Ellie looked so stricken that Tommy was afraid to leave. Although they were ghosts, invisible, there was still agency in that spirit that it was best not to leave unguarded. Ellie’s eyes burned as she leaned over the bed where her husband-in-life lay. The room was stifled with sickness, but a cold breeze stirred and fluttered the pages of the open book on the desk.
“Ellie,” said Tommy, in a loud whisper. “What are you doing?”
Her reply was fierce.
“I did this to him,” she said. “I’ve killed him.”
“He isn’t dead yet,” said Tommy. He glanced uneasily at the shuddering figure in the bed. “Let him be, Ellie. Let him rest.”
“Rest? Is this rest?”
Her violent feeling darkened the room and rattled the shutters. Roused from fever-dreams, Mr. Roe sat up with a start. His features were white at the cheeks and forehead, gray at the lips and eyelids. He shivered uncontrollably, though he was sweating.
“Ellie?” he said. “Eleanor?—Ellie, is that you? Are you—?”
He stopped. Panting wildly, he looked around. His eyes were dark, but bright in their blackness with terror and something like madness. In a violent motion that almost matched Ellie’s temper, he threw back the bed sheets and stood. He crossed the room and went to his dresser.
“There,” he whispered, “That’s where she is. I know she’s there.”
“There?” said Ellie.
“The churchyard,” said Tommy, impatient. “He saw you there. That’s where he’s going.”
“To my grave? In this weather?”
Mr. Roe tied his cravat with uncertain fingers. He didn’t know what he was at. In his nightshirt and with the bindings around his throat done in a strangling knot, he made for the door.
Outside the wind shrieked. It was bitter cold. Mr. Roe started the walk to the churchyard despite the rain that blinded him.
“This is crazy,” said Tommy. “You’ve got to show yourself to him now, Ellie. Make him go back!”
“No—I am dead—he is alive—we are no longer what we were!”
“You seem to forget that whenever it suits you!”
They reached the iron fence around the church. For an instant Mr. Roe stood looking into the yard. He let himself in and found his wife’s grave by long habit. He knelt there, leaning close over the earth.
“Ellie,” he said. “Ellie.”
Tommy knelt by the man. He wrapped his own feeble warmth around him.
“He will die if we don’t get him out of this,” he said.
“Then he will be mine again.”
“Dear God, Eleanor!”
Tommy’s anguished voice surprised and almost frightened her.
“Listen to what you say,” Tommy said, more softly, “look what you are doing. He is yours. Can’t you see it? What is the matter with you? What’s wrong? He kissed another. That was hard. He kissed because he is here, lost, without you. He is alone and afraid, and alone. He is weak as we were weak, once. So he tries to love again to forget his pain. He does that only to bear the love he has for you. Look what it’s done to him—your love. It’s killing him!”
“Strange love, that he must love another to bear it.”
“Strange love,” replied Tommy, “that would rather see him dead than content.”
Ellie’s eyes flashed.
“What do you know about love?” she asked. “How can you know? You never had anyone! How do you know?”
Tommy glanced aside. It hurt her to realize she had hurt him; but it was too late and so she stood, hurting for both their sakes.
Tommy’s thought was for Mr. Roe. The man was drenched, shivering and possibly crying—his breathing was unsteady and labored, and when he coughed the motion was wracking. Tommy kept close to him and rested his vaporous hand on the sufferer’s breast to ease him.
“You’re right,” he said at last. “I don’t know love. But I have thought about it. And I think—perhaps I am wrong to think it—but I think that if it were my wife here—I think I would not want her to grieve, to die for my own satisfaction. I think I must love you a little—why else am I here with you? Not as he loves you, not as you love him—but as a friend. And as your friend I can’t bear to see you cruel.” He turned to face her. “This is cruel, Ellie. He loves you and you are punishing him for it.”
She was motionless and still. Her glance travelled at last, from Tommy to Mr. Roe. Her husband’s hair, rich and dark, hung wetly down his forehead. Rain spilled from his lashes, down nose, lips, and chin; his clothes clung to his frame. If Tommy’s closeness helped, his fever still had not passed, and the damp and wind had battered an already worn and fragile physique to collapse. Ellie knelt beside him.
“It’s too late,” she whispered. “He is dying.”
Mr. Roe leaned suddenly forward. It was almost as if he recognized her closeness. His head turned against her shoulder, not resting but holding there. His eyes were closed and his features were almost peaceful.
“Help him, Ellie,” said Tommy. “Please save him.”
His pitiful voice roused her.
“Stay with him,” she said. “By vision or nightmare, I’ll fright Cathy Johnston enough to bring her to him, with help.”
Tommy met her eyes. “Eleanor,” he whispered. “I am sorry.”
“He has not forgotten you,” said Tommy. “He never will.”
“Yes,” she said. “I know.”
Written in response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt. Check it out!