And while I am completely engulfed in my sadness, I am happy to sense that you exist, Beautiful. I am happy to have flung myself without fear into your beauty just as a bird flings itself into space.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
A corner of his mind – a small corner that will grow bigger as the pain and confusion diminish over time – is elated. She's alive. The brilliant, beautiful, infuriating love of his life is still walking into rooms and lighting them up. He’ll never forget the way his heart lurched at the sight of her hopping down from her Tiger Moth; it feels so large in his throat that he finds it difficult to breathe.
He’ll also never forget the pain.
The first blow was the Society section tidbit that announced her marriage. He thought his heart had died to pain that day, but he was wrong.
The night he got the news of her death, he drove home, closed his front door, and collapsed against it. Only once before in his life had he experienced hard, painful sobs that seemed to heave out from the deepest parts of his insides, and that was during the War. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he woke up there on the floor in the middle of the night and carried himself to bed, falling on top of it fully clothed.
The commissioner called in the morning and told him to take a few days. Jack had protested and insisted that he needed his work to distract him, but his words fell on deaf ears. He moved around his house like a ghost, and when he did return to work, it was with a vengeance. He had no patience with his men or with witnesses. Looking at his desk, at her corner of it, was unbearable, so he avoided his office as much as possible.
On the fifth day, he answered a knock on his door to find Dorothy Collins with one hand on her belly and the other holding a biscuit tin.
“Inspector, I—I couldn’t sleep last night, and I baked ever so many biscuits. Will you take some?”
He couldn’t find it in himself to refuse, and he took the tin. “Thank you, Mrs. Collins. Hugh is luck—” He cleared away the knot in his throat. “Lucky to have you.”
“I’m so sorry, Inspector,” she murmured. To his surprise, she reached out to touch his arm. Just the briefest, lightest touch before she withdrew.
He put the biscuits in a drawer and forgot they were there.
During the second week, Dr. MacMillan eyed him over the autopsy table. “Have you been sleeping?” she asked sternly.
“Here and there,” he replied.
He shrugged one shoulder. “When I feel hungry, but that’s not very often.”
“It’s a murder, as you suspected.” She finished scribbling some notes on her clipboard, then handed it to him over the body between them. “Take care of yourself, Inspector. I know it hurts like hell.”
The request to speak at Phryne’s memorial arrived the next day. The day after that, he was on a ship. And if ships were unpleasant at the best of times, they were nearly unbearable when one had no company and no pleasantly distracting thoughts.
But he made the journey, and here he stands, and there she stands, alive.
He doesn’t know what he expects, but it’s certainly not her careless, flippant smiles. If her sudden marriage hadn’t made him feel like a fool, this surely does. He is tired of always losing something he never really had to begin with. He is tired of bandaging his heart and going back into the ring.
I’m done with you, he hears himself saying.
He goes to his cheap lodging and sits on the narrow bed, head in his hands. After the War, he had thought of himself as a broken man, an empty shell who couldn’t please his wife, couldn’t find joy in anything, couldn’t smile without a great deal of effort. Over time, of course, he had recovered, and never so fully as when Phryne Fisher had sparkled her way into his life. But he is in that dark place again and feels exhausted at the thought of having to climb his way out.
From his pocket he takes out the eulogy he wrote that last night on the ship. He doesn’t look at the photograph; he’s had his fill of her smiling irreverence today.
The Honourable Miss Fisher – what can one say? The first time I met Miss Fisher was during a murder investigation, on account of her being at my crime scene without authorization. I quickly learned that Miss Fisher didn’t want or need authorization to do anything she thought was right. And I suppose I can safely admit now that I almost always thought she was right.
Without reading more, he folds the paper and stuffs it and the photograph back into his coat pocket. He came back to life once, and he knows he can do it again.