The day before their anniversary, Salvador heard a song his wife, Alia, would love. He had to stop himself from texting her about it. She’d been gone two years already.
Not gone—dead, he reminded himself. Gone suggested she’d left for an errand and could return any moment. It was a reminder he’d grown used to—a mantra he told himself each time he read a moving poem or saw an infuriating headline—freezing just as he unlocked his phone, clicked Alia’s name, and glanced at her last message: “Love you, too.”
Three words echoing a painful, unchangeable truth.
The next morning, in the ethereal space between waking and dreaming, he thought he felt her breath on his neck, smelled her delicate fragrance. He reached to her side of the bed, patting the blankets in search of her warmth. Half-asleep, he grabbed his phone.
“I don’t remember you leaving,” he typed, or perhaps dreamed, appending a heart emoji to the end.
He tapped the screen: a heart emoji from an unknown number. He sucked in a breath, awake and trembling.
“Who is this?”
The bright screen stung his eyes as he waited for an answer, but none came. He pulled the phone to his chest, allowing himself the fantasy—an anniversary gift.
Mid-breakfast, he worked the day’s crossword, stumped by a nine-letter word for “infinite.”
“A little help?” he typed, repeating the clue.
“Boundless” and another heart.
“Is this a joke?” he typed, deleting the message before hitting send. Just for today, he reminded himself.
For dinner, he made her favorite dish, carne adovada. He sent a picture of the simmering pot, no longer hesitating.
“Looks amazing! Hope you’re not wearing white.”
A shiver ran through Salvador at the inside joke, a reminder of their first date when he’d dripped red chile across his shirt.
His fingers fumbled for a response, a question to test the sender’s corporeality, but he deleted each, fearing he might sever whatever magic had brought her back.
He ate dinner alone, their favorite album filling the silence. The record ended while he washed dishes, his music app switching to another playlist. An unfamiliar song caught his attention. The harmonizing vocals reminded him of one of Alia’s favorite bands.
He dried his hands, forwarded the track, then headed to bed where he drifted off to sleep waiting for her response.
A vibration woke him. He accepted the call and pressed the phone to his ear.
“What an amazing song,” she said in a breathless whisper.
“I love you,” he said.
The line went dead.
He stared at the screen and, for the millionth time, read her last text.
“Love you, too.”