By Cody T Luff
Jillian didn’t look like a widow. At least not the widow Tobias required her to be. Grief was a thing best worn close to the skin, a darkening fabric that touched every action, every expression. Instead, Jillian was as she always was. Short, smiling, her t-shirt splashed with a smiling cat face and her bare feet resting heels down on her hand-me-down coffee table.
Tobias clutched a cold mug of coffee, the black mirror of its surface refused his reflection but it was a better target for his gaze than the soft smile lines touching the corners of Jillian’s mouth. Damian was dead six months and nothing had changed in their flat. Nothing except Tobias.
“I’m glad you could come,” Jillian said again. It was the only indication that she’d run out of things to say. They’d discussed Tobias’s work with AlChem, the funeral, Damian’s grandmother’s need to sing three different gospel laments while her atheist grandson lay in an open coffin and a wash of attendees stared at their feet. They’d discussed Tara, Jillian’s expression all the appropriate emotions concerning the breakup and resultant legal fight over Waffles the siamese cat Tobias and Tara had adopted last October. In the end, Tobias explained that he was down six thousand bucks and Tara had started a brand new social media profile for Captain Flapjacks, ala poor Waffles in a cardboard eyepatch. The silence that followed was punctuated by Tobias trying not meet Jillian’s gaze by clearing his throat and shifting on the worn leather couch.
“It really wasn’t any trouble.” Tobias sipped at his coffee.
“You’d already been down for the funeral and again when we did the will thing.” Jillian tucked her legs beneath her, making a tidy x that caused Tobias to wince. “I wasn’t sure you’d come when I called you.”
Tobias hid his frown against the lip of the coffee mug. Of course I would come, he thought. You’re his wife.
“There was one more thing that he wanted to give you but I was supposed to wait until it was all over, you know, the family stuff. Not that you aren’t family.” Jillian flashed her high beam smile and Tobias glanced away. He’d known her for nearly twenty years but her regard always sparked something in his chest that registered between shyness and outright fear. Jillian was a half measure of nothing, even now, in the shadow of Damian’s death, she was very nearly too much for Tobias.
“I haven’t watched them yet.” Jillian scooped a stack of derma tapes from the coffee table. The little black rectangles looked like nude dominos in her palm.
“Damian left me derma tapes?”
Jillian nodded, her smile burrowing into his skin. “Not just the sensory stuff. He had a full derma plant job. He got a little obsessive about recording memories a few months before he… anyway, he left you six. One we are supposed to watch together and five you get to keep. They’re labeled.” Jillian added the last while carefully stacking the derma tapes on the empty couch cushion between them.
“I knew about the implant.” Tobias set his coffee on the table and selected one of the tapes. “I figured he might obsess a little. He was always that way.”
“He was.” Jillian agreed. She motioned to the tape in Tobias’s hand. “Cora’s show at the Ballard. You remember that?”
“Of course, I wasn’t drunk enough to forget the whole trip.” Tobias squinted at the label. “You were in on the recording?”