The hardest thing, as it turned out, had been claiming Rosa's body. As he was neither family nor otherwise affiliated with her (that the world knew of), it was a task and a half to work the system to get her back. The fact that he wasn’t in the system himself, that he’d technically died decades ago, was only a small part of the problem, since people appeared and disappeared in New York with an alarming frequency anyway.
He managed it in the end, though, as Rosa's maternal relatives displayed the same apathy at her death as at her abandonment into foster care. That, plus considerable help from Detective Durkin - once he'd dropped the three names of their last case and insinuated just enough for Durkin to believe his strange connection to Rosa - and strangely enough, Dr Quentin. Goodness knows it was time at least something good came out of Dr Quack’s reports on Patricia and Lauren, in which his name was liberally littered throughout, giving further credence to him being at least a friend of the family.
(He never learned that it was in actuality someone with much, much higher authority than Durkin to be the one to bend the law in allowing him to take possession of Rosa’s body, or to authorize her estate to pay for her cremation)
He stood on the Brooklyn bridge, at the exact same spot of their first bonding, and wondered whether talking to her urn was just him trying desperately not to let go.
He was beginning to forget. He didn’t know if he should.
He didn’t know if he wanted to.
After her watery burial, he returned to her apartment on autopilot. Though it had been home for nine years, in a week, maybe two, everything would probably be cleaned out. Perhaps a new tenant might even have moved in by then. There wouldn’t even be an indication that Rosa Blackwell ever lived here, with her Chinese takeout boxes and her writing on the computer box and her silly, tacky lava lamp.
He was afraid to be the one to forget her, even as his memories of that life were getting hazier by the day.
I promise you that no matter how many hosts I see die…
His eyes ghosted past the Blackwell family Christmas photo, Rosa’s parents’ wedding photo, to land on the one with Rosa and Lauren by the bridge - he could no longer see himself staring disdainfully at the five-year-old - and the one of her with her journalist friend. “Look at you, Red,” he whispered, hardly noticing the tear slipping down his cheek. “I don’t think I remember you ever looking this shy when you’re busy snarking at me...”
He paused, and concentrated. She didn’t, right?
I promise you…
Almost feverishly, he slipped all the photos from around the living room wall out of their frames, leaving the empty frames to hang around with the newspaper clippings, the poster, and the long abandoned wall calendar. That task done, he almost escaped, determined to be far far away when the Blackwell family trust representatives tidied up her estate, to be given either to the very relatives who rejected her, or to the state in escheat (either way he cared not), when his final pat for Griff drew his eyes to the stack of books beneath the bear’s resting place.
No, not books. Notebooks.
He hesitated only for a moment, then grabbed the three volumes, took a last look around, and then let the door lock behind him.
Somehow, he eventually found his way back to his old profession. Muscle memory, he guessed, even though this wasn't the body he died in, for all that it had his face.
It was his face, wasn't it?
In truth, the question didn't actually bother him as much as just being part of a mild curiosity whenever he wondered how he still had his knack after being decades out of practice. Between his natural flair and information about current season trends flowing from his new friendship with his soon-to-be retired employers (an old couple whose children had all flown the nest years ago), he was able to keep his head above the water and survive comfortably.
And he wrote and wrote. Sometimes fondly, sometimes feverishly, but always writing whatever he could remember.
Their cases had been the first to fade from his thoughts. Though he didn't labour over these lost memories - maybe had even wanted to forget the deaths they saw daily - still he went through the first one-and-a-half notebooks filled with research for the Village Eye, their first cases, and her planning for her first book. He searched for and bought out-of-print The Actor and the Artist with his first wages, and dared Rosa to laugh at his ridiculousness when he brought the book to Central Park to read (somehow subconsciously waiting for Rosa's only friendly neighbour to return from her world tour). He still cherished every case he managed to piece together through her lists of clues, sometimes even managing to laugh ("Oh Rosa, you were such a bad liar, sweetheart") once he remembered which cases elicited the most embarrassing restraining orders.
But mostly he wrote down about what he remembered about her in the blank pages of the remaining notebooks.
How she'd fainted at the first sight of him, or how quickly she'd accepted him.
