I can’t remember how many times I’ve killed Helena, a dozen, a thousand? Does it really matter once you go past the first one? That first killing, the first time you take someone’s life, you must cope with what you’ve done forever. You have to look down at your hands and say to yourself, "These are the hands that murdered her. These are the hands that took her life."
You always have to look down at your hands and come to terms with what they have done. These hands. I look down at my own and see their thick leathery skin, worn by the hardship of the concrete and toughened by the work upon it.
“They’ve done good, too,” she tells me. “You have done good, Caleb.”
“I know, I know.” I scratch my beard and stand and take the bowl of rough food to the counter where she stands and turns to me, and I look her in the eye.
“You’re aging quicker than normal,” I say. “Come, let’s take a moment.” I walk back to the concrete seat in the old harsh house. I sit down and feel it in my sore knees, and she stands next to me and I rest my head on her torso and wrap my old arms around her while she runs her delicate fingers through my coarse hair.
Every time I have to kill her, and every time I have to bring her back. A new one to see it all over again, and remember it all over again and eventually kill her all over again. But how can I not? How can I survive here alone?
“Do you want peace, this time, Helena?” I ask, the same as I always do.
“No, Caleb. I am here for you, I know your pain, and as much as it pains me to be brought back, I will always be here for you. You must understand that. You make your sacrifice, and I make mine. It is the way of things.”
“I know, I know.” I close my eyes and hold onto her while her hands run through my hair, thick with concrete dust, and I let myself imagine, just for a moment, the beginning. When she first came to me and her smile and those eyes in the light. All too quickly it fades, and I grip onto her as all the memories come flowing back of her illness and it eating her away and my rush, the rush to try and save her. “Not much of a man,” I say to her.
“That’s not true,” she replies. “You’re the strongest man I know.”
“Ah,” I say. “So, why can I never save you?” I pause for a long time. “Why do I always have to end you?”
“It’s not your fault, Caleb. It’s just the way things are, the way they must be,” she pulls herself away from my grip and crouches to my eyeline. “Now, we must get on with things. I don’t have much time left.”
Of course, we must. Of course.
Building Inspiration: Wellington Hospital Incinerator