WINTER FOR TWO
THE STORY ends there, so I close the notebook, remove my glasses and wipe my eyes. I look at her now that I have finished, but she does not look back. Instead, she is staring out of the window at the courtyard, where friends and family meet.
I read to her this morning, as I do every morning, because it is something I must do. Not for duty but for another, more romantic reason. I wish I could explain it more fully right now, but it’s still early, and talking about romance isn’t really possible before lunch any more, at least not for me. Besides, I have no idea how it’s going to turn out.
We spend every day together now, but our nights are spent alone. The doctors tell me that I’m not allowed to see her after dark. I understand the reasons, and though I agree with them completely I sometimes break the rules. Late at night when my mood is right, I leave my room and go to hers and watch her while she sleeps. Of this, she knows nothing. I come in and see her breathe and know that, had it not been for her, I would never have married.
And when I look at her face, I know that I have meant as much to her. And that means more to me than I could ever hope to explain.
Sometimes, when I am standing there, I think about how lucky I am to have been married to her for almost forty-nine years. She heard me snore for the first forty-five years, but since then we have slept in separate rooms. I do not sleep well without her. I turn and yearn for her warmth and lie there most of the night, with my eyes open wide, watching the shadows on the ceiling. I sleep two hours if I am lucky, and still I wake before dawn.
I shuffle towards her and sit in the chair beside her bed. My back aches when I sit. I reach for her hand and take it; it’s bony and fragile. It feels nice. She responds — gradually her thumb begins to rub my finger softly. I do not speak until she does; this I have learned. Most days I sit in silence until the sun goes down.
Minutes pass before she finally turns to me. She is crying. I smile and release her hand, then reach in my pocket. I take out a handkerchief and wipe at her tears. She looks at me as I do so, and I wonder what she is thinking.
«That was a beautiful story.»
A light rain begins to fall. Little drops tap gently on the window. I take her hand again. It is going to be a good day, a very good day. A magical day. I smile.
«Yes, it is,» I tell her.
«Did you write it?» she asks; her voice is like a whisper.
«Yes,» I answer.
She turns towards the nightstand. Her medicine is in a little cup. Mine too. Little pills, their colours are like a rainbow so we won’t forget to take them. The nurses bring my pills here to her room now.
«I’ve heard it before, haven’t I?»
«Yes,» I say again, just as I do every time. I have learned to be patient.
She studies my face. Her eyes are as green as ocean waves.
«It makes me feel less afraid,» she says.
«I know,» I nod.
She turns away, and I wait some more. She releases my hand and reaches for her water glass. She takes a sip.
«Is it a true story?» She sits up a little in her bed and takes another drink. Her body is still strong. «I mean, did you know these people?»
«Yes,» I say again. I could say more, but usually I don’t. She is still beautiful.
She asks the obvious. «Well, which one did she finally marry?»
I answer, «The one who was right for her.»
«Which one was that?»
I smile. «You’ll know,» I say quietly, «by the end of the day. You’ll know.»
She does not question me further. Instead, she begins to fidget. She is thinking of a way to ask me another question, though she isn’t sure how to do it.
«I have to ask you something else,» she says finally.
«Whatever it is, I’ll try to answer.»
«It’s hard, though.»
She does not look at me and I cannot see her eyes. This is how she hides her thoughts. Some things never change.
«Take your time,» I say. I know what she will ask.
She turns to me and looks into my eyes. She offers a gentle smile, the kind you share with a child, not a lover.
«I don’t want to hurt your feelings because you’ve been so nice to me, but…»
I wait. Her words will hurt me. They will tear a piece from my heart and leave a scar.
«Who are you?»
WE HAVE LIVED at the nursing home for three years now. It was her decision to come here, because she thought it would be easier for me. We signed some papers, and received a place to live and die in exchange for some of the freedom for which we had worked a lifetime.
She was right to do this, of course. There is no way I could make it alone, for sickness has come to us, both of us. We are in the final minutes of our lives, and the clock is ticking. Loudly. I wonder if I am the only one who can hear it.
A burning pain courses through my fingers, and it reminds me that we have not held hands with fingers interlocked since we moved here. I am sad about this, but it is my fault, not hers. It is arthritis in the worst form. But every day I take her hands despite the pain, and I do my best to hold them because that is what she wants me to do.