I complained about dishes in the sink and socks on the floor, and even though he never came, I imagined Donar lying next to me in my too empty bed, while I stared at the ceiling and talked.
Eric was a resident, and if I had thought he was never home before, I understood now what it really meant to be the wife of a doctor. I tried not to hate it. I tried not to resent the fact that the most I saw of Eric was his sleeping body beneath the blankets at odd hours and a hurried meal before he left again with fistfuls of granola bars for later.
Donar listened, and when my frustration became irrational, he calmed me with reason and reminders of the things I loved about my husband. He was Eric’s greatest advocate, his defender. But sometimes, I resented that too.
“You’re supposed to be my protector, my hero. Not his.”
I felt his laugh more than I heard it. Always, Anna.
“Then why are you taking his side?” I asked.
You’re married, now. There’s only one side, one flesh. His side is your side.
I sighed. “I hate when you’re right.”
And I hated even more that I spent more time with Donar than with Eric. I hated that the more I talked to him, the more I longed for him. I hated that I wanted him with me, real and solid. I hated that I missed the electricity of his hand against my cheek and the warmth of his blue eyes. I hated that it was impossible not to feel his love for me, like a balm. It was too easy to fall in love with imaginary men who could read minds and always knew the right thing to say, even if he could never touch me. Not really.
But sometimes, when it rained and thundered, I watched for lightning and wondered. When I was a little girl, he had been so real, so solid. He had brought me glasses of water and pulled blankets up to my chin. He had held me in his lap, all hard muscle and warm skin, and brushed my hair from my face while I cried. Did that mean he could be solid again? That if I believed with that same childlike conviction, I could make him real?
I never asked, and he never mentioned it. Eric’s side was my side, and I loved my husband, even if he wasn’t home as often as I liked.
Twenty-seven and a half.
“Did you talk to my mother, too?” I asked one night, lying sleepless in bed.
Once, he admitted. Just before she died.
“What did she say?”
He sighed. She asked me to watch over you.
My throat thickened, though I hadn’t cried for my mother since I was ten. “Is that why you’re still here?”
One of many reasons, Anna. But it isn’t the most important one.
Another thing I didn’t dare ask.
Thirty and three quarters.
Blood and glass and twisted metal, and screaming. Screaming until my throat was raw and my ears rang and there was nothing but the sound of my own voice. What god had joined, man had torn apart, and I was no longer whole.
I cried until there were no tears left, and the only thing I could feel was the dull ache of my broken bones. Donar called to me, but I didn’t answer, just pressed the button for more morphine and turned my face into the pillow until the drug fogged my mind and I slept.
Thirty and seven eighths.
They pushed back the funeral until I was healed enough to leave the hospital, and I let Eric’s mother and sister do most of the planning. It didn’t matter, really, what we did. It wouldn’t bring him back.
I watched them lower his casket into the ground, leaning heavily on my crutches, and while the minister offered his condolences I prayed to a different god.
Is Eric’s death my death too? I asked him. Or is this what the Norse myths mean, when they talk about Hel, half beautiful and half rotten corpse. Is he gone now because I didn’t deserve him? Because I spent so much time in my head, talking to you?
You know that isn’t true, Donar said. You’ve suffered loss before, Anna. It has no method, no reason. Death claims us all in the end.
Not gods, I argued. Not you.
And I wish it were so simple for you, that you might think of him, and have him back again. But men are not gods, Anna. They are not meant to fade in and out of the world on the tides of mortal memory. Nor do I think you would care for it, if you did. It is a lonely long life, and it always ends the same way when you’re forgotten. Death upon death for eternity, filled with heartbreak when those who you love no longer love you.
If you’re a god, why couldn’t you have protected him?
I’m not his god or yours, and even if I were, I wouldn’t have had the power to save him from something like this. Shelter him from a storm, grant him strength to defeat his enemies, those are things I might have accomplished. But not this, Anna. I am so sorry I could not stop this.
I wiped the tears from my cheeks and let my father help me back to the car. He’d had to bury his wife, and now I’d buried my husband. Maybe they were together, watching over us, but I’d never really believed in that. I didn’t know what death was, only that Eric was gone, and for once it felt right that I should be alone.
Donar kept his promise. He never spoke to me again.
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