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The Mourning Woman

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Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there.
I do not sleep.

- Mary Frye


*

 

The last time she had a secret to keep, for somebody other than herself, she was fifteen years old. Her sister was sleeping with her maths teacher. Molly had to sit through her maths class with the same teacher and, instead of learning maths, tried to work out what Lucy saw in him. He was middle-aged and slouched too much and had gone to seed a long time ago, and he was a dreadful teacher. It didn’t much matter that she didn’t pay attention to him because he never said anything worth listening too. She took pains to teach herself each chapter out of the textbook, and did extra practice problem sets on the weekends to make sure she was actually learning the material. Her test scores were never exceptional but they were good, which she considered victory enough.

Anyway she’d seen them at it once and Lucy had figured it out, and told her in no uncertain terms that if she told anybody she would make her life miserable, and Molly knew her well enough to know that she was telling the truth. So she hadn’t said anything, and Lucy had wound up pregnant at eighteen, and even then Molly had feigned ignorance when their parents had raised a proper furor over the fact that their teenage daughter was expecting and wouldn’t tell them who the father was. Lucy was right stubborn and wouldn’t go get an abortion but in the end it didn’t matter because she lost the baby anyway, a few months in.

The day after it happened Molly snuck back into the house after she’d left for school and sat with Lucy all day, once their mother had left for the hospital. She made vats of tea and made sure the room didn’t get too cold.

“I wish you’d just leave me the fuck alone,” Lucy told her after the third cup of tea.

“Sure,” Molly said, and went to find her another blanket.

 

*

 

“You can never tell him,” Sherlock said, and gripped her arm. That was how she knew he meant it.

 

*

 

The first time she saw a naked body was at university. The body had once belonged to a middle-aged man who would have been called portly in life but who, in death, was just fat. She couldn’t decide whether or not it bothered her that she didn’t know his name, or rather that she had no name to attach to him, regardless of whether it had been his in reality.

“Well he’s a nasty one, isn’t he,” a girl standing behind her whispered. “Christ, look at that stomach. Imagine having to look at that in the mirror every morning and night.”

“Shut it,” somebody told her.

Molly noticed the professor’s lips thinning. He didn’t say anything, though. Molly guessed she wouldn’t, either, if she were in his place. She knew she was bad at confrontation because her flatmate routinely bought quarts of milk and left them half-full in the door of the fridge for weeks, and instead of asking her to stop, or to get rid of them, Molly did it herself without complaining. This was only one example of many vis-à-vis her dealings with her flatmate that, she knew, reflected poorly on both of them.

“You’re just a pushover, you are,” was what her mother always told her, which she guessed was just another way of saying the same thing.

Nothing about the dead man bothered her. She wondered vaguely whether he’d been married. But she was close enough to see that there wasn’t any telltale ring of pale skin around his finger.

She was the only one who didn’t step back reflexively when the professor cut him open.

 

*

 

She pulled back the sheet just far enough for John to lurch away, hand covering his mouth. Lestrade didn’t look much better.

“Thanks, Molly,” he said, and turned away from her.

“Oh Christ,” John was saying.

Molly replaced the sheet.

 

*

 

“Mum,” she said, “I’m going to be a pathologist.”

On the other end of the line, her mother sighed.

“I suppose you’re suited to it,” she said, and Molly was smart enough by then not to ask her what she meant by that.

 

*

 

“Don’t go to the funeral,” Sherlock had told her. “It’ll look suspicious.”

“Right,” she said.

She went a few days later, though. She’d wanted to bring flowers but she figured that’d probably be suspicious, too, and anyway Sherlock wouldn’t like it even if he were dead.

Somebody else had left some. Today, probably, since they hadn’t wilted yet. She could still see the footprints in the dirt, and she hadn’t spent years in the company of Sherlock Holmes for nothing. She adds

            He was at the grave today

to the draft of the e-mail she’ll send Sherlock when he e-mails her like he said he would if he had to. He’d explained it all and she couldn’t write it down so she’d have to remember it. Never the same account twice. Don’t e-mail me, I’ll e-mail you. Don’t tell John. Don’t tell anybody. Don’t tell John.

Right, Molly had thought. I can do that.

And she could, too.

 

*

 

He hadn’t specifically asked her to keep an eye on John but she wasn’t silly enough to think he’d be e-mailing to see how she was. And anyway it wasn’t very hard, and certainly not when she’d been left the entire homeless network. John was predictable. You just had to know him well enough to know what was predictable for him. So far as she could tell he didn’t do much except go between the clinic where he was working again and the flat he was renting.

Well, he went out to that grave just about once a week, too, but that was it.

She wasn’t shaking (she was) when she knocked on his door. Or when he opened it, and stared at her.

“Hi,” she said. “I was just – do you want to go get coffee? Or tea. I don’t really mind what it is. Um.”

He was still staring at her, like she was the one who’d come back from the dead.

“All right,” he said, and went to get his coat.

 

*

 

“Christ, Molly,” Lucy said. “You need to just go out and get a boyfriend.” Molly could hear her smoking on the other end of the line. It was what came from rebelling against a mother who was a nurse.

“A really fit bloke came to look at some of the bodies today,” Molly told her.

“You can’t pick up men at a morgue, Molly,” Lucy said, like there was some set of rules she knew and Molly didn’t, which actually didn’t seem that far-fetched to Molly at all.

“Well where else should I?” she asked, meaning to sound peeved and instead sounding pathetic.

“Oh, I don’t know, Molls, maybe a pub.”

