Gerry stands in front of the hallway mirror, struggling with his tie. Catches him every time. The knot is too big or too tight or the shirt button shows. It will never be right.
‘Hopeless,’ Emma said.
It will have to do, otherwise he won’t leave. His Adam’s apple bumps his collar as he faces the frosted glass of the front door. The red stain in the centre looked like a rose, once.
‘Keys, money, bus pass.’ That had been the mantra. Now there’s a phone. Has he charged it?
‘Just go,’ Emma said.
Gerry grips the door handle until its temperature matches his and seems to disappear. He lets go.
In the kitchen he washes his face in cool water, looking out the window. Muddled clouds chase across a crisp sky. Leaves whisper in the breeze as they gather round Emma’s crossword chair.
‘Breezy,’ he says.
‘Bracing,’ Emma said. When they walked on days like this, she gave his arm an exhilarated squeeze.
‘Too early mate,’ the driver says, his logo’d tie pulled to one side.
‘Too what?’ Gerry asks. Then remembers. He can’t use his bus pass before nine-thirty. The drivers call them twirlies, these too early old folk.
Gerry had forgotten rush hour, which had been his world for so long. He’d been who these people are now. Some are polite, others exasperated by the doddering ghost. Most don’t notice him. They are so young. Do they know they will be him? And so soon. Do they realise one day nobody will tell them if their tie is right? Say see you later? Ask them to bring home those biscuits, the nice ones, or a bottle of wine, even though it’s a weeknight. How could they? He hadn’t.
‘You need to step off, mate,’ the driver says and blood rises in Gerry’s face. He’s in the way. His collar tightens as he leaves the bus. The engine smell is sickening. When a schoolboy in a clip-on tie stands to offer him a seat in the shelter Gerry is glad, for once, to nod and say thank you son.
‘So I walked the whole way Ems,’ Gerry says, leaving a moment for her to answer. She did, calling the driver a name he doesn’t want to repeat.
‘No, it was fine,’ he reassures her, brushing a leaf from her headstone. Those plastic flowers could do with a wash. He’d meant to bring a bag to spruce them up at home.
‘It’s an Emma day,’ he says and the loneliness swells. ‘Blue sky and breezy.’ The days rush by so slow, without her.
‘Your tie,’ she said, seeing him wound up.
‘I know.’ He pulls at it. ‘I wanted to look nice, for you.’ The tie sings as it slides through his collar. It flaps on the wind, held by his fingertips.
‘So handsome, in your tie,’ Emma said. Gerry grips the smooth fabric he’d been about to let fly and turns up his shirt collar. He ties a loose knot and smooths it into place, where it fits snugly.
I might walk home, he thinks, outside the cemetery gates. Pick up a dustpan and brush for those leaves around her crossword chair.
Gerry stood in front of the hallway mirror. The light through the rose in the door danced on Emma’s fingers as she straightened his tie.
She lay her hand on his heart, as she did every morning.
‘Mind that for me,’ she said.
‘I will, love,’ Gerry said. ‘I will.’
Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. He’s been published in numerous places across the web and has short stories printed in Blood & Bourbon, Blink-Ink and DEFY! Anthologies. His novella Straw Gods was shortlisted by Ellipsis Magazine in their publication competition.
He’s on twitter @tomwrote and his website is www.tomobrien.co.uk.