She hadn’t wanted him to go with her. Instead he stayed at home, waiting. Pacing around endlessly in quiet desperation as to what would unfold within the next few hours. Into the living room his feet took him, eyes glued to the floor, hands clasped behind his back. The world outside gleamed into the room. The sun was dominating the rich blue sky; the weather had not been this pleased with itself for weeks if not months.
‘Why?’ he kept asking himself ‘Why!’ did she not want him to go with her, why was any of this happening at all? Inside a voice reassured him, reassured him that everything was going to be just fine, after all, they’d look back on this day and laugh. A brief, rather forced smile dissolved within due time as his eyes landed upon a photo that sat peacefully on the mantelpiece. It was their wedding photo. Captured forever in that image was a moment of euphoria. Gazing upon her face he saw how happy she was, how free they both were from the dangers of the real world; he saw how foolish they were back then.
He removed a tear from his eye and moved on. Inside, his stomach had turned to dust, his heart was pumping fast and he began to feel a little faint. Back into the kitchen his feet went, and where his feet went he would surely follow. A mug of lukewarm tea rested beside a plate of half-eaten toast. Pinned to the fridge door was a list of possible baby names. They had been trying for a baby for a few weeks now, the whole thing was exciting for everyone. In their excitement came a frenzy of pre-preparation. The names had already been shrunken to a final group of five, the many others crossed and scribbled out. His mind settled slightly as he pictured his future child, the three of them standing together as a family, living and enjoying life together. All the joys of parenthood awaited him, but his fantasy was rudely interrupted – by a knock at the door.
His heart lurched into his throat as he made his way for the front door. Everything slowed down, thoughts were no longer being processed, feelings ceased to function. Numb. All that mattered was the door. His sweaty hands gripped the handle and with one last forceful break, it swung open.
There she stood. Tears trickling down her face as her eyes stared softly into his. His heart remained wedged as he tried to speak, but try as he might words would not muster. In that moment he saw how beautiful she was. Her hair rested gently against her shoulders, her face pretty as ever. This was the woman he loved more than anything in the world. And then she said it. From her lips came the words he thought he would never hear. ‘It’s cancer’.
‘No, it can’t be.’ he muttered.
‘It’s terminal.’ she said. With that another steak was thrust into her husband’s chest.
‘Please to God, no!’
‘I love you.’ she cried as their bodies came together.
The man cradled his lover in his arms. He felt her body shake uncontrollably as his crumbled in unison. Outside the weather was in fine form. The best they’d seen in weeks.
THUMP! The football crashed against the garage door. The collision sent shockwaves through the house. An elderly gentleman struggled to his feet. He had been enjoying what he could of an afternoon nap in his recliner. Slowly and steadily, the old man made his way to the front door. The fury was churning up inside, but at the same time, so was the fear. The task of trying to appear menacing before a group of rebellious youths was something a man of his age could do without. One last deep breath and the door was open.
‘You damn kids clear off! If you put one dent in my garage I’ll put a dent in your reputation by calling the police!’ his lungs didn’t thank him for that burst of aggression, neither did his heart nor the rest of his body for that matter. Typically, by the time he’d got to the doorstep the majority of the ‘goons’ as he called them had dispersed.
‘Piss off, granddad!’ snarled the chief goon, who had stayed behind to collect his ball that was slowly rolling down the lawn. ‘You don’t have the guts!’ it snapped before returning to the rest of the pack.
The man was left beaten. Looking around he saw he was alone, nobody else had witnessed the incident. Upon checking the garage for any sign of damage it became clear there was none. No evidence. ‘Damn goons.’ he muttered, and stumbled back into the house.
That night he enjoyed a bowl of pasta alone. An old 70s hit was rambling on in the background. He gave up half way through – lost his appetite. His eyes gazed forward to an old mounted photo on the mantelpiece. It made him smile. It made him shed a tear. It was slightly faded, yet it still held its magic after all these years. ‘Damn goons.’ he spoke softly ‘They’ll never give me any peace.’ He spoke to the picture ‘Never mind, I’ll not be long now, dear.’
In the kitchen the clinking of cutlery and china sounded as they came together in perfect harmony. The man cleared away his meal and went to bed. As he lay there in the night he noticed that the wind was not howling and the rain was not tapping at the window. A silent night for once. He felt his eyes grow heavy and he soon drifted to sleep.
A bright light beamed. His eyes strained to open. The adjustment in vision was made and he couldn’t believe the sight he saw. It was as though an angel was floating at the end of the bed, smiling at him. He felt his heart stop. It was his wife before him. She was definitely there, he could see her. She was as beautiful as in the photo downstairs, no, even more beautiful. Her arm stretched out to meet his. Their hands touched. He noticed a small child beside her whom he didn’t recognise yet the child seemed to recognise him.
‘We’re free now.’
‘The River’ copyright Daniel Aston 2013