'Christopher!' Jack exclaimed. 'I'm in purgatory out here! Let me in, would you?' Christopher obediently stepped back to allow this distant friend inside.
Jack was removing his soggy cagoule before Christopher had even managed to close the door behind him. He was leaving fat drops of rainwater on the tiled floor of the entryway, as if he were his own storm cloud, come to make Christopher's day worse than it would naturally be. He was mentally imploring himself to ignore all callers from then on when Jack thrust the cagoule at him. Christopher took it clumsily and draped it over one arm mindlessly.
'Is that the kettle boiling?' Jack asked. Christopher nodded dumbly, also listening to the faint tumult coming from the kitchen. 'Mind if I grab a brew?' Jack did not wait for an answer and simply marched down the corridor. He did not falter at the foot of the stairs.
When Christopher stepped into the kitchen Jack was at the sink, washing a mug. Every inch of his body ached at this sight.
'No, no!' he shouted and, to damage him even further, Jack started and hands slippy with dishwater and soap dropped the mug, Olivia's mug, as he turned. It smashed, irreconcilably, thin bone china mug as it was, into many, many cruel slivers.
'Shit, Chris, I'm sorry, man,' Jack cried.
Christopher's chest constricted as if bound by tight wire. He gulped in a lengthy breath that shuddered through him and it sounded to him as if he were a drowning man.
'Mate, it's just a mug, I'll buy you a new one.' Jack was crouching beside the shards, gently gathering them into a small bundle. He was obviously unwilling to get stuck into the matter of tidying it up outright in case he cut himself. Christopher wanted nothing more than for one of those deliciously sharp triangles of china to wedge itself beneath Jack's fingernail. As Christopher watched him poke at the china the last nineteen days began to bubble within him. For nineteen days he had felt bereft and burnt, as if a leg had been lopped off in his sleep and, without really understanding why, he was still attempting to walk on the mangled stump that was left. Christopher fleetingly thought of Olivia's smile, eyes, hair and then imploded.
'It wasn't just a mug!' he screamed. Spittle flew from his mouth and landed on Jack's face, who stared at him wide eyed and shocked.
'What are you even doing here? You didn't even know her!' Christopher started to stammer as the tears choked at his throat.
' Jack began. Christopher took a hard step forwards, crunching chips of mug underfoot.
'I'm not your mate, we were never mates,' he growled. The threatening tears broke through and Christopher pressed a hand to his forehead as his sudden anger turned to anguish. He wanted to sit down and weep for Olivia. Sinking to the floor, he was aware of the dots of pain that erupted over his knees as he sat in the pile Jack had created, but everything else was lost in the mess of his unmanly, noisy sobs. He did not see Jack's embarrassed eyes looking anywhere but his face, he didn't hear the tap drip into the dishes in the sink. Christopher was astray in a narrow world of loss. It took Jack's timid hand upon his shoulder to bring him back. Jack stood and manhandled Christopher to his feet as well. He walked him over to the dining table and firmly pressed him into one of the chairs before sitting down himself. Once seated, Jack folded his arms, unfolded them and then leant forwards.
'Sorry,' Jack said, seemingly for lack of a better word to say. Christopher ran a hand over his sore knees and found that most of the china wasn't embedded. He spotted a box of tissues on the table beside the rotting fruit bowl.
'Ran into Maggie on Monday; she told me what had happened,' Jack elaborated after a moment. Christopher placed the name as that of Olivia's colleague. 'You know
' Jack trailed off and then restarted. 'We haven't talked in ages but I thought I'd come say hi.' Christopher turned his face towards Jack and stared at him.
'Mate, honest, I heard about it and, I dunno, guess I just thought it might help to see a unfamiliar face and that. When my Mam died I hated talking to my friends 'bout it.' Jack straightened his back and lifted his head, possibly attempting a manly posture in the light of his emotional admission. Christopher, however, was a total image of dejection. His back bowed forwards until he was almost bent double. Thoughts skittered across his mind and the urge to speak, to say he didn't even want Jack's company, almost rose within him but he knew there was no point in voicing his opposition. Instead of talking he examined the fabric of his trousers and all but ignored Jack.
'So,' Jack began after another number of minutes endured in silence. Christopher's head lifted slightly. 'D'you want to talk 'bout it?' Jack asked. A sigh escaped Christopher. It was done so quietly one would think he wanted to hide the sound. Jack seemed to be caught between two actions but, after a moment of hesitation, he leant forwards, almost into Christopher's personal space.
'Have you talked to anyone?' he whispered, as if he was afraid the neighbours had their ears to the walls, listening for this precise moment. Christopher blinked at the question and looked up and forwards at the cream coloured walls of the kitchen. He had not actually spoken to one person about the event, all of the information and knowledge his mother had walked away from the house with when she had visited had been assumed. Christopher was not one for describing complex emotions such as the ones he was currently experiencing. The idea made him feel sick to the stomach. And to relive the whole thing through retelling felt impossible, so he didn't move a muscle in response to Jack's question. Jack, though, felt the need to pry deeper than anyone else would have thought acceptable. He leant in even further, until his long nose almost touched Christopher's shoulder.
'Did you find her?' he asked. It was obvious to Christopher that the information would have been sensational and gossip-worthy for Jack. To be allowed into his little world of loss and discover the grisly tale of Olivia's death and discovery would be incredible. Christopher turned to look at him with blank eyes. Jack frowned and almost looked worried, but then a thought came to him and his eyes lit up.
'Has her spirit come back yet?' he asked, his voice full of excitement. When Christopher didn't answer, and just continued to stare, Jack emitted a shocked gasp. 'You don't know what I'm talking 'bout!' He sat right back in his chair, ready to educate Christopher.
'Okay,' he started. 'When me Mam died it took me real years to get over it but, like, it was only 'cause I was holding onto her spirit. She hung round me for ages, seriously for 'bout three years, until I finally let her go. But normally what happens is the spirit goes away when someone dies. It gets lost or summat, but after 'bout two weeks they find their way back top wherever they died and they hang round for a while. Not doing anything bad or nothin' but just doing ghost stuff.' Jack was nodding sincerely. Christopher's eyes were still blank.
'If you don't believe me it's alright I guess, but it's true. You're probably doin' it with 'Liv, you just haven't tuned into her. Try it and you'll see.' Jack smiled almost charmingly. His eyes shifted to the clock above the door and he stood up sharply, pushing the chair back against the wall with the motion and making the legs scrape over the tiled floor.
'Shit, forgot the time, mate. I'm on my lunch break, got to get back to work.' He stuck his hand out for Christopher to shake, but he just turned away. 'Alright,' Jack said. 'I'll just get my coat and let myself out.' He smiled again and walked to the door.
'Oh!' He turned back to Christopher. 'Hope you're feeling better soon and stuff.'
Christopher closed his eyes in misery.