They had been together for five months now. Caitlin had fallen hard and fast, yet she had made herself go steady, perceiving that she would lose him if she pushed too hard too soon. She had known instantly that there was something very special about Daniel. She could not describe it in words. It was like an aura that he emitted – an air of depth and mystery that had intrigued her and made her yearn to know more of him. He was a guarded man. But steadily, bit by tiny bit, he had let her into his world.
Now she lay in his bed, on the crisp white linen, and watched him sleep as the morning light danced on his frame. She could have stayed there for an eternity. But she decided to get up and search for coffee. She quietly slid out of bed and retrieved her clothes off the floor. As she buttoned her shirt, she felt a fingertip brush the back of her leg. She closed her eyes and welcomed the flutter of heat through her body. Turning slowly, her eyes met the brilliant blue of Daniel’s, as he lay propped up on one arm on the bed.
‘Where are you going’, he asked sleepily.
‘I was just going to raid your kitchen for coffee’.
He yawned and threw his legs over the side of the bed, ‘I’ll get it’.
As he led her down the hallway he kissed her shoulder and neck. Caitlin ran her hand along the wall to support her, as her knees began to buckle slightly at his touch. She got lost in it for a moment. Until she felt her hand suddenly lose traction on the wall. Stumbling sideways, her eyes flicked open, and fell upon the gap in the wall, in which lay a steep flight of stairs.
‘What’s up there?’ she asked.
‘Oh nothing – it’s just the attic’. Caitlin was curious. As if sensing this, Daniel added, ‘It’s a hoarded mess of chaos – quite embarrassing really’, as he placed his arms on her shoulders and shuffled her forwards down the hall. She led him lead her, even though she thought she had detected an almost invisible hint of panic in his eyes. Dismissing it as further evidence of his guarded and private nature, Cailtin allowed herself to be guided into the kitchen.
She sat perched on one of the high black stools, and watched him make coffee, quietly appreciating his contours, as he stood shirtless, in his black pants. She furrowed her brow slightly. She realised she had never seen him in casual gear – they only ever met up when he had finished work, and she had actually never stayed over on a Friday before. What did he even do on the weekends? How did he spend his time?
She hid her crushing confusion when she realised she was not about to find out. He made some comment about having to go out. She knew it was a lie, she just wasn’t sure what it was that he was hiding, or why he seemed so determined to not allow her into his life any further. He was determined to keep her at a distance.
Daniel kissed her tenderly on the forehead as she got into her car. She felt the sting of disappointment burn in her eyes. Perhaps she would never know him. Perhaps she would never know what had happened to him, or why he was such a closed book. She was in-love with him. She wished so badly that she did not love him. He was never going to love her back – the whispered truth of it hung in the air as she drove away.
Daniel felt his heart begin to beat more regularly as he heard the sound of tyres fading into the distance. He was alone. The tenderness in his face slunk away, replaced with a haunted clarity of repressed emotion. He didn’t have to pretend anymore. There was a relief in that – he felt it every time. But this time was different, because he could not hide now, not even from himself. It was time. He had to do it now. Even as he walked back into the house and found himself standing at the bottom of the stairs, he knew he couldn’t push it aside today. She had awoken it. She had made it flutter and stir again. Daniel stared at the door at the top of the stairs. The blue of his eyes took on an uncustomary shade of open fear. The robotic layers of protection that he had built upon his being peeled off one at a time, with each step he took. His heart beat furiously against his decision to place his hand on the door knob. Closing his eyes, and gritting his teeth with one last moment of resolution, he turned to knob and gently swung the door open.
Anyone else would have been genuinely surprised when that door opened. They would have seen a large empty space, which held only one thing in its confines.
Daniel’s eyes locked on the piano … the piano. It was dimly lit in that space. A sharp ray of sunlight penetrated through the window on the far wall, illuminating the exposed rafters, and casting an eerie glow upon the piano. Flecks of dust danced in the beam of light, as if stuck in some haunting melody of the past. The room reeked of isolation, and as Daniel cast his eyes over the hallowed, empty space, he felt the isolation filter into his being and open up his soul. His past began to unfurl itself within him, as he stepped forward into the room. With each step he took, his past became clearer and more vivid in his mind. The melody became louder and twirled in his head. Daniel felt the sickening crunch of reality with each gentle thud of his feet on the wooden boards. He reached the only inhabitant of the room and felt his body recoil. But he could not turn back.
He gently sat down on the little stood, perching himself gingerly on the edge. As his body connected with the solid material of the stool he felt a flood of emotion course through him. Memories of the past flickered in brilliant colours. He remembered Mia sitting on this very stool, her body bending fluidly over the keys as her fingers danced upon them. He remembered the way her long dark hair would slip over her shoulder as she threw her weight gently forward in time to the passion of her song. He saw himself leaning over the top of the piano, smiling, with his chin resting on his hand, as he watched her teach their daughter which notes to play. He heard their laughter echo through the air. He saw Alexandra’s tiny fingers slap against the white keys, and her blue eyes light up with childish delight at the magic sound she made.
