Dedicated to my mom and dad with all my love.
I watch the snowflakes dance as they fall from the low gray clouds of the threatening storm. My forehead presses hard against the frigid glass, slick and damp as ice, filling my vision with the yard from duck pond to coop and down the lane, instead of the walker and hospital bed dominating what once was our living room. Outside winter remains the same, and for all I know, it’s forty years ago out there.
I close my eyes and breathe only shallowly so I can forget my lungs don’t work right. Propped here at the door, I can forget my legs don’t move without pain. Behind my eyelids, I am still a young woman, still in love.
I hear the nurses talk, telling each other how strong my will to live must be. I hate to disappoint them, but they’re wrong. It isn’t strength that’s kept me here this long, it’s fear. Fear that the other side isn’t at all like Charlie said it would be, fear that he won’t be there waiting to take my hand. If I only had his faith, I could just let go. And I would, too, because I’m tired; tired of the business of dying, tired of the walker and the feeding tube and the faces of doctors that come and go and won’t look me in the eye.
As I stare into the swirling flakes, sudden movement sharpens my mind with curiosity. The glass is fogged but beyond, in the whiteness, a flash of dark sails over the pond. Impatient, I rub the condensation away and, in the distance, obscured by age-dimmed eyes and falling snow, the figure of a man floats across the frozen water.
“It can’t be,” I whisper, fogging the glass again. Anxiety locks down my chest making it harder to breathe. I should sit down but I can’t tear my eyes from him. That jacket – the lamb’s wool collar – I remember it. And that ratty red baseball cap is in a box in my closet. I’m sure of it.
I turn for the nurse only to find I’m alone. She’s busy in the kitchen, preparing the paste that is my lunch. But I need to know who’s out there. I need to know if it’s him and that need burns behind my breastbone, sending tired pains of warning down my arm. I can’t wait. With trembling hands, I unlock the door and slide it open. The cutting cold blasts through the threadbare house dress to my bare skin, but I don’t care. The scent of fresh snow stirs my heart. Memories rise to the surface of the muddy pond of my mind.
As I stand shivering, the man on the ice stops and waves to me. My hands clutch the door as he steps off the pond and strides up the little low hill, red cap obscuring most of his face. Still the quirk of his thin lips brings the prick of tears.
“Charlie?” The wind gusts, taking my thin words and scattering them across the lawn with the storm’s icy flakes.
“Edie,” he says with a voice like maple syrup on Sunday morning. “What took you so long?”
Suddenly, I’m frightened. “You left,” is all I can choke out.
Taking the cap from his head, the whipping wind ruffles his blond hair. His gray eyes hold me warmly like a hand-knit scarf. “I’m sorry. I had no choice.”
I know he didn’t mean to go when he did but it hurt all the same. “I missed you,” I explain, my throat thick with the longing I’ve had to live with. My knees begin to give way but strong hands catch me – his hands. They’re as young as mine are old and I stare in horror at my mottled skin and swollen knuckles. I don’t want him to see me like this, I think, as tears break free and travel down the riverbed crevices of my cheeks.
“That’s all over now, Edie.” His voice shields me against the freezing wind blowing through the house. And suddenly, I notice he’s glowing like streetlights in wintertime, bright and ethereal. “It’s time,” he says, smiling, and leans down to press his lips to mine. And I am young again.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I think I see wings lofting from his broad shoulders, and they gather the light and tuck around me like goose down. And the cold is gone. The tightness in my chest, too. And all is warm and soft and light. And I feel brave.
“Let’s go,” he says, leading me by the hand.
I look back for just a moment, smiling for the first time in ages, and I don’t feel sorry for the old woman lying dead in the doorway, the snow blanketing her in fresh white hope. She’s finally free to be with the one she’s always loved.
by Stacy Bennett
Miss you both more than you’ll ever know. <3