How he’d been exasperated at her inexperience, or how much he’d later regretted never letting off the comparisons with Lauren.
How she'd rolled her eyes at him amusedly when she thought he wasn't looking, or the time she yelled at him when she thought he had invaded her bedroom, in the earliest days of their connection.
How he'd been smugly satisfied whenever he taught her something nebulous and she succeeded in lock-picking on her first try.
How she almost wanted to strangle him to death when it dawned on her that he was trying to make her explore the dating world at a dingy bar that offended her every sensibility... kinda.
His writing almost faltered one day when he recalled Rosa coaching him through keyboard blowing just to use Twitter - his jaw almost remembering the phantom ache that would have arose from the effort of blowing one key at a time if he’d been alive then, and he remembered his slight jealousy at Rosa's easy handling of the keyboard with her fingers, challenging him to try blowing the keys faster than her typing speed, but never actually succeeding.
At least she hadn’t noticed his competitive nature, or she wouldn't have wasted the opportunity to tease his defeat at the hands of yet another piece of modern technology.
That recollection made him pick up Rosa's old smartphone for the first time since he'd taken it from her, and he had to fiddle with it for a quarter of an hour before finally working out the internet thing and managing to open her profile page again. He stared at the only picture of her that she’d taken of herself (he thought she’d called it “selfie”, for “self-portrait” or some such nonsense. Kids…), a much closer likeness of Rosa than her Christmas picture with that Jeremy boy. Scrolling through her tweets, replies to and from him, he had to suppress a snort at the ridiculous profile picture Rosa had uploaded for his account. He could almost hear her messages read in her voice.
He chuckled sadly. The messages were only from three, four, five years before, and already he was having to remember her through the eyes and ears of a virtual stranger, instead of someone who had lived with her, day and night, for… nine years.
He continued writing what he remembered, for as long as he could, even as solid memories disappeared with each dawn. He tried not to be afraid to sleep.
Eventually, he stopped writing of the past when he couldn’t remember anymore. He still tried, half chastising himself for writing as much as Rosa used to, half agonizing at not being able to remember more. He read over what he’d written down, what she’d written down, over and over until he knew the words better than he remembered the memories.
The only thing he remembered now was how comfortable he’d been with her, despite them constantly ribbing one another. How she was the one he never wanted to forget. How he now compared Lauren to Rosa instead of the other way around.
Was it a girl? his new boss had asked, about a week after he’d stopped writing. He must’ve had his Friday face for far too long if Mr Wilcox had noticed.
He gave a small laugh. No, he replied. Well, yes, it’s a girl, but not the way you imagine. Joey Mallone paused, pondering who Rosa had been to him. She was my niece, he finally declared, she was my only family. But she’s dead now… he had to swallow a sudden lump in his throat at the vocalization of that fact. Her name was Rosangela.
Aye, tis a sad affair when the old are sending off the young, Wilcox nodded sagely with a hint of his own loss. But she’s at peace now, and it isn’t as if she’s gone for good, is she?
Joey thought of the notebooks, of pages and pages of ghost-saving notes and cross-referencing and research names. He hoped Rosa did earn the light despite what happened in the end, after all she’d done for the world. For him.
Eventually, he bought a new notebook and began writing again. He wrote about his days at the shop, how this one ridiculous customer threw a fit because one sleeve was quarter of an inch short. He wrote about new acquaintances, about how he’d occasionally take up chess challenges in the park. He wrote about walks at night, when he might or might not be looking for the new Bestower, but you’ll never get me to admit it, Rosa! He wrote about never understanding how she ever managed her computer box thing, about the passing of Nishanthi Sharma, about a million small things that mattered little and yet meant the world. He wrote to her about how he still remember what a lightweight she was with alcohol, and that she definitely shouldn’t ever drink what he’d found in the wine cellar he window-shopped at the other night.
And every year on the anniversary of her death, he would make a pilgrimage to Grace Church no matter the weather, to add handwritten prayers for his adopted family, even for obstinate Patricia Blackwell, whom he'd never really particularly liked.
But most of all, he did it for Rosa.
I promise you.
- Finis -