Her breath caught sharply in her chest. The old grandfather clock in the corner of her dining room had just chimed once again–3:00 am. One more hour had passed since she had moved. She was not sure how many hours she had been there. Maybe only two… but perhaps much more than that.
She forced her eyes to move off the bed and look over her quaint bedroom. The moon cast a lonely shadow throughout, causing her belongings to bend and twist in an intolerable mixture of the shadow and the tangible. She enjoyed looking at the jewelry box in the corner, least of all. He had given it to her on their 35th anniversary and she had always cherished it; of course now it seemed to mock her in the faint moonlight, its shape sickening.
She lowered her gaze once more to the frail body lying in her bed. She did not need to check to assure herself, she knew it no longer embodied life. The strange form before her and the belongings around her were all that remained of 78 years together.
She briefly allowed her thoughts to wander to the neighbors. Once word of her dark, lonely night in a room with her dead husband got out, they would be all talk. They had always been all talk–assuming they understood her life. She could just imagine what they would say about her. The teenager in 1504 would call her a “creepy, old lady” to his friends, and the chatterbox gossip in 1512 would pretend to pity her but call her a “sad, pathetic old wretch” when she was alone with her friends.
It should be her lying in that bed. Everyone assumed it would be her. But it was him. The man she thought couldn’t die was just that.
“Lily… Lily, c’mon! Go out wit’ me jus’ once. I’ll git you some iced cream. Your favorite… Rocky Road.”
“Carl, I’d rather eat dirt then eat iced cream wit’ you!”
“Aw… c’mon now…ya know that ain’t true. I seen the way you were lookin’ at me in schoo’ yestidee.”
“I’s lookin’ at you wit’ pity, Carl. Tha’s all.”
“I saw a who’ lot mo’ then pity, Lily.”
Her eyes crinkled at the faded memory. He started chasing her in the 4th level, but she held him off all the way until the 8th grade when he quit to work on his daddy’s farm. She couldn’t remember why now. Everyone told her to play hard to get, so that is what she did. Now that it was over, she could have added four more years to her life with him, if she’d played easy to get instead. He had her all along, anyway.
He was all she had. She didn’t know where she would go now. She could not remember the last time she swept the floor, made dinner, or washed the bedding. A woman like her couldn’t possibly get along alone. Maybe if she prayed hard enough tonight, the Lord would take her home too. The remainder of her years without him seemed unbearable.
She tried to calculate how many years she must have left of her life, although technically her life was lying in the bed in front of her. She was 96. No one lived until 100 nowadays. She would surely be taken before then. Four years. The irony of the significance of that number before their life together and after their life together failed to make an impression on her.
“Four years without you, my love,” she whispered into the shafts of silver light.
Her heart flitted with hope when she thought it might be shorter than that. Her breath was short now and she could hear her heart pounding in her ears all the time, drowning out all logical thought. She was aware of the weakness of each beat. It used to scare her, but now she relished the thought of death.
“How could you do this to me, my darling?” she imagined briefly that his hand moved in the direction of hers, shaking her head at the foolish turn her thoughts were taking.
The world outside her shades was beginning to lighten now, and she could hear the birds chirping in the Spruce tree at the corner of their lot. He had hated that tree, every year having to trim it back, trying desperately to control his world.
“We have no control…” she said this to no one in particular; she certainly did not want him to hear her, still following the habit of being his optimism.
She desperately wanted to not see him in the light. It would be all too real in the light. His lips would be blue and his face ashen. The warmth of her hand would no longer be enough to conceal the coldness of his.
She must get up. She must make herself move…pick up the telephone…call the police…
“Um…hello. My husband has passed away. Can you come retrieve him immediately?”
It would be easy. Pick up the phone. Pick up the phone. Walk away from him and pick up the phone.
It took her a moment to realize the phone was ringing now. The silence of her husbandless home had enveloped her eerily, so her ears did not immediately register sound.
She tried reaching for the receiver without taking her hand from his, the weakness of her body failing her. She still felt his hand in hers even after they were separated. Reaching for the telephone was an act of heroism while the stiffness of her body and desolation of her heart worked against her.
“Hello,” her voice came out in a whisper.
“I woke up worried about you. Is everything okay?”
The voice, at first, seemed unfamiliar and distant.
“Mom, are you there? I’m worried about you. Please tell me you’re okay.”
Ah, it was Carol. How could she have forgotten Carol? The only thing that remained of her life with his, their daughter.
Perhaps, there was hope after all.