By Esti Ruan

How quickly run together the empty days. Though hours creep by, weeks, indistinguishably spent in the immobile monotony of depression, hurdle past.

Was it a month ago his death was broadcast? A full calendar page ago since voices echoed in the empty rooms of the house?

Furniture, paintings, jewelry: all had been pawned to pay the fast-mounting hospital bills.

But that had not been the hard part. The guilt as she’d placed her grandmother’s heirloom garnet ring in the sweaty palm of the pawn shop broker had been nothing to what she felt now.

Denial, they said, was among the primary stages of grief.

But she was a rational woman. She had sat by his side, heard the last gasp of air rattling around his lungs, like a car engine that wouldn’t turn over. She knew very well he was dead.

No, her denial took on a different form. She found it easier to believe he’d never existed at all.

How else explain his sudden snuffing out? It was impossible, for him to be there one minute and then gone the next. Physics descried such a phenomena—that his energy could dissipate—as much as it did the idea it had been spirited off to some higher plane.

She doubted. All those memories: what could they be but figments of her lonely imagination? What proof of him was there now, here in this empty house that contained only sticks of furniture?

In her waking hours, she denied him. And in the hours of twilight fugue—for sleep had ceased to come ever since he’d fallen ill—she despaired over the cruelty of her rational mind, which honored the primitive credo of survival by so trying to insulate her from hurt.

Emboldened by the hazy uncertainty of nighttime’s shroud, her heart conjured tantalizing mirages: she heard his footfall in the hall’ his laugh echoing from behind her; his breath upon the nape of her neck.

But all these ephemeral things melted as the sun’s first rays came peeping over the windowsill. The neighbor’s cock would crow, and she’d find herself left with nothing but the neat, delineated lines of reality. Of firm matter and the rigid rules that governed it. And she’d look around and deny once more that it was possible he could have existed in the first place.