babyjosephine: (raincoat)
[personal profile] babyjosephine posting in [community profile] thedirtyverse
May 2002

Alice was sitting in traffic. Heavy traffic, stocked with holidaymakers and elderly women dragging their husbands out for the first real month of stately home tours. Heavy traffic over the first sunny weekend since the previous autumn. And Alice was stuck behind four rows of cars jammed behind a red light, inhaling exhaust and exhaling frustration, on her way to work, sick from the chemotherapy. Her hands were shaking on the wheel, though after a half hour of trying to complete what should have been a ten minute drive, she couldn’t be sure if it was effects of the treatment or the onset of a breakdown. Either would have been welcome, just to have the excuse of ringing an ambulance and getting out of the maze.

If an ambulance could get into the maze to begin with.

Another minute ticked by. The green light came and went. One row of cars was knocked off. Alice was feeling dizzy from the sun shining into her eyes. She hadn’t brought sunglasses, and there was a lingering shadow of a headache that had plagued her all weekend now threatening to fall across her eyes and blind her.

She sighed, elbow grinding into the window sill, airconditioning blasting as much as it could at the lowest setting. Direct sunlight and black, leather seats were cooking her where she sat, melting her legs, confined in trousers, to the fabric.

Flicking grey hair out of her eyes, she sighed again and contemplated blasting her horn until the road expanded or the cars parted. In the rearview mirror, an old, sixty-two-year-old version of herself stared at her, bags under her eyes, wrinkles pressing into her forehead.

It made her angry. The streak of white at the center of her forehead. The grey at her temples. The last vestiges of the dark, apple red disappearing with the rest of her. This wasn’t her, but at the same time, this was the only version of herself she had left.

In one week, she could go to Fabian. He would be turning eighteen, and was two months from his last day at Eton. She would be alone to see him achieve these things, and for his eighteenth birthday, she would tell him his father died.

No. Not died.

Left them.

The choice of words evaded her. Either way, Fabian would know what she meant, but she had to respect whatever love a son was to have for his father, even if, a month and a half later, Alice wasn’t so sure the man deserved it.

Her phone began to vibrate, making a loud, grinding noise in the depths of her bag. She had every reason to answer, as only a second row of cars had made it past the keep, but she let it go, hoping voicemail would do its job.

Robert was no simple, unconnected individual, and since his demise, as that’s what it had to be, Alice had had to deal with people and things she never possibly thought she would. The medical career was not in her mind. She didn’t understand, really, what Robert did, at least at a deeper level than what she wanted to know. But he had been working. He had been more than a large part of his chain of hospitals, and one day he was gone. Gone. And Alice had to deal with phone calls, and was still having to deal with phone calls.

What happened? Where’s Dr. Capio? Where’s Robert? Where have you all gone?

Alice was waiting for the day the police would show up and demand to see his body. And when she could produce no body, she began to imagine what it would be like to spend the rest of her life in prison. Or lie and say he ran off. Let them chase the man down.

She had managed, within the last three weeks, to explain that he had passed away suddenly. But she had only divulged this to the people who knew exactly what he was, and why this was too complicated to relay to anyone else. This got phone calls to stop for a short while, but she received an angry voicemail that may or may not have been threatening legal action. It made very little sense, citing things Alice was at a loss to comprehend, and she deleted it without replaying.

Not even her brothers knew he was gone.

The honking began just as she was two rows away from confronting the green light herself. A car here, a car there, each piercing interruption to her thoughts more offensive than the next. Her aging, unhealthy face caught her attention in every reflection, both real and imagined, and with an angry punch to her steering wheel, the façade faded away.

She wanted to be one Alice, the Alice she had always been. The one who changed her appearance just to work, then came home where she belonged and was young again, in love, and able to laugh even when Robert had to work late and she was left with the television to keep her company. Since Fabian had grown older, Alice had grown more interested in asking Robert for another child. Another experience. A year just for them, to travel as they had decades before.

She was going to need that year just for them, scared though she was to tell him why.

Then she never needed to tell him.

But now, divided into two people, she felt like she didn’t fit anywhere. Alice Fitzwilliam, mother of one, masquerading as a sixty-something widow, privately fighting breast cancer. Alice Fitzwilliam, mother of one, licking the wounds her lover had left her, secretly young, unable to reclaim her identity to move on with her life without first pretending to be someone else.

