Jinn Series Book 1, available on Amazon and from the aysehafiza.co.uk website
Chapter One He's gone
Frank would have loved the flowers, Eleanor thought to herself as she surveyed their beauty. The bright, beautiful yellows brought a half smile to her face. She knew that yellow signified friendship, and it complemented the autumnal oranges that were a nod to the grief the day brought. Eleanor didn't much care for the chrysanthemums in the arrangements. She internally tutted at them—they were, after all, a very cheap flower, but they did look cheerful. She couldn't rob them of that quality.
Maxine squeezed her hand as they walked together behind Frank. For Eleanor, having Maxine’s support reminded her that she was alive.
Loved ones and friends arrived to support the family. So many of their friends had come to pay their respects and waited patiently to console Eleanor and her family. They all stood huddled in a mass of black clothing, and Eleanor acknowledged them respectfully. She saw the pity in their eyes, and instinctively, she wanted to make them a cup of tea. Tea always made things better. As she dwelled on that thought, she remembered that they should be the ones making her a cup of tea.
With a heartfelt sigh, she thought about how today was going to be the hardest day of her life. It was going to be the day she would say goodbye to Frank.
Eleanor reminisced about Frank, the love of her life. He was the man who stole her heart at the tender age of sixteen, the man the cosmos had conspired with so that they could spend their lives together, and the father of her children. Eleanor considered how gently their love had developed in the early stages of their courtship. Marriage came and brought an intimacy. When they became parents, her relationship with Frank grew again. He was no longer just her best friend, husband, and lover, but also the father of her children. Her love for him developed into a deeper and richer ocean. She knew they were happiest when they were a struggling, young family—they had laughed the most during those times.
Everyone else in Eleanor’s life paled in comparison to Frank’s radiant and loving presence. He was her best friend. He knew all her vulnerabilities and secrets.
Eleanor thought about how she now walked with her daughter, Maxine, to say goodbye to the most wonderful companion in her life and the man who had brought her joy and happiness every day. Abruptly, she didn't want to be there. She wanted to stop following the coffin that held her beloved Frank, but she knew that creating a scene wouldn’t make the cremation disappear. She bolstered herself with the thought that she could not stop everyone else from saying their goodbyes. Everyone needed this ceremony to heal. Maxine needed to heal. It was just Eleanor who didn't want to say goodbye; she wasn’t ready to use that word.
Frank and Eleanor had a secret that they had whispered to each other on their pillows at night. It had deepened their bond and been a source of strength in the tough days of their marriage. They told each other their love was eternal and that it existed before time and would exist after it. Eleanor reasoned that in the space of infinity, there was no room for goodbye.
Frank's cremation was at noon. Eleanor didn't know how to react with so many eyes on her. She thought about how if Frank were here with her, he would whisper into her ear, 'Keep your chin up, love.' That always used to give her support and confidence. She tutted internally to herself again as she thought of him. Initially, that phrase had been so sweet and welcome, but after a few years, that phrase had driven her mad.
She didn't know how to behave at his service, and she fought to conceal her emotions. There was no handbook for a new widow that suddenly arrived on the doorstep when her husband—she stopped herself. She couldn't bring herself to say the word, but her inner voice whispered it anyway: died. Yes, that's the one, she thought to herself.
Listening to the beautiful eulogies and hymns, she tried to pull herself together, as people were watching. She was a reserved and conservative woman. She hated public displays of emotions and tears. She resolved to pull herself together just for today. She decided that she would say goodbye in her own time: today, tomorrow, or in a year. No beautiful church service would change that. She would secretly hold onto Frank in her heart. She needed to have something left of him.
Maxine could see that her mum had suffered through the service and wake. She looked at the beautiful flowers, that people had left. It was a comfort to see how much love surrounded her mum and their family. She didn't doubt that tough times lay ahead of them, and she resolved to be patient with her mum and let her take her time to grieve the loss of her father. Maxine knew the road ahead would require patience and a lot of adjustments.
Eleanor would never be able to fill the chasm in her heart, the void of missing him. Frank was gone, but she preferred to think of him as having gone out to get the paper or a bottle of milk. She expected him to walk in the front door and give her a kiss on the forehead. She thought of the coolness of his nose brushing against her skin; that comfortable familiar feeling was now lost.
The wake was filled with the retelling of happy stories, but Eleanor was disconnected. The cremation ceremony had been for the family, not for her, and Eleanor was here to support them while they said goodbye. She busied herself to stay distracted from reality.
Eleanor was sixty-seven years old. Maxine knew her mum felt she should be serving their guests as if they were sitting in her front room and not a church hall. Maxine could see her mother struggling with every single condolence, but she met each one with a reassuring half-smile.
Eleanor knew they were genuine condolences, but she didn't want to accept that this meant Frank was gone. Eleanor wished there was more variety in the British language so that everyone didn't sound like an automated recording. Those things unfailingly left her in a muddle and made her feel stupid; she always ended up in the wrong department speaking to the wrong person. She had always been grateful for Frank because he dealt with them, but he wasn't here now. It was these little things that Eleanor knew would be a challenge.
