Caelean awoke slowly, as if being pulled through the thick honey light of morning from the depths of a nightmare that did not want to let her go. The loneliness was there to greet her, again, and pound down the door into her ribcage so it could dig its roots a little deeper. For almost a week, every morning felt like that – a gradual rise into a constant battle she couldn’t really fight.
Still, she rose up and let her back lean against the headrest, her skull lolled back so she could stare emptily at the ceiling. The sheets were knotted together around her ankles, the comforter pulled up from the bottom of the bed to twist around her knees and torso. She’d knocked most of her pillows onto the floor again.
At least it was her day off, she thought, after realizing she hadn’t been dragged from sleep by the familiar alarming screech of her wake up tocsin.
She made her way off the mattress and pressed her heels to the cold laminated floor. Her knees bent and she sank down, stretching her legs out. Comfortably, she slipped into the habitual morning yoga routine she’d been doing since she could remember. Her motions were mechanical but they got the job done. Clutching a fresh pair of clothes, she made her way into the bathroom for a shower. Even with the water hot enough to turn her flesh bright red, she didn’t adjust the temperature.
Dressed and with her still-wet chestnut hair pulled back into a loose braid, she tugged on a pair of warm brown boots and snatched up her wallet and keys. As always, her first day off in the week was full of errands. Her car had to be maintenance and she needed groceries, she had letters to drop into the post, and a paycheck to deposit at the bank; a quick glance at the calendar reminded her that she needed to visit the cemetery on her way home.
Errands took most of the day, but there was a greater problem looming over her. She noticed it at the mechanics, when he double checked the books as if he’d expected to see someone else bringing in her car. And then again at the bank, when, at first glance, there had been a second name beneath hers on the receipt. The moments faded, though, as she went through her day, as if parts of a dream. They left only the residual unease that coated her stomach and sloshed up into her heart. Midway through the grocery store she caught herself bagging grapefruit even though she hated it.
She couldn’t understand why her heart clenched in her chest with a violent, nauseating ache when she put the fruit back.
At the cemetery she curled her legs beneath her and pressed her back against the gravestone. For a long time she sat in distracted silence, her fingers idly picking at the grass around her legs. Unable to place the source of her discontent, she fought down the tears simply to prove she was strong enough. Whatever festering sorrow had burrowed into her she would have to shake off.
She wrote it off as ghostly traces of loss at her parents’ death. It had been years, but some things took longer to heal. She couldn’t help wondering why she hadn’t felt so miserable in nearly two years, wondering what the fresh pain had been triggered by.
Dusting off any loose dirt from her pants, she gathered a small jar of oil and a box of matches from her pocket. She stood in respectful silence before the graves, eyes downcast and her hands clasped behind her back. With careful motions, she poured more sacred oil into the two small, flaming bowls nestled into the inset shelves of the gravestones. The flames went out and she relit them with her matches, murmuring, “May the peace of Celestia comfort you both,” before following the narrow stone path leading to the parking lot and driving home to an oddly empty apartment.