“I don’t like going to the pub.”

“Learn.”

“He really was fit,” she told her. “And smart as anything. Smarter.”

“Does he know your name?”

“No,” Molly admitted. And he wouldn’t, not for another six months, but that only made her like him more.

Her mother had never told her, “You always chase after men you can’t have,” but she could imagine her saying it, sitting at the kitchen table and sighing like she was disappointed. She could imagine it easily.

 

*

 

“How have you been, Molly?” John asked, and she hadn’t cried once the whole time but she was crying now.

 

*

 

“They didn’t suspect?” Sherlock asked while he putting his clothes back on. She was watching because he didn’t seem to mind, and she wanted to make sure she knew, in the future, that this was happening. That this had happened.

“No,” she said, remembering the sounds John had made when he’d turned away from the body, and thought it was a good thing Sherlock had been unconscious, because he could never have done it, no matter how much he had to.

 

*

 

“Sorry,” she said, once she’d thoroughly ruined John’s handkerchief.

“It’s all right,” he said, even though the opposite was manifestly true.

“I’ll wash it and give it back.”

“Okay.”

He hadn’t been sleeping. Molly knew the signs. He’d lost a few pounds, too, if she wasn’t mistaken.

“I liked him because he was smart,” she told him. “That was all my mum wanted, was for us to be smart, and I was the smartest one. And I wasn’t even that clever.” She’d just always been cleverer than Lucy.

“You’re clever, Molly,” John told her, and she could tell he meant it, even though he didn’t really have any evidence to go on.

“Thanks,” she whispered. “You are, too,” she added a moment later. Because it was true.

He looked away. “Not really,” he said.

“Sherlock couldn’t have put up with anybody that long if they weren’t clever,” she told him.

“He told me –” John started, and stopped. He still wasn’t looking at her. “He said I wasn’t a – a particularly luminous person, but that as a – conductor of light, I was unbeatable.” He paused. “I wasn’t sure whether to take it as a compliment or not.”

“I think that’s just about the nicest thing I ever heard him say about anybody,” Molly told him truthfully, and watched as his mouth twitched up into what might have been the beginnings of a smile before he raised his mug and took a sip.

 

*

 

            We got coffee today.

 

*

 

Finally, the first e-mail from Sherlock:

            All’s well.

Molly sent hers, and waited.

            How was he?

She wanted to sit and ponder the question for a long time but she didn’t know how long he’d be online.

            Not good,

she wrote, and sent it. Sherlock didn’t reply.

 

*

 

“I just wish – I just wish I knew why,” John said. He was trying not to cry.

 

*

 

            He doesn’t believe any of it, you know. He keeps going round in circles trying to figure it out.

She couldn’t send it yet. She hadn’t heard from Sherlock.

 

*

 

“I’m getting married, Molls,” Lucy said.

“Congratulations,” Molly told her, and waited until she was allowed to hang up the phone.

 

*

 

“The thing is, everybody thinks – everybody thinks he was a fraud, so I can’t – I can’t –”

“I don’t,” Molly said, and thought of John, making his way from home to the clinic, from the clinic home, from home to the graveyard. It was like a string of data, these departures and arrivals, that nobody knew about but her.

“You should,” he said.

“I don’t, though,” she told him.

“Well, you’re the only one,” he said, and looked away from her a little too quickly. To hide his face, then.

She was, she reflected, becoming more and more like Sherlock by the day.

 

*

 

            Why doesn’t he believe it? There’s hardly compelling evidence to the contrary.

Molly didn’t let herself think too much about her answer.

            I don’t think he’s really going off evidence.

 

*

 

People didn’t like to think about it. About what it meant to be a pathologist. When she did go on dates – not often, mind – she had to avoid mentioning it for as long as possible. She worked in a lab, she’d say, and that was true, wasn’t it? She worked in a lab at the hospital and she was good at her job.

Eventually it always came out, though, and that was when she always lost them, except Jim of course, but that hadn’t been about her at all, and so didn’t count.

She didn’t really understand. They were just bodies. She opened them up and figured them out, and closed them up again before they went into the ground. It wasn’t, in the end, all that different from what Sherlock did, except he could do it with the living and the dead, he could do it with anything.

 

*

 

But where was he? And what was he doing? And how would she ever know if he died? And who could she tell if she did know? He was already dead to all of them. They were forgetting about him even now, all of them except John, and her. They couldn’t forget.

 

*

 

“I have to go now,” he said, and she’d looked at him.

“Don’t try to go see him again,” she warned. “If he sees you, it’s over.”

She could tell from the look on his face that he wasn’t going to listen to her, but then she’d never really expected him to.

 

*

 

“You two weren’t – I mean – everybody wondered –”

John looked down at his coffee.

“No,” he said.

There had been a time when she’d never say the things she really thought, but she was tired of that. She’d said what she thought to Sherlock, hadn’t she? And that had saved him, maybe. Just a little.

“You wish you had, though,” she said, and she could only see part of John’s face but that was enough.

 

*

 

She wasn’t allowed to miss him, not while John missed him, because she knew the way John was missing him wasn’t something she’d ever felt, probably wouldn’t ever feel. It was like somebody’d taken John and taken him out of himself and sent him back out in to the world to stumble around without being able to feel anything anymore. It was like he’d had a stroke and was trying to relearn everything he’d always done naturally, by instinct, without having to think about it.

So she wasn’t allowed to miss Sherlock, and she shouldn’t have, because he’d never done anything but be rude to her, really, not until the very end. She did, though. She did.