Daniel’s mind soaked up these images, before it cruelly turned to the others. His mind wandered out from that space, into the darkness that had broken him. He saw his wife changing. He saw her transforming before his eyes. He saw the depression begin to claim her. He saw the light slowly leave her eyes. He saw himself uncovering the stash of medicine she had not taken. He saw himself pleading with her, trying desperately to get through to her that she was sick… that she needed the pills to help her see clearly. He saw her sanity slip away. He felt his utter hopelessness, like it was yesterday. Daniel watched his daughter begin to not recognise the person her mother had become. He saw himself in the bathroom that night, finding her lying there, covered in blood. He saw himself grovelling on the floor, ripping his shirt and fighting to breath as he tried to stop the bleeding. He remembered the feeling of sheer relief when she started to get better. He remembered the intoxicating rush of pure happiness when he saw some of the colour return to her eyes. He had thought that everything would be okay then. But he was wrong. He had been fooled. He had wanted so desperately for it to be the case … that he had deluded himself into believing he could save her, that she had come back to him.
Daniel felt his body stiffen on the stool as his mind finally came to rest on that day … the day he got the phone call. Daniel heard the inflection in the man’s voice, and remembered every word the officer had spoken. That voice was etched in his mind for eternity, though he had tried so hard to block it out, with every fibre of his being he had tried. He had wanted nothing more than to forget the tone and inflection of the voice on the other end of the line, saying, ‘I’m sorry to have to inform you that there has been a terrible accident … it would appear that …’ No, he would never forget the way those words had penetrated his being and ripped his entire soul out in one fatal thrust. At first he didn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe it. It was only when he had seen them for himself that he could accept it. Even then his mind had struggled to construct a different version of events. Mia could not have deliberately poisoned her … No, she hadn’t known that the chemicals would combine that way, and that she would drink it so willingly. No … she hadn’t known, and that’s why she took the gun out … that is the only reason she pulled the trigger … because of what she had done … His wife and his daughter were taken from him that day. He saw them lying there, as cold as stone, on the metal beds … He saw himself smashing his head on the glass that held him from them. He heard the primal screams that had vibrated through him as his brother and sister-in-law had tried to pull him away …
Daniels body crumpled forward with the sickening weight of simply remembering that day. It had nearly killed him. He had wanted it to kill him. He had sunk into a depth of despair akin not even to the worst stations of hell. He wanted to die. But he could not bring himself to do it. He wanted to be punished. To live in this hellish nightmare was reparation for failing to save his daughter, and his wife. He deserved to suffer in life. Death would have been far too kind.
But he could not exist in that dark limbo forever. Eventually he had slunk out of the shadows, and made a choice to live a half-life. He had made a decision to live as a shell. He had packed away all evidence of his former life. He had destroyed any trace of his past. But the one thing he could not bring himself to let go of, no matter how hard he tried, was the piano. To Daniel it represented the happiest time in his life – the only time he remembered the three of them being truly happy together. Before the darkness came, before the light left Mia’s eyes, before disaster destroyed every atom that comprised his world. He had gone slightly mad that day, and ruthlessly smashed everything in the attic. He had torn, shattered, burnt and demolished every single item in that space. He had ripped the door off its hinges and taken out part of the wall with it, just to get the piano into the confines of its new tomb. When he was done he had lay on the floor, sobbing and heaving for an indefinable amount of time. When the light of day had come to breathe cruel life into him, he had gotten himself up. He had transformed into a different man – a man who had no past. He had methodically fixed the wall and reattached the door with a cold and stony interior. He had said to himself that no-one, not even him, would ever enter this space. It would remain perfect and untouched … forever. He would keep his love, and his torture, confined in this space, and close the door on it forever. He would craft a new life. It was the only way he could survive.
Daniel remembered it all with terrifying clarity. He ran his hands down his face and closed his eyes, breathing in his past. When he opened them again his gaze fell on the perfect line of keys. He slowly reached out and touched a fingertip to the edge of the white. That one touch sent a flutter of pain through him. His eyes brimmed with tears. His heart ached freshly. His other hand reached out, and he placed his long, calloused fingers softly on the keys. His soul heavy with long forgotten grief, Daniel began to play. Crushed by the weight of his own fallibility, Daniel played the melody of his past. And with each note, he sensed a fibre of life ignite in his bones. He felt alive again. For the first time in eight years, Daniel felt alive.
This story was inspired by the daily word prompt ‘DISASTER‘ at The Daily Post.