In her powerful debut magical realism novel, Elizabeth Mitchell crafts a story of palpable love and longing. With deft language that engages readers’ hearts, I Never Stopped explores grief, loss, and the many stages of healing.
Francesca’s partner-her everything-is dead. After eleven months of listless grief, Francesca leaves Sloane’s memory in San Francisco to visit Italy and her mother. Surrounded by fresh pasta, never-ending wine, and laughter, she finds moments of solace. When Francesca meets Cecelia-a complex love interest, she begins to picture a future without Sloane.
Unbeknownst to Francesca, Sloane can’t let go. Trapped in the mysterious afterlife of The Gray, she’s desperate to contact her love, but limited by forces she doesn’t understand. Though Francesca is so near Sloane can almost smell her hair, she’s always just out of reach. As Francesca’s wounds begin to heal in Italy, Sloane struggles with how her presence may affect Francesca’s tenuous new life.
Can Francesca start a new life in Italy, and will Cecelia be a part of it? And what will become of Sloane?
Francesca crumpled at the sound of Sloane’s name, the smell of her sweaters, the honk of their model-car home phone, even leftovers she refused to deal with in their refrigerator.
Sloane watched and trudged through a surrounding muck as though a failing iron lung breathed for her. With a hazy filter tinting Sloane’s world, an emptiness settled in next to the pain.
Being silenced by fog, Sloane could deal with, but the desperation to see a slight impression where she lay or see a wisp of Francesca’s hair move when she attempted to brush it from her face consumed her. Sloane tried to rub her back or wrap herself around Francesca as she always did–forever the big spoon–but she’d slip right through.
The first time it’d happened, the first time her hand had slid through Francesca’s, Sloane’s scream could have ripped the universe open. She’d exploded, the sensation akin to dropping from the top of a roller coaster. Each time following made her gasp; each time her sounds were swallowed.
For months, all Sloane could do was break into pieces–with Francesca, but without her; beside her, but missing her skin’s warmth.
* * *
Francesca sat in her large leather chair, wrapped in a cable-knit blanket. A book lay on the stacked wine box table beside her, open and faced down.
Sloane gently cupped Francesca’s cheek. “It’ll be alright, my love. I’ll figure something out, I promise. I’ve been working on it.”
With a start, Francesca cracked swollen brown eyes open and let shaky fingers brush her face as she looked around. “Sloane?” Wiping her freckled face dry, she admonished herself aloud. “Sure. Haven’t you only wished that a thousand times?” Francesca hated waking up–she’d cried that out so many times it rattled in Sloane’s head like loose dice. Francesca’s voice became small. “Sloane? I miss you. I’ve said that so many times by now you’d have told me to shut up.” A barely noticeable smile flashed.
Sloane nodded shakily. “I wish we could be saying our, ‘I love you’s,’ not ‘I miss you’s,’” she said–but her words were sucked up. Only she could hear herself now.
Could Francesca remember the sound of her voice? She wouldn’t watch videos of them like they used to do.
Did she even remember Sloane’s face? Francesca hadn’t been able to glance at pictures after she’d ripped collages from walls, knocked frames from shelves, and tore magnetic vacation snapshots from the freezer door with an overwhelming heartache that cracked through and shook the nearly-there place that held Sloane–the place she called The Gray.
Sloane had shivered with Francesca’s pain.
Francesca tried once, just to peek at a Polaroid being used as a bookmark in a collection of poetry they’d read to each other. As blood-curdling as the night of the crash, she cried Sloane’s name out like a prayer, a curse, a plea. Sloane’s attempts to calm Francesca were frustratingly lost in The Gray.
Sloane remembered trying to respond the night of the accident too. She would have sworn she’d called out, “I’m here, my love. What’s happened? I’m here. I’m here.”
Instead of answering, Francesca had ripped the grass, clawed at it with bleeding hands and screamed for Sloane who kneeled beside her.
They’d seen Sloane’s body at the same time.