~~The steam curled lazily off of my cup and dissipated in the air above. I lifted it shakily to my lips and scalded my tongue, but the pain couldn’t pierce the haze that settled on my mind. She had only been gone for a year yet everything had changed. I could see the difference by just looking out the fractured window pane at the garden. The cracked pavement and dead, rotting flowers were proof enough that she was really gone. The garden was her church. Every Sunday she would go to the garden, most of the time she would just sit there. Sometimes I think the flowers only lived to see her again, to see her radiant smile. I closed my eyes and everything changed.
The flower bushes were thick and blooming, all except for the carnations. She was kneeling before those same carnations, her presence like the sun that hid behind the clouds above. Her golden hair added to the effect, floating on the slight breeze. Suddenly she looked back at me and it seemed the sun itself smiled upon me. I stared, transfixed by her heavenly beauty, until she began to break away, like a vase, so fragile that to set gaze upon her is to break her image. Light filled my vision and I levered my eyes open.
The dust seemed to settle on anything that sat still for long enough. The lounge room was as dismal as the day she left, a vase of rotting flowers and a pair of her reading glasses the only memory of her existence. I sighed and looked down to see that I still held a cup full of tea in my hand. I sighed. The cup was cool. For the past year these blackouts were getting worse and worse, but I simply relished being able to see her again. The room was dim and beyond, in the hallway, light seeped in. I closed my eyes against the glare.
“Agnes?” I caught her as she fell through the door and into the hallway. “Dear? Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” she said between gasps, “It’s nothing.”
“That’s not what I asked.” I guided her to the foot of the stairs and sat her down. She hung her head, her hair, limp and damp with sweat, hiding her features from me.
“I... I’m fine. I just got a bit of heat stroke.”
I snatched up her hand and found it cold and clammy with sweat. I pressed the back of my hand to her forehead and found it in the same state. “Tell me the truth.”
She paused and I could just imagine the purse of her lips. “Fine,” She looked up at me, deep dark circles around her eyes. “I have cancer, they couldn’t fix it.” She pulled off the wig to reveal the stubble on her head. “They gave me twelve months to live.”
“Twelve months ago.”
I leant back on the wall beside her and slid to the ground. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
She smiled and broke the sick and injured image of her, “because I love you.”
The image fell away, her smile cracked away into pieces first, leaving the rest of her face behind. I opened my eyes to escape her ghost.
I opened my eyes and steadied myself on the stair’s banister, the empty vision of her still flashing behind my eyelids. The sun had left the hall and had retreated behind the hills, the last rays shining on the second floor. I didn’t think but just followed the sun upstairs. My footfalls sent puffs of dust up from the carpet and the dust motes danced in the sunlight of the window at the top of the stairs. When I reached the top I moved my fingers through the clouds of dust. The various air currents they followed made them elusive and intangible. I closed my eyes to the warm sun on my skin.
The room was completely blank, white dominated the colour scheme. The sharp chemical smell stung my nostrils and the incessant beeping sound assaulted my hearing, but what brought me the most pain was looking down on who lay in the hospital bed before me. Agnes had aged twenty years over the past week, and it pained me to see her helpless in hospital. I had long stopped taking her flowers, their bright colour made her sickly pale skin even more washed out. She smiled through her fever, weighing my heart down even more.
“You have to do it.” She said, still smiling weakly.
I shook my head and felt tears itching at the back of my eyelids, “No, I can’t.”
“You have to,” she said firmly, sounding stronger than she looked, “This isn’t living, Malcolm, for either of us. The longer you keep me like this the longer we both suffer. I need to go, and you need to let me go.” She smiled sadly at me, like I’m the one that’s going to die by pulling the plug to the life support machine. In a way I believed it myself
“I can’t let you go,” I choked out, “You are my life.”
“Don’t be selfish.” She frowned at me, a scowl on her face.
I averted my eyes, knowing that my reasons were, in fact, selfish.
“Malcolm, dear,” I looked up to see her face had softened, “Please?”
I opened my eyes to let the tears fall.
I stood in the doorway of the bedroom looking down at our bed. I ran a hand down my haggard face. The sun had long since left over the horizon, making me feel lonelier than ever. I looked around me at the life we had lived. Pictures told the story all the way from high school, I couldn’t escape her gaze. I turned and turned but she was always there, looking down at me from the walls, from in my arms. I shrunk against her disapproving glare and closed my eyes to block her out.
But she was there too, pleading with me to allow her to die.
I shook my head furiously at first, slowly I stopped. Tears wetted my cheeks as I nodded once, “Okay,” I whispered. She smiled and took my hand in hers to peck a kiss on the back. She looked happier than she had been for an age, and I couldn’t take it from her. I watched as she died, gripped her hand as it gripped mine back fiercely, then slowly her strength faded and I was holding onto her lifeless body. She had lain there peacefully, as if she had just gone to sleep. I sat there and held her hand, even as the nurses came in and turned off her heart machine. I sat there until I woke up at home. I opened my eyes.
I looked down two storeys to the ground, lit up by the garden lights. My bare toes curled over the window ledge, cutting into my toes. The wind whipped at my clothes, giving a sense of weightlessness. I opened my arms to the night, welcoming the moon and the stars to my final performance. From where I stood everything looked so different, I couldn’t see any sign of her and that spread a smile on my face I ripped the ring off of my gnarled finger, scraping a chunk of skin off with it. I threw it to the wind and it carried far beyond the garden, far away from my heart. I embraced the night and its freedoms.
“I’m letting you go.” I yelled to the heavens.
I wanted to feel as free as I did that night every night forward. So I stepped into it. My life, in all its misery, happiness, success, failure and love flashed past. But the memory that stuck was of my Agnes in the garden.
“Now you need to let me go,” I whispered to the wind as the ground came up to greet me. I closed my eyes.
This time there was no vision, no images just darkness. Then, I opened my eyes.
Everything was white, and strangely familiar, yet I couldn’t put a finger on where from. I turned to look around and found myself lying in a hospital bed. A young woman I found strangely familiar sat in a chair beside me, she gasped when she found me awake.
“Dad?” She whispered.
“Annabel.” My daughter, I remember.
“Do you know what happened? Why you’re here?” She asked tentatively.
Images flashed under my eyelids and memories came back, “I jumped.”
“Yes,” She leaned forward and rested her arms on her knees. ”Do you remember why you jumped?”
I frowned in concentration but came up with nothing.
She noticed and continued, “Could it have been about Mum? I mean Agnes.”
She creased her brow in confusion, “Your wife.”
“You don’t remember Agnes, the woman you married?” She said incredulously, sitting further forward in her chair.
“No,” I began to smile, for some reason unbeknownst to me, “I have no idea who that is.” A great joy swept through me and I had to let out the laugh bubbling up in my throat. My laughter peeled off of the walls and sounded victorious to me.
I closed my eyes and I was at peace.
I didn’t care where I opened my eyes next.