She touched her face, smooth and unblemished, but pale. Her eyes were dark and tired. It had almost been easier to handle the discomfort through a mask, to excuse herself because she looked old.

What was she going to tell her son? How was she going to tell him? She had been so scared to do it. She should have done it right away—she could lie and say it just happened, but he would see right through her.

Imagine if word had reached him before she got there.

Her heart lurched and she sat up straighter, as though she was being watched.

He would never forgive her for telling him on his birthday. If she had it her way, she would wait until he was out of school completely.

But she had to stage a funeral, and she had to plant an obituary, and she had to deal with the explanations and inquiries from the people who worked under him and weren’t ever going to understand what happened. Patients had already lost him. A series of hospitals already lost him. The legal affairs Alice imagined she had to sort through made her even more dizzy than she was to begin with.

Fabian was going to go to uni and study. She wouldn’t let him work instead.

And Alice didn’t know whether or not Robert wrote a will. As he couldn’t die by any natural means, she supposed he hadn’t worked anything out in recent years. Not with a child. It would be like threatening an end.

They were never legally married, and Alice didn’t even know what legal grounds she had to take control of Robert’s affairs. The only rights she understood were the parental rights she and Robert shared. And if he had a will, she didn’t know where it was.

It had all happened too fast, and he had not given her anything to work with.

Until the middle of April, she had not been able to focus on anything at all. Through the end of April, she had been bombarded by confused people. Now, the end of May’s first week, she had to climb back into the real world, and she was too lost to figure out where to go next.

If she took a leave of absence, she would have no life at all. If she continued working daily, she would never have time to complete everything that needed completion.

What if she didn’t have any legal grounds to defend what Robert had established with her at his side? What if someone tried to take the hospitals from her and, because she was clueless, won? What if she was sued for Robert breaching some sort of contract? What if Fabian stopped talking to her because of what she did? Or worse, what if he felt pressure to take over the job his father had left, and to juggle it with uni? Alice wouldn’t let him. He was eighteen. Would be eighteen. And no matter how much taller he got, he would always need protecting. No matter how much older he got, he would always be the light of her life. He was, now, her only point, but it came at a time when he was going to be leaving the nest.

What would she do once he did?

What would she do?

What if there was speculation and rumor about his sudden death? What if the people who worked with him looked at Alice and thought she had triggered it? What if they thought Alice was covering for something, and demanded questions, or had her investigated, or spread rumors that made it into tabloid fodder? What if, for the first time since she was born, she was known for something other than her last name? And what if it was for something she could control no less?

If she begged and screamed, Robert had to come back. He wouldn’t leave her to drown in the masses of conflict and entanglements he left behind. She already knew she would need a lawyer, but what she would do once she got one, she didn’t know. They had never married!

She didn’t know where to bury him, either; or what to put on his grave that wasn’t simply ‘Conniving Bastard’.

Or what sort of casket to buy. Or if she should look on ebay for some sort of urn to pour ashes into. What dates would she put on the marker? 1660 would look somewhat suspicious as a birthdate. And how could she feel good about marking his life and death permanently? And how could she add something like ‘A beloved—’

Beloved what? Lover? Father was easy. But what was he to Alice? Boyfriend? They were too old for that. Beloved lover and father sounded awful. Lover was such a loaded word, laden only with sex and none of the rest. Beloved father removed Alice entirely. And she didn’t want to share Fabian with him right now. If anything, she wanted to divorce him and hide Fabian.

She supposed he would only want it to say something about doctors or medicine. Children and love had been secondary. Who would want to be immortalized for something that didn’t symbolize who they were in life?

Alice’s hands tightened on the wheel as she finally pushed through the light and came to rest just outside the intersection.

If anything had proven all she had hoped was changed, it was his leaving. He looked right at her and he left her while she was clinging to him and screaming, screaming herself hoarse to get him to stay. Nothing had ever been a bigger slap to the face than to feel him disappear beneath her.

Every day, with each new complication, she was slapped again.

Pressing her heads to her head, she wove her fingers into her hair and pressed the heels of her hands to her temples.

She understood, now, how her mother felt. At least half of it, anyway, and could project the other half without any struggle. Alice wasn’t ready to not be in love. Alice wasn’t ready to be single and alone. Alice wasn’t ready to take on a new world as a new person now that this one had shattered.

