Chapter 1:

You don't remember her name.

You don't remember her name

The world is dusty-blue. The stars wink out like street lamps in an outage, and your alarm goes off at five. You travel possibly seven miles north towards Waiwera along the highway until you reach the dairy flats, where you take everything she's left behind at the old matchbox condo and you burn it. You hold a convenience-store lighter to the corner of a scented letter and watch the paper fleck off like dead flies. You burn white sundresses, lacy capes, a large Puma shirt that she appropriated from you during the aftermath of some college party back in '96. But she's still there. You can feel her outline. Spacetime seems to bend at the place where she is absent. You burn a few of her beloved magazines and the absence only grows bigger.

You leave the dairy flat before the sun comes pouring down the crop field, and you realise that you don't remember her name.

A year or two years or a couple days ago, you lost her to some stupid incurable disease that was curable only with exorbitant amounts of money coupled with the sort of procedure reserved only for the British Royal Family. Before she died, she whispered to you with her last breath: "Do you see her too? My mother. Did you know that she was visiting? You should've told me ahead of time."

She has not been on speaking terms with her mother for the past twenty years, and her mother had not been present. You didn't tell her mother about her passing; you didn't think she cared. This is your last and only memory of her.

Even though she has been missing for so long now you can still sense her presence. She exists as a scent in the fibres of your pillows and as a plate in the dishwasher you haven't bothered to relocate. Less corporally, she is a bright smudge of light by the kitchen sink and on her side of the bed. You cannot sleep because when you shut your eyes she is seared into your eyelids. Similarly you are afraid to enter the kitchen so you order takeout everyday. Somedays you forgo eating altogether.

You become convinced that, because she is absent, there is something to be filled in her place. Her. Who? How? Can you get rid of nothing at all?

Desperate, fatigued, and starving, you visit some alleged hack psychic—clearly whiter than a slab of bread—in the city. You meet him handing out glossy brochures before the city's busiest intersection, and he smiles at you before the pedestrian lights turn green.

You are his last consultation for the day. The room is incensed, and smoke hangs low from the ceiling. The psychic tells you to take off your shoes before you enter.

You tell him about what ails you; that you cannot remember her name, and when you think you're on the cusp of recalling it you find that you have trouble looking closer; that you can't remember when she died, or what she died of, only of the circumstances surrounding that inexplicable loss; that there is a smudge of light in your kitchen and in your bed and all over the house like a coat of paint, too bright to look at; that the light is growing worse by the day because it's filling your home and nothing really gets done anymore.

"See," the psychic says, after thinking with his hands tented, "what do you know about Thanatos?"

You pause, and then you say what you know: that he's just some Greek god that you know from that one Classics paper you did.

(You met someone during that course—no, the thought is gone.)

The psychic offers you a delicate cup of Lapsang Souchong. A dark sediment swirls at the bottom of your cup. He shows you a Wikipedia entry of a pillar carving of Thanatos; his left shoulder and chest are chipped off. "Thanatos doesn't rule death; he is death. He deals in everything and anything that eventually passes. But he's a good man; he disguises himself as their loved ones so that they go willingly with him to the afterlife. But sometimes the souls don't wanna go. They hold onto the world until they can't no more, and they end up taking something with them, leaving what you might call an absence."

They mistakenly took her from you, is your takeaway. She didn't even want to go. Thanatos made a mistake, did it all wrong, and now you have to live with that. That bludgeoning reckoning of light in your house.

During your second consultation you tell the psychic that you're tired of thinking about her. You've come to resent her for her absence, even, which sounds even worse when you say it aloud. You ask other questions too, like why she saw her estranged mother instead of you, and the psychic responds with, "Well, concepts aren't perfect. We all make mistakes. Especially death; do you know how many people die every day? Every minute?"

You ask how you can forget about your wife or your girlfriend or whoever she was, maybe too aggressively. He says, "So that's what this is about. I'm sorry. Have you been trying?" You tell him that you wish she could die a second time just so you could go live the rest of your sorry life in peace. The psychic's face turns stone cold. "I think you should try doing the opposite, actually. You need to mourn before you can move on."

You don't want to move on. You want to forget. You want to fill the absence with something so well-fitting that you won't be able to pick it back out.

The psychic refuses to meet you for a third consultation. For the better, he writes in an email consisting of a single sentence. Good luck.

You grow to hate her. You stop looking for her. You sell couches, filigreed pillows, frilled vases. You take apart the bedframe and auction it on Ebay for a dollar and people are terrified of buying it from you because they think you've marked it down for bedbugs.

One lady insists on coming over to check on what she's buying. You watch her meander over the bedside, observing the grain of the wood. The light assaults her face like a spiderweb, and at first you're terrified, because how can she so casually access something you are terrified to touch? How can she not see what is not there?

You realise that the light is hot butter, liquid white-hot gold—like the sun, or a flame—and it suits her heart-shaped face. You don't see the lady again, but she was beautiful enough to remind you of something. Of a billowing sundress in a field of wildflowers. Of love, of death, of Eros. And you know the name fondly, because it has been on your tongue before. Because you loved something once.

You visit her mother, because if Thanatos was her mother in the seconds before she died and not you, then maybe you've missed something. Maybe you didn't know her at all. You're wrong, of course—her mother refuses to even meet you at the door. She calls you names over the phone. You ask her in a fit of desperation if she ever loved her daughter and she responds, "Yes, when you didn't fucking exist," and then she hangs up for good, and you're left in the hollow drone of the disconnect tone.

A year passes. Maybe two. You still haven't remembered her name because you've given up on trying. You move into a bigger house across the country and the light is still there, she's still there, just proportionally smaller. Eventually, she fades into a speck and even though you still eat terribly, at least you can sleep again. Sometimes you even use her as a nightlight for when you're making two-A.M. two-minute-noodles (just like you used to.).

One day, you're cleaning out the garages when you stumble across an old box of tattered legal documents, stacked like loose leaves. You find one familiar, tea-stained paper, something you forgot to burn an eon ago. On the left: your signature, loopy and dense. On the right: her name printed plain.

The light has dimmed to a thin line from an inched-ajar door since then, but it's still there. You speak her name. The light envelopes you like a baby's swaddle. It hurts, it's too bright. She lingers like that for a few days afterwards before she shrinks to a pinprick and you think, finally, silence, but the month after that she comes back.

But at least she's smaller now. Lighter.

So you eventually learn to live with it.