Mr Cricklewood ran his fingers over the paper. Raising the letter to his nose he breathed in and let the smell transport him to bluebells, birdsong, young love.
Sighing he replaced the letter in the envelope, slipped it back with the others. Around him: panelled walls, a stained glass window showing a picture of a mockingbird, oak spindles of a staircase that once led him to her embrace. It was time, he thought.
He walked over to the writing desk.
His old fingers creaked and clicked as he sealed each letter with wax, the smell filling his nostrils. When each was dry he lifted it to his lips, kissed it, said goodbye.
Tears fell onto blotting paper and seeped outwards seeking the edges, an end, a release. Life, he thought, had been good. And now her memory was flashing inside his head tugging at him like a dying sun before implosion.
Pushing back his chair over the paisley carpet, Mr Cricklewood placed his weight on the upholstered arm, got to his feet. Beside the pile of letters was a small bottle. For a moment he forgot what it was. A label written in his own handwriting said, drink me. The lilies in an enamelled vase caught his attention and he was transported back to her: the smell of her perfume, the touch of her skin. He recalled a trip to Aldeburgh – their laughter floating across the shingle, the mackerel from the fisherman’s huts, the boy that walked up to them and asked for some of their chips for his monkey.
He tipped back his head, swallowed the liquid. It tasted sweet, sticky.
Returning to the fireplace he cast the letters into the fire.
He could hear her as they burned. Her voice audible. The world around him became shadows, shifting, flames, warmth. His senses shut down. He couldn’t feel her anymore. He couldn’t feel anything.
The wax seals flamed up and caught the bottom of his polyester trousers.
He gazed at some far off point as if staring out to sea. Then he lifted up into the air, a shingle beach below. The faint smell of burning wax mixing with the smell of the ocean.
Mr Cricklewood stepped into the fire and sat amongst the logs. His jacket, tie and shirt flamed up in bright colours. He pulled the fire guard infront of him, closed his eyes. His nose hair burst into flame so he appeared as if a dragon asleep in its liar.
Mr Cricklewood burned.
He burned and burned and burned.
The sound of breaking glass stirred him. Voices, shouting. His world span as they put out the flames. Confusion. Narcotics streamed into his arm through needles plunged into flesh.
“Subject, Mr Cricklewood, OAP extraction protocol six.”
He stood on the beach, feeling the shingle between his toes, he could see her now walking towards him. A boy feeding chips to a monkey waved from the dunes. The smell of mackerel, salt, lilies, wax, burning paper, sulphur. She pushed back her hair from her eyes as it fluttered in the breeze and hitching up her skirt ran towards him. Mr Cricklewood felt another jolt and in response pulled up the edges of his vision to protect himself, to stay, to be with her again. The sea rose up to his left forming a vertical wall of water. The boy and monkey rose skywards as the dunes to his right folded inwards. The monkey whooped.
She was so close.
He would hold them together within this world. This world encircled by walls of water and sand sealed in wax. The impression still cooling in his mind, becoming solid.
Another jolt. His eyes met hers.
Mr Cricklewood opened his eyes. Around him: the OAP Extraction Team, behind them, shards from his stained glass window. He was on a stretcher, wires dangling from his wrists. He looked at his body: he was naked. Dressings were on his arms and legs, his wedding ring had been removed.
“He’s back with us.”
“Time of extraction ten seventeen.”
“Leave me alone,” said Mr Cricklewood.
“Can’t do that, sir. You are state property now.”
“I want to go back.”
“I’m sorry, Mr Cricklewood. We can’t allow that. You have been extracted.”
He could hear the sound of helicopter blades above him. Search lights played over the carp pond in the garden.
“You don’t understand,” said Mr Cricklewood. “She’s waiting for me.”
“No, sir. She was extracted. You’ll meet her soon at the home.”
“Shh, now, Mr Cricklewood. You’ll feel sleepy. Don’t be alarmed when you wake – you may – what? Yes he’s ready, we’re just putting an old blanket over him now. What! Yes we have his slippers. Sorry, Mr Cricklewood. What was I saying? O yes, don’t be alarmed when you wake up, you may find that your cognitive abilities have been compromised during extraction, things may seem sluggish. You’re also burned badly. We’ll sit you next to your wife once your skin grafts have taken: although she hasn’t spoken for ten years. I guess you must be looking forward to seeing her again, she must have been a looker in your day eh? You know we nearly missed you. Sometimes we cut the extraction process a bit fine. You OAP’s keep us on our toes eh! But listen I don’t want to bore you. I just need you to sign some things when you wake up. Nothing important. The OAP extraction protocol mandates that we keep you alive indefinitely. No visitors of course. Heh, did I tell you about the time we extracted Reagan? You’ll love him. We’ll sit you next to him for dinner. He dribbles a bit, but he’s always good for a laugh, loves movie nights – Star Wars I think is his favourite. And then there’s Lennon, you know the homes just a blast. You’ll love it.”
They all hated this one. I have one attempt left. Once chance of redemption. I’ve started packing.