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It was the Sound of Music

Helen Cooling

It was the sound of music that broke through my veneer of recovery, my illusion of being over my loss and back in the world of the living, where people’s existences had not been shattered.

I had seen the awkward, uncomfortable shuffling which those not yet bereaved began when becoming aware of my loss.  They didn’t know what to say, so they expressed awkward platitudes which, in their minds, would make me soon realise that I had to ‘get over it’ in order to re-join the rest of society.

I knew that I too, had reacted in the same way to other people’s tragedies, a fleeting feeling of sympathy
accompanied by a dread of being depended upon to do something.  I had a life of my own, I couldn’t possibly take on someone else’s problems.  We are all adults, after all. I had recoiled from people I had thought of as friends, but I had never had, nor been, a proper friend in my life and the notion of having a support network didn’t apply.  To be supported, one had to be prepared to support others.

Was I selfish, then?  I had worried about that but then realised that I had never developed the confidence in
myself to believe that I could add anything positive to anyone’s life.

I had drifted aimlessly, competent at my job but with no real plan.  When Brian took an interest in me, I was
surprised, then pathetically grateful, feeling that, at last, I was part of the grown-up world.  

​He was a quiet man who had lived with his parents well into his late twenties.  He was too thin, with sparse hair, a receding chin and crooked teeth but, in certain light, I could find him suitably attractive and was able to convince myself that I had genuine feelings for him.  We married in a small ceremony at the Registry Office and went to live in the modest house my parents had left me.  Sex, when it finally happened, was quick, perfunctory and disappointing when compared to the passionate ravishing I had been fond of reading about, but I hoped that this would develop into something more fulfilling once we knew each other better.  Eventually I had come to believe that the novelists’ art lay in vivid imagination and that was all there was to it.

Outside the bedroom, I found companionship in this unexpected relationship.  I enjoyed being in the world of
couples, even if we were thought of as ‘that odd couple’ by many.  We lived a quiet life away from others, finding contentment in our shared love of classical music and nature.

Our hasty consummations never bore fruit but neither of us cared.  We were enough for one another, or so it
seemed. Life assumed a familiar, cosy routine of work, gardening and long walks together in the surrounding countryside.  Brian was knowledgeable about flora and fauna and we made notes on our outings, keeping a little diary between us to mark the changing seasons.  I stopped yearning for anything more from life and felt, finally, content.

On that Thursday morning I awoke before Brian, as usual, and slithered quietly out of bed.  I felt around with my feet until I had found my slippers, pulled on my dressing gown and crept silently downstairs to put the kettle on for our morning cup of tea.  Whilst the water boiled, I looked through the window at our garden, still moist with dew.  A blackbird was busy in the flowerbed, tugging at a worm.  One corner of the garden still caught the early morning sun and late roses radiated rich tones of heavy pinks and reds.  A flash of movement on the top of the fence drew my eye towards a grey squirrel, dashing in staccato bursts towards the plum tree from which we hung our bird feeders.

The kettle clicked off and I poured boiling water into the pot, jumping slightly when a tiny splash landed on the back of my hand.  I wiped it quickly on my dressing gown and carried on preparing the tea tray before starting up the stairs.  Brian should be stirring by now.  He’d need to get into the shower soon or he would be running late.

I reached the bedroom door and half turned to push it open with my shoulder.  Setting the tray down on the
dressing table I glanced at Brian, still huddled under the bedclothes.  “Come on sleepyhead,” I said.  He pretended not to hear me, as usual, while I poured the tea, stirring his sugar in as I walked round to his bedside cabinet, set the cup down and reached to give him a gentle shake on the shoulder.

The doctor said he had died in the night.  I still shudder at the thought of having lain there with him for hours, not knowing that he had gone.  Of course, I could never sleep in that bed again.  It was months before I could sleep naturally.  I had to take those dreadful pills before I could even shut my eyes, but they left me feeling like a zombie during the daytime.  I would find myself dozing in an armchair in the early hours and then drag myself up to the second bedroom where I would lie, barely asleep, until daylight crept around the curtains.

I lived in silent rooms, drifting aimlessly, wondering where to begin.  The suddenness of it had robbed me.  I took several weeks off work until my boss, at first suitably sympathetic, began to ask more and more forcefully how much longer it would be before I could come back.  Eventually I could stay away no longer and steeled myself to return, although I was careful to avoid too many pitying glances.

I constructed a brittle shell to hold others at bay and myself together and managed to function much as before.  I got to grips with all the necessary paperwork which follows a bereavement and engaged in a manic burst of organisation during which I purged the house of our life together.  A few months after the funeral I was convinced that I was getting over it, had in fact coped very well with what was, after all, a major event.

And then, one Sunday morning, I decided to listen to the radio.  As soon as the music began, I was seized by
overwhelming despair.  I know now that I began to throw things around, to smash crockery and glass.  They told me that a neighbour had heard noises and seen me wailing and banging my head against the wall.  I understand that the police were called, and paramedics, but I can’t remember any of that.  My cuts and bruises are healing, except for where they had to remove the shard of broken glass which I had driven into my neck, but I still cannot be left unsupervised.  They watch me, I know, and make me take medication.  I let my mind swing free, up and down, back and forth.  I am no longer responsible for myself. I am no longer alone.  I am not among friends, but then, I never was. If they keep me away from the sound of music, I am mostly fine.

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