He wakes without a gasp, without a start, and the silence of it belies the horror that lives behind his eyes. Shadows and broken things, sharp edges seeking to carve out the inner supports of him, hollowing him out, waiting until he collapses, so they can fill up the empty spaces, and use him, stand him up again on a skeleton of black lies, vicious misery, and a cold-fire-hatred.
He waits to walk around as a marionette, and wonders if he is, already, and simply didn’t notice the transition.
In the silence of the morning hours, he prepares for the day like any other, readying his things, and the things of those he loves, waking them with gentle touches, gentle words, shepherding them out into the world, watching them go and then standing in the doorway of the house that threatens to swallow him, every time he is left in it alone. The groans of the floorboards under his feet are familiar, known, but they still sound like the muted whimper of those he cannot forget, those he has lost, those who have fallen, years and years and years ago.
The only thing that quiets the cry, that dulls the sharp claw of memory, is his garden. He tends a patch of strawberries, works the soil with his hands, plucks up each weed with deft fingers, mounds over the earth in the winter, uncovers it in the spring, wakes it and talks to it without any words. He wakes it with gentle touches, as he does for those he loves, and puts it to sleep in the same fashion, and year after year, he carefully harvests its fruit, and shares each sweet red jewel with family and friends, marveling over all he has received, observing his life with the wide-eyed wonder of a child who simply cannot believe his luck, but will accept it, for now.
Now and then, when the phone rings, he looks at it as though it were a snake, ready to bite. He answers it before anyone else might, and each time he feels a sense of trembling relief when it is merely the Elk’s Club calling for a donation, or the neighbors, asking about the crab apples that keep falling into their yard from the tree on the property line. Now and then, when a car remains behind him for too long, he’ll take a different route home, watching the mirrors and all but running out of gas until he’s certain he’s no longer being followed.
He goes to bed every night after locking up and checking every door and window, turning out the lights and making sure things are in their proper place. He curls up where he belongs, nestled in a warm comma. He keeps his eyes open in the dark, holding out against closing them as long as he can, wanting to keep the taste of strawberries on his tongue, so memory will stay asleep for just a little while longer.