By Farah Ali
Will stared at her most recent email. It was sent a week ago, at 11:43 pm. She had always emailed him late at night, and he’d read the messages the following morning over a cup of coffee. He usually read them in a rush, but today he was carefully parsing them, word for word. It was a normal email—she wanted advice on whether or not she ought to accept a job offer that would bring her back to her hometown, near her parents, near him. She hadn’t mentioned him as a factor, but he briefly wondered if Nora had factored him in, even slightly.
Yet as ordinary as the message seemed, all he could glean from it this time around was…pain. Every memory of her was suddenly stained with sadness. She told him as much the last time they had met up for coffee a few months ago.
He had seen Nora for the first time since she quit her last job and moved to Chicago, and he had observed that she looked happy, contrary to what her emails usually indicated. Nora had shrugged, staring past him as if to purposely avoid eye contact. She told him that on the surface, she was OK. She could get by, and sometimes even managed to have happy moments now and then. “Like when I see you,” she said, smiling at him warmly, “or when my favorite show is on.” She added that she felt conscious of the fact that those were fleeting moments, and bubbling right below the lukewarm, happy-ish surface, she felt desperately sad.
“Desperately sad,” she had said. The words echoed in Will’s head.
He remembered staring at her eyes when she said that; they were still focused on the wall behind him. He saw that her eyes were glistening, but the tears never came.
Will tried cheering her up whenever she wrote him during one of her bouts. He wanted her to be happy. He wanted to throw her a line. Somehow, his efforts weren’t enough.
He read the email again and again, looking for some additional clue. A clue to what, though? Her death wasn’t a mystery. Yet he continued to search for something that would enlighten him as to what more he could have done. Was there anything?
As he stared at the computer screen, he looked past the email at his own, lucid reflection. The translucence didn’t show the paleness of his skin, the wrinkles that had settled all along his face long ago, or the glint in his eyes.
He closed the email and signed out of his account, and finally looked away from his computer long enough to refocus his gaze on the wall in front of him.