone watching, to drop into the flames alone.
The problem with this, though, is that the grief had nowhere to go. It welled and it welled, and at the very time his coffin sunk behind the curtain, we were dancing in the kitchen to the Rolling Stones. We laughed, how we laughed, and the grief: it lay low. It bubbled and bubbled, and it kept on bubbling until weeks had passed, and then months.
Eventually, when I was least expecting it, the grief started leaking out. The first place it leaked was in my knickers, and I had to take a spare pair of pants to work. Then the leaking got worse. I never knew grief could make you do that, but I was on the sofa one day, trying to compose an email, and that’s when I knew the grief was serious.
I saw counsellors and I went to classes. I did therapeutic writing and made a scrapbook. I even stopped pissing and shitting myself, but the grief was still there, leak leak leak, and we would wake up in the morning next to one another – you and I – and you would see the grief, hanging over my head, and it would be very difficult to make love with something so terrible so near to us. So after a while, we just cuddled instead. Because this is what happens when someone dies twice.
Well, we’ve been cuddling for seven months now, and I think you’re starting to get funny about having to share a bed with my grief. I think you think that it touches me in the middle of the night, that it puts its fingers into the places yours no longer go, makes me shiver and moan and experience the pleasure that I can’t quite reach with you.
But I’m telling you, dearest, this isn’t true. I mean, sure, my grief and I have fooled around. I’ve let it run its icy palms across my chest, plunge its frosty hands deep inside my pyjama bottoms, and yes, okay, I’ve let it fuck me and fuck me, until I was well and truly fucked and could be fucked no more. But that was just once or twice, and I’m over it now.
Actually, the reason I turn away from you at night, and dig the small of my back into the small of yours – The reason I lie awake, wondering what it might feel like if I gave my grief a razor blade – The reason that I do all this, I realise now, is because my grief is bigger than your grief.
I know you’re hiding some on your side of the bed too. I’m certain of that. I saw it sucking you off late one night when you thought I was asleep, and I see it follow you into the shower every morning – small and grey and frail – and I see that it looks a bit like your dead grandma.
But compared to my grief, my love, your grief is shit. It hobbles like a little old lady, a little old lady that lived for eight decades and died in her sleep. It doesn’t make you howl nor gasp nor shriek like mine.
And I just can’t help but feel that if I could beef up your grief somehow, feed it and make it grow until it was at least five times the size – then maybe you and I could finally make love once more.
With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about poisoning your parents.
We could invite them over for dinner next week, and I would serve them The Special Two Slices of Pie, and then it would be sometime during Trivial Pursuit that they’d grab one another and scream. They’d convulse and bleed, leaving their Science and Nature question completely unanswered, and the game would, inexorably, be over.
I’ve thought about your sister too. She’s pregnant right now, with a foetus of just six fragile months. Her death would be doubly tragic. And I’ve thought about your aunt, and your uncle, and your godfather, and your piano teacher, and your best friend.
If I play my cards right, your grief has the potential to grow enormous. Given time, it might even be able to teach my grief a thing or two.
We could go on holiday, me and you and our respective griefs, and we could drink Sangria and hang out at the beach, and maybe even learn a New Thing together, like surfing or chess or the Kama Sutra.
Then, in the evenings, after a long day of fucking, we could sit on our balcony under the light of the moon and cry. And as we cried, we could look through the salt of our tears, across the sea and into the blackness, and we wouldn’t need words anymore, because the shadows at our sides would be enough, and we would be enough, and the whole world, as it was, would be enough.
Anneliese Mackintosh's short stories have appeared in Edinburgh Review, Gutter, Causeway/Cabhsair, and in The Best British Short Stories 2013, published by Salt. Her fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Her first short story collection will be published by Freight Books in 2014.