She wanted more children. She wanted to be married. She wanted to travel. She wanted to laugh.

All of the people who had defined her life had separated from her, one by one. Everyone Robert had brought into her life and made her fall in love with had left, suddenly, and without any explanation.

She slammed her fist into the wheel, felt her heart begin to race. She was angry, and there wasn’t enough she could do to calm it down.

Even when the sun slipped behind dark clouds.

All she could hear was honking, and suddenly she had to get off the road. Had to get off the road before she drove into the nearest car and kept going until they were crushed together in an indeterminate mass of metal.

She was so angry, and then she was crying, and her wheel took the brunt force of her fist several times in a row, until she couldn’t feel the impact.

She had to get out or she was going to lose it.

There was too much to do.

Too much to think about.

She wasn’t ready to do all of this. Her body was aching. Her mind was split into a thousand little fragments. She had to put Robert’s things into storage, but she was too afraid to go through them. What if she found things that worsened how she felt? Secrets and truths and explanations? Should she notify his family? They had willingly stepped out of her life, so she supposed they could deal with not knowing what had happened. They would find his obituary if they bothered to look.

What would an obituary say? Alice didn’t think he deserved the honor he would deceive by default. She was mourning not for him but for the fact he had left her. The last time he said he loved her—she couldn’t even remember it.

She had another surgery to deal with after Fabian’s birthday. Another recovery in a house that now gave her grief. She could still feel him there, and she didn’t know why. Part of her wanted to preserve things how he had left them, but part of her wanted to destroy them just as much. She wondered what he would do if he saw her setting his beloved hat alight. She wondered if that would feel good. Twisting it or cutting it or destroying it somehow; it was so much a part of Robert that it was the next nearest thing to wringing the man’s neck after crossing over and doing it from death.

Fabian might notice if she did that, and she refused to scare him. She refused to do what the man she loved did. She never approved of him allowing Fabian to visit the afterlife; the feel of her son crossing over made her sick. But now she understood whatever grief it was Fabian felt. She understood the grief everyone around her felt. But her grief was different, and so angry.

Until two weeks earlier, she had spent every day hiding and crying like a child, testing Robert’s name so that there would never be a day when she hadn’t said it. And then, emerging from her coma, facing everything that had piled up around her, she wanted to hate him.

Right now, on the surface, she did.

He was forcing her to tell their only child that he had willingly abandoned them, and without any explanation. He was forcing her to fix the hole he had left in a business he had created. He was forcing her to make up a story about where he went and how so that the world would believe he was dead. He was forcing her to pick a grave. He was forcing her to buy a casket, or find an urn. He was forcing her to make a headstone. Forcing her to write an obituary. Forcing her to arrange a funeral and drag the grief out of everyone else. He was forcing her to send notices to people she hadn’t spoken to in years. He was forcing her to sleep alone. To wake up alone. To eat alone. To live alone. He was forcing her to endure her cancer with no help, and no support. He was forcing her to split her life in two.

The idea of ever forgiving him sickened her.

The idea of how easily he left her, left them, sickened her.

The idea of talking to people who stopped caring about her decades ago sickened her.

Everything sickened her.

But she could never cross over, because if she did, he was there. And if she did, Fabian would be without her, and she would never abandon the son she had wanted from childhood. The only child she was given, but the child she would love more than her own life until her life was spent.

And once her life was spent, she would remain among the living.

He would never have to answer for what he did. He would never understand. He was a coward, a bastard, and the most efficient goddamn liar the world had surely ever had the misfortune of producing. This was now competing with the good memories, the oldest memories, even the best memories, to see which could be ruined first.

Alice stared straight ahead, focusing on the cars, on the slow-moving current of traffic. Her hands tightened on the wheel until her skin turned white, so white that her knuckles seemed to pop to the surface. And though the traffic was moving, though she would be next, she kept her foot off the gas, inhaled the stale air, and screamed.

She screamed so loudly that she knew other cars would hear if their windows were down. She screamed so loudly that she couldn’t hear anything but her own voice ringing in her ears. And she screamed so loudly that when she finally stopped and stared ahead, expressionless and breathing hard, there was nothing left to think about, and she passed through the next green light and into the rain.

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