What does one think when one sees a dead friend at the supermarket? You feel the now familiar skip of your heart as you catch her in the corner of your eye, your brain swirling with hope and its twin agony acceptance. This isn’t the first time in the last few months you mistook another for her and were forced to apologize awkwardly, your grief renewed in your chest. Surely this too is some doppelgänger with eerily similar visage who has grown used to strangers in public places asking, Don’t I know you? You keep your glance low, not wanting to embarrass yourself again, but she, with a sly grin on her lips, approaches.
There is no mistaking her. You could never fail to recognize the freckled nose, streak of white amongst auburn locks, and caduceus tattoo near her left ankle. The unmistakable features of one who was once so dear.
You might chalk her death up to some kind of error or bad hoax had you not been the one to find her body seated on the sofa. You started to ask her what smelled so bad before you noticed that she didn’t lift her head or blink her big eyes, that the stench was coming from her. The funeral with her mother, who had always hated you, sobbing into your lapel, the nights spent alone but for your guilt, your desperate inability to remember her as anything but a corpse. These are not rituals we observe for one still among the living.
Best to continue this ruse of estrangement. Your head down, you dart for the nearest aisle as though you forgot something very important, as though to escape. Examining a box of cereal with grave interest, you hear the tip-tap of delicate steps approaching, coming nearer with purpose. You pretend to read the list of ingredients, your heart thudding in your chest. When the footfalls come to a stop just behind you, you cannot help but turn towards the gaze boring into the back of your skull.
Her bright eyes; her rosy smile. Death has been kind to her. She radiates with health, and finally you have found the young woman she had been before those last months. Her bones do not jut out from beneath baggy clothes; her hair is not limp and thin; and her skin lacks the waxy, gray hue it had when last you saw her alive.
What else to do but greet her with warmth? Pretend she’s merely been away. Why won’t you tell her how much you miss her, of the tears you cried for her? Plead for the forgiveness you have needed to put your life back together again. Tell her now what you could not when she was with you. Why must you feign joy at the unexpected reunion for which you have so longed? Why are the knuckles of your clenched fists turning white with terror?
Behind the myriad smells of the supermarket, the bakery’s aroma, the sweet hint of ripe peaches and apricots in produce, pungent waft from the fish counter, and antiseptic scent of cleaning product, you notice a distinct odor of rot. You cannot help but shiver, shiver and tremble, when she lays an icy kiss upon your cheek and wraps around your neck arms as cold as clay.