That night she dreamt of blood flowing from his eyes and mouth, blue light flashing against his skin, and when she awoke she mistook the alarm for the bleep of the life-machine. But he was laid beside her, his skin papery and loose, though still whole and as soft as it had been when they had first met, years ago in the room of broken hearts at the community centre; here he was, the only difference that now she could imagine the nightmare, now she knew, that before the year ended, he would no longer be there in anything other than the ring that had been placed on her hand the day before, fifty years in the making.
There had, of course, been a time without him, a time when she had been happy, ignorant in the knowledge of his existence, but now she knew him, now she loved him and hated him and revolved around him. It was foolish to think she’d find a happiness again that did not involve him, that did not have her laughing with him, and taking his face between her hands and kissing him, silencing his protestations that they were too old. It was foolish to attempt to reach an understanding of what had happened, a seed planted so many years ago five years before they met that had only now decided to grow and flourish deep within him, and was slowly taking him away, away from her and their lives together. Perhaps it was the poison of his first marriage, perhaps it was the poison from hers, perhaps it was their punishment for their fifty years of living together, in and out of marriage for they had decided years ago that that their only religion was love, and they would devote themselves to it, risking God’s unreasonable anger. But perhaps the risk had not paid off; perhaps they were now paying the awful price. But when he had asked her the day they’d heard the news, if she wished they’d done things differently, she’d pursed her lips and shook her head; no, I don’t think we’re that sort. We’d resent each other if we married.
Yet, despite that, yesterday they had spent ten minutes before lunch in the registry office, signing away their lives to each other. A last minute panic? Perhaps. He had told her that morning of a conversation he’d had with his son, and about his fear that she would be entitled to nothing after he’d gone, that his son would exact his revenge, his angry, bitter revenge. And so she had signed herself to him, and the irony did not escape her, that it was only now, when she knew he was leaving her, that she would, could, commit until death do us part. He had, of course, been unable to get up from his wheelchair, so she too had sat, and as his hand trembled, so did hers. She watched him recite the pointless words, the loose skin dead and swaying, his hair, thinned almost to the point of non-existence; his hand, unable to grasp hers. She knew that when she spoke, her voice would be even quieter than his, for he is taking her breathe away with him.
She cannot cry. When they met, she had been told that he was a twenty five year old male, a university tutor in mathematics, recent divorcee with children, looking for someone who knows, and who can show me what I’m missing. I need someone who can show me how to smile. I can’t smile, she’d told him through the tattooed tears, and he’d nodded, understanding; I need someone to show me how to cry. I’ve done everything, but I can’t cry. And so, they had taught each other, gently and gradually over their allotted fifty-year slot. They had held each other as they cried, and had kissed through smiles, unable to stop themselves. But now, she could not cry, and he could not smile. For what would they do with their tears and with smiles? Catalogue them as a reminder? A reminder that would be too painful to forget. No, the easiest thing was to ignore the lessons they’d learnt, to pretend they were two strangers, sharing a bed only from necessity.
Perhaps in the day, amidst the washing, ironing, cooking, gardening, visiting, that still needed to be done, she could do this. Perhaps she could pretend in the daylight hours, that she was a devoted wife, caring for her dying husband. Pretend that she was the nurse, and he the patient. For isn’t that what marriage had become? Isn’t that what this marriage should be? But at night, when he was feigning sleep, she could not force herself to become the caring wife, as the darkness illuminated her memories and she once again became the lover. For they did not have a marriage, they had a love affair; something passionate, something consuming, something that was about no one but the single entity that they had become. And yes, their love affair was played out on their bed, but it extended further than that, deeper, it extended to who was doing the washing up, who was going to Sainsbury’s, why couldn’t he ever manage to put the washing machine on the right cycle so that it didn’t shrink everything, and why was she never honest about how much money she spent every week? It extended to the mortgage, to the electricity bills, to the decorating and extensions, to the theatre tickets, and he had even tried to extend it to paying for his funeral.
- There’s enough there. Use the joint account to pay for everything.
- No. It’s your god damned funeral, you can bloody well pay for it yourself.
- That account pays for us, Daniel. And there won’t be an us.
- But there’s a lot of money, you can’t just leave it there!
- Oh, can’t I? Well once you’ve left, I’ll be able to do what the hell I want with it, won’t I? I can leave it there to rot if I want to then, can’t I?
She had been repentant later, and had gone to him, kneeling by his chair. He had taken her head in his fragile hands, and had kissed her, and told her that only when she had stopped yelling at him, would he feel he had died. You’re dying. That was all she could say, for what else mattered, really. And he had kissed her again, and again, and again.
She looked at him now, his head nestled to the pillow, and although she knew he wasn’t asleep, she appreciated the gesture, allowing her to watch him and think, and remember, and attempt to imagine the future. It was not that she could not see how it would be like without him she could but what she could not bear, was that although she knew she would manage without him, she was not being given the choice. If this test, if that’s what it was, was meant to make her repentant, it did not, it made her sick and angry, and more and more in love with the thing that was slipping away from her. Like a selfish chid she was clinging to her most loved toy, whose body she’d broken with too much love, and who was now being taken away from her, for he was no longer of any use.
Her fist clutched the pillow as she watched him.
I hate you Daniel.
He opened his eyes, looking directly into and through and within her, and she repeated herself.
I hate you Daniel. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you so much I can’t breathe. I hate you, I hate you more with each day. I hate you like I’ve hated nothing before. Daniel. Daniel. I hate you.
She knows that he knows, that he’s known from the moment they met, that he’s never questioned it, and that he will die knowing it without a single doubt.
I hate you. I hate you so much it hurts. I hate you.
He had cradled her in his arms the night they had first made love, and told her through his tears, that no matter what, no matter what life threw at them, he would never leave her, and that he loved her. He loved her so much he couldn’t breathe. He loved her so much it hurt.