Grief | Robert Johnson


By Robert Johnson

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Award


It was clear she loved him. That’s what I took from it. She’d known for some time, she said. And she didn’t blame me. She just didn’t want there to be any problem. A situation, is the word she used. Like it was a military operation that needed keeping under wraps. Like I was an embarrassing experiment that had broken loose and needed careful, careful coaxing back into submission.

She didn’t blame me. She didn’t want to fight, she didn’t want to hurt. She didn’t blame me.

Because how the fuck do you blame an animal for going wild?

The phone felt like a toy in my hand. Her voice was tinny and distant; her words were disembodied and unspecific and had absolutely nothing to do with me. Surely.

I patiently listened to her tell me he was dead. My lover, her husband. The human being who had inexplicably yet inextricably brought us together, and whose demise now demanded we confront each other in this most ridiculously formal yet intimate way.

You were fucking my husband.

She never said it; however, the words were ringing in my head while she explained, with deafening graciousness, that the ceremony was being organised for Friday week, and that it was important I did not attend.

Well, she didn’t say that either. At least not in so many words.

But there are so many words.

You are beautiful, he’d said. You are a miracle. I love you. Who cares what happens I love you and the world is spinning I love you and I’m going to leave her I love you and we all fall down but it doesn’t fucking matter because I love you I love you yes nothing matters because I love you The End.

There are so so many words.

I love. I love I love I love I love I love. But what does that mean? What, as I sit here in the ashy remnants of a life half lived, does that mean to me? I throw words into the abyss and the abyss stares back and I am not amazed.

Love means the moon and the stars, I might scream. And it means the great mystery of the absurd journey of life. And it means sweat and blood and making love and making plans and whatever the fuck else; yet ultimately it means absolutely nothing.



No thing other than the pure, obscure, dazzling brilliance of our joy. Our real joy. Amidst the deep muck and the hate and the hurt; amidst it all, somehow I can rejoice. In the blatant, illicit, perfectly abortive nature of our love.

Then I catch myself because she is still speaking. Because, as her voice falters in an inevitably awkward farewell, as she coughs and clicks off with an impeccably manicured thumb, I hear it. Even as her voice cuts short and I know the phone has been rammed resentfully into its cradle, she whispers to me: I loved him.

I sit awhile and wonder what to say. I’ve almost started saying it before I realise no-one’s there. I put down the receiver and I cover my face and I start to cry. I always cover my face when I cry, because it’s embarrassing. A lesson learned from a broken toe in under-10s football. I’d never thought much about it but I think about it now, as my life falls apart. I think about breaking my toe and I think about being alone and I tell myself not to cry and I hide because I’m ashamed. I hide because an audience of none is as good as many. Because I’m actually surprised she loved him, too.

I suddenly realise I have not dressed. It is morning; a new day. I have risen from my princely slumber to receive the news that my king is dead, and now I sit in silence with delicate tears on my chest and it’s not even time to burn the eggs yet.

(He loved his eggs scrambled, and it didn’t matter that I always burned them)

I lift the receiver and think to call someone, and I imagine what they would say.



You were fucking my husband.

I love you.


You were fucking my love you.


Having called no-one, I put the receiver down.

I pour a drink. I wrap a blanket around myself and sit on the windowsill like a Sultan or a Pharaoh or a fucking Deity in reverence to the day’s birth. I do not cry. All around me is evidence that the world is still spinning.

I do not cry.

I grieve.