Maxine stayed with her mum the night of the cremation, and it was a comfort to have her under the same roof. Maxine felt the roles of mother and daughter swap as she watched her frail mother go into her bedroom. She needed to rest after the long day.
As Eleanor lay down, she thought about how this was her and Frank’s bed—their bed in their bedroom in their space where she would be by herself. She let the mask of formality slip, unravelling and wallowing in the sorrow of the day.
Frank and Eleanor had spent over fifty years sleeping next to each other. The bed was vast without him. Getting comfortable was difficult. There was no warm leg to brush her feet against, no warm body to dig her perpetually cool toes under. It was different without Frank. The double bed felt like a strange land. She needed someone next to her, a substitute Frank to help her sleep. Her hand brushed against Frank's space in the bed. Usually, a big lump of a man would be lying next to her, but the comforting sound of his rhythmic snoring was no longer there. Alone in the dark, she let herself cry. Alone in the dark, she let go of the pent-up emotions of the day. She sobbed into the pillows to muffle the sound. It was the sound of her heartbreak, a pain that constricted her chest and would not let her breathe. The physical symptoms took hold of her body and penetrated her soul.
She would not say goodbye to Frank tonight.
Secretly, she was annoyed at him. She was the weaker one. She was the one with the worse health, the one the doctor had told him to keep an eye on. She was upset that he had won. He had won the ‘Who will die first?’ competition. Eleanor thought, It should have been me. I should have died first. Frank would have been so much better at being alone than she was; he was so much stronger.
Eleanor felt she couldn't function without him. Unable to remove her hand from the space where his body used to lay, she tried to get comfortable in the bed. She nuzzled closer to his pillows and smelled the faint scent of him lingering on the pillowcase. She would never wash them again. She lay in bed exhausted with big, wet tears rolling across her wrinkled face as she finally allowed herself to feel her emotions.
Sleep that night was not restful. Frank wasn't there; it was as if she had lost a limb, but she didn't know which one. She was lost and confused without him. In the morning, she searched for his when she opened her eyes. She wondered if he had gone to the bathroom, and for a moment, she considered what she should make for breakfast, what food was in the fridge, and how many eggs they had. It took a few minutes to remember. When she did, she lost him again. It was like a wall falling on top of her, pushing the wind out of her lungs and slamming her heart into the back of her ribs. She remembered that they had cremated him yesterday, and that he wasn't with her in this life anymore. She cried into the top of the duvet cover, using the edges to wipe away her tears. She realized again how much she missed him. The morning was painful without him, and she wondered if she would always wake up and torture herself like this. She thought about how people had said time would heal, but she wondered if time just numbed the pain and healed nothing at all.
She turned to her bedside table and looked at their wedding photo. He was so handsome, so dashing that day. All the girls were staring at him, but he had been hers. He had wanted Eleanor. A girlish grin flitted across her face. He pledged himself to her that day. He was my man. He was mine.
Maxine knocked on the bedroom door and came in with a cup of tea. Frank would do this on special occasions like Mother's Day or their wedding anniversary. For a brief moment as the door creaked opened, she hoped to see him walk in, as if yesterday's cremation had been some elaborate trick and he was alive. Eleanor braced herself.
She didn't mean to look depressed when she realized it was only Maxine coming into her room. The sadness must have registered on her face. Feeling the need to compensate, she patted the empty side on the bed, and Maxine climbed on. The way she moved reminded Eleanor of when Maxine had been a small girl.
Maxine sat with her, drinking tea and asking what she wanted to do today. Eleanor didn't feel like getting out of bed. She wanted Maxine to go away and leave her to drown in the oasis of her bed and memories. Maxine was a good daughter, and Eleanor knew she wouldn't leave—her children had been raised better than that. Although Eleanor didn't want a fuss, she didn't want to be a burden. Eleanor decided that she needed to find a way to manage Maxine.
With some thought, Eleanor decided to let Maxine feel that she was helping. It was a temporary solution to have Maxine stay over. She couldn't ignore the fact that Maxine would be reporting to the rest of the family. If Eleanor could prove to Maxine that she could cope, she wouldn’t be scrutinized. Maxine had her own family, and soon enough, a drama would draw her back into her own house. Maxine didn't need the burden of an old mother to keep tabs on.
It took a lot of effort to leave the house for a walk. They went to the duck pond and fed the birds. Maxine came home with Eleanor, and as Eleanor sat in the living room alone, Maxine pottered around in the kitchen. It was odd. The hardest part of Maxine being in the house was the sound of her moving around; it reminded Eleanor of Frank being home. Whenever she walked in or out of the room, Eleanor’s disappointment grew.
Eleanor fought to keep her tears at bay, determined that she would show Maxine that she could cope. Determined, she struggled through a week of Maxine staying in the house before her daughter left to go home to her own family.
After Maxine left, Eleanor dropped the act and submitted to her heartbreak. She felt the intensity of her pain in full. She longed for her Frank. Relieved that she was not being watched, Eleanor submitted to the cloud hanging over her. She would breathe in the pain and become one with it.
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