Naomi has returned home after the funeral and her friend Jane comes to check up on her.
With a deep breath and a very fake smile, she opened the door to a damp Jane standing huddled in the rain. She had only walked from her car to the door, all of seven or eight metres and she made it look like she had walked all the way from her house.
‘You really didn’t have to come, Jane. But thank you. I appreciate it.’ Naomi felt like she had lied to her friend, but in fact she really was pleased she had come. The flat felt a lot bigger now and the extra body and voice would help fill the void, even if it would only be for a couple of hours.
‘Don’t mention it, Naomi. I thought you could use some company this evening. Are you OK?’ Jane replied with a caring but inappropriate over enthusiastic tone. ‘I brought a bottle with me. I thought you might like a drink!’
It wasn’t unlike Jane to be over zealous, but this arrival with a bottle of wine seemed more like an entrance to a party rather than comforting a grieving girlfriend.
‘That’s nice, Jane. Thank you. Come in, you look cold.’ Naomi tried to sound as enthusiastic as Jane, but failed.
Understandably, Jane thought, Naomi’s normal spring in her step had faded to a slow walk up the stairs. She followed the shadowy figure up the stairs to the living room where she sat down whilst Naomi fetched a couple of glasses from the kitchen.
The atmosphere in the living room seemed dank, oppressive almost, like there was a lingering smell. The feeling was almost tangible to Jane who sat on the edge of the sofa with the bottle of wine in front of her on the table. It made her feel uncomfortable, scared almost and wary and she looked around like a deer in the woods looking for an unseen huntsman. Quiet, and unnaturally still, everything in the flat just seemed to have stopped, just hanging in time waiting to be kick-started back into life. A bit like Naomi perhaps.
As a group of friends, Jane, Peter, David, Naomi and Aaron had spent many evenings here with other friends dining and having terrific thirty-something fun over many, many bottles of wine.
In the kitchen, Naomi felt like she was falling apart for the third or forth time that day. Although her friend coming to see her and comfort her was a very kind gesture, all she wanted was to be alone. She gripped the kitchen worktop and hung her head down towards her elbows, eyes tight, breathing deeply, holding back the prickly tears.
With one final deep breath, Naomi reached into the cupboard, grabbed two wine glasses and went back to the living room. Smiling falsely she beamed ‘Everything alright, Jane?’
Jane snapped out of her uneasy feeling and equally beamed a confirmation of her being alright, but could see in her friends eyes that everything was indeed, not alright. Naomi’s eyes were sunken and reddened, more so now than when she arrived a few minutes earlier. It didn’t take more than two minutes to collect two wine glasses for the kitchen. She must have been crying, Jane supposed.
The two women looked at each other and exchanged little smiles as if two strangers on opposite sides of a train carriage had briefly made eye contact, and even this, between two old friends felt uncomfortable. Jane began to wish she had not come, and Naomi wished the same, but she was deep in thought about the day and was summoning up the courage to tell Jane what she thought she saw at the catafalque.
‘Jane?’ her voice sounded uneasy.
‘Yes’ she said, placing her already half drained glass on the table.
Without hesitation, but after a deep gulp of breath, Naomi made up her mind to tell her. ‘Do you believe in ghosts, Jane?’ Aaron’s ears pricked up in the corner. He listened more closely.
‘Dunno,’ she said ‘Never seen one.’ She took a mouthful of wine, dreading, but knowing what was coming next.
Naomi paused for a moment, reconsidering her decision. ‘I think I saw Aaron today. He was standing next to his coffin looking at me.’ Her voice was flat and she stared out the window as she spoke.
Jane’s silence allowed Naomi to continue.
‘He tried to reach out to me but just as he did, he disappeared again. I think I saw him again when I got home earlier.’
From the shadows in the corner, Aaron moved a little closer to listen more. He was so proud of Naomi and how she composed herself for his funeral, and hearing this coming from her now, so soon after the ceremony was a sign that she had indeed seen him there next to his coffin.
Jane had taken her wine from the table and was draining the glass. She could see that Naomi wasn’t joking even though she wasn’t looking at her. She put the glass down again, shuffled over on the sofa and gently took Naomi’s hands in hers, comforting them like a daughter would do her aging mother’s in the last moments of her life. She looked down and squeezed their hands together.
‘You poor thing. Are you sure you saw Aaron there?’ Jane’s eyes were looking deep at Naomi now, searching for something there that would give her a clue to the truth, because there was no way that this could be the truth. It was absurd. How could she have seen Aaron? he’s dead, she thought. Better run with it for now. ‘Naomi, really? How could you have done?’
Turning to face her friend, Naomi looked straight into Jane’s eyes, all sorrow gone from her mind for the moment. Inside her heart, she had a feeling of hope that she would see him again. ‘I don’t know, I have no idea. He was there right in front of me, Jane. As plain as day. Standing still, looking right at me and then he reached out to me, then he was gone. I was crying and my vision blurred quite quickly, but it was him, Jane. I know it was, there was no-one else there, and David was standing on the other side. Am I being silly? Do you think I saw him?’ Jane looked a little shocked and poured another glass of wine and topped up Naomi’s.
Aaron had moved out of the shadows now and was standing in front of them both by the table, listening to the women’s conversation. He was amazed that Naomi had seen him, but now confused as to why she should now be doubting what she saw.
Jane regarded her bereaved friend with caution. She didn’t want to give her any hope because there couldn’t be any. Aaron was dead and although Naomi knew that, love sometimes does funny things and leads people to do irrational and stupid things, neither did she want to shatter the illusion. She sat quietly for another moment, considering what to say. ‘I don’t know.’ She said ‘You’ve been under a lot of pressure lately, and I think you probably saw what you most wanted to see. It could have been him, but he must live in your heart and memory now. He’ll never die there. Maybe your heart brought him back to you for a moment, as a reassurance that he’s still with you. I don’t know.’
Aaron enjoyed hearing this from Jane. He was indeed still with her and had no intention of ever letting her go. At least, not until she joined him from her death bed, probably many years from now. He would be waiting at the foot of the bed, excited at the prospect of her terminal breath and they would be together again, for ever this time. He instantly felt envious of Jane. She had those years to share with Naomi and he would simply be an invisible onlooker from the shadows, living only in the hearts and memories of Naomi and their friends. He had to find a way of letting them all know that he was still with them. He thought he may try something to let them know she wasn’t making it up or daydreaming through hope.
Taking a sip of her wine with a shaking hand, and holding back more of those blasted tears, Naomi gave a little smile and a sniffle. ‘Maybe it was just my mind playing with me.’ She shivered slightly as Aaron sat down beside her, on the arm of the sofa, and leaning down on his knees explained that it wasn’t her mind playing tricks, even though she couldn’t hear him. It was him there at the funeral, that he was with her throughout the ceremony, and the night before, and he was here now, never letting her go and that he would be her guardian angel until her dying day.