Feedback is a gift, so if you have time, let me know your thoughts (good or bad) and influence my future postings.
The light of my life
The engraved floral band glistened in the sunlight. As it twisted loosely around her finger, its sparkle brought a tear to my eye which welled and rolled slowly down my cheek. The gold – a physical display of the bond we share – was working its way loose in a macabre and ironic act. Twelve years ago she was frantic at the thought she’d lost her ring; with a frenzied turning out of all the drawers and cupboards to find the beloved item.
‘It’s only a ring,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t mean I love you any less if you don’t have it – I married you, not the bloody ring. Anyway, I can buy another ring, I can’t buy another you.’ My words helped to scale down the search, but did not lead to its cease. That was until sixteen days later when she put the rake back in the garden shed; I heard her shriek out loud and whoop a victory. The smile now on my face at this thought, weakened to a frown as the tear reached my lips.
‘You never took it off after that, did you?’ I whispered. I picked up her hand and kissed it. I must have held it a long while, as when I looked at her face I saw the shadows under her eyes were deeper and more noticeable than usual. Perhaps the change was due to the sky setting burnt-orange and fading light which cast shadows in the room – perhaps not. I kissed her hand again and placed it back on the bed.
‘Shall I light some candles, love?’ I readied myself even though there was no response. As the match struck, the smell cast me back to 1976 and our fourth wedding anniversary. I relived my nervousness as I led her, blindfold, through the garden. Every available surface glowed from the candles and fairy lights that warmed us despite the night air which nipped at our skin. I remembered the delight on her face as I spun her around, and watched as she dripped wax onto the map of the world under our feet. That summer, we visited every place that the wax had landed on, in a haze of romance and desire for one another. Together in every possible way, we unknowingly returned as the proud owners of ‘bump’ – our only child, now known as Martin, or Daddy, depending on who you are.
‘He’ll be here soon, love; Martin. He said he’d bring Grace….You won’t believe how much she’s changed. Anna’s coming too. To take some snaps for the album. She’ll get you looking your best though, don’t worry.’ I inhaled deeply, trying hard for my voice not to crack. ‘Anna’s making a real go of it you know… Learned from the best, and it shows. One of her photos appeared in that photography magazine you used to rave about.’ I grew silent and reflected on my choice of words. Three light taps caught my attention and I turned to see the door open slowly.
‘Evening Mark,’ whispered Helen. ‘How’s she doing today? Has she woken or said anything?’ Helen walked across the room, dressed in a white pressed-cotton tabard and placed a fresh jug of iced water on the bedside cabinet.
‘No, not yet; I’m hoping she’ll wake up soon as Martin and the girls are coming tonight.’
‘Here’s hoping ‘eh, Mark… Do you need anything else?’
‘No thanks,’ I replied, my eyes fixed on the sallow skinned stranger who lay in the bed.
‘OK. Just pick up the receiver if Jen needs anything. See you later.’
After the echoes of footsteps disappeared, I turned on the radio in a bid to disturb the dormant sound waves which lolled around the room but kept the volume low so as not to startle Jen. The sleek sound of Phyllis Nelson’s ‘Move Closer’ dripped from the speaker, and I sat next to my wife but felt further away from her than I ever had before.
‘Tony… Tony, is that you?’ a croaky voice rose from the bed. I handed Jen a plastic cup which contained a mouthful of water, and helped her to drink.
‘No love. It’s me, Mark; your husband.'
'He,' I paused. 'Tony died. About five years ago.’
‘No!’ screeched Jen, ‘No, I don’t believe you. Where’s Tony?’ I cupped Jen’s face in my hands.
‘Jen, my love, your brother’s gone.’ I lowered my voice. ‘He’s gone; I’m sorry.’ As Jen continued to wail, Grace charged into the room shaking a gigantic red balloon. The sand inside the balloon continued to move as Grace stood still just inside the doorway.
‘Who is that? Why is that child stood in my house?’ screamed Jen. I walked towards a pale-faced Grace, but didn’t get far before Martin appeared in the doorway and scooped her up just as she began to cry.
‘It’s alright Gracey, don’t be scared. Grandma gets confused sometimes. Look, Mummy is talking to Helen over there, where the plants are.’ Martin pointed. ‘Go ask her to get you a drink and a biscuit.’ Grace slid from Martin’s grip without speaking and ran down the corridor; no-doubt glad to be away from the woman who was different each time she met her.
‘Tony. He tried telling me you were dead. I knew he was lying,’ yelled Jen, ‘you liar!’
‘He’s not lying,’ Martin said softly. ‘I’m not Tony. I’m Martin; your son.’ Jen’s eyes looked pained and bewildered. She faced the wall to hide her tears.
‘I’m sorry, Son. I shouldn’t have asked you to bring Grace. I hoped she’d be ok today. Be able to recognise you at least.’ My gut wrenched.
‘Don’t worry Dad; it’s not your fault. It is not hers either. It’s just sad.’ Martin leant in and kissed Jen on the cheek.
‘You can say that again,’ I sighed.
‘Don’t cry, Mum. I’ve brought your Granddaughter to see you. Grace is four now. Up until she was one, you looked after her nearly every day. Do you remember? Her mother – Anna, my wife – was your photography apprentice. Do you remember Anna, Mum?’
‘Anna’s here?’ Jen asked. Her eyes widened in recognition.
‘Yes, Anna’s here. Grace is too but she’s a bit scared. Is she alright to come back in with Anna?’ Jen nodded but looked bewildered.
‘I’ll go and get them.’ I said.
‘No need Mark, we’re already here.’ Anna stood in the doorway. ‘See Gracey, I told you Grandma just…’
‘Granddad and I once bought your Daddy a balloon like yours, only his was green. He got it at a fair.’ Jen startled everyone with this admission.
‘You remember that Mum?’ gasped Martin. Jen nodded again.
‘You look well, Anna.’ Jen looked at Grace. ‘She’s beautiful; looks just like you. How did you have a daughter so pretty Martin?’
‘She takes after you Mum!’ Martin smiled. I sat back and watched as Jen – not an imposter inside her mind – spent time with her family and admired Anna’s beautiful snapshots.
‘Actually, we’re glad you invited us over today. We have some news.’ Martin paused and flashed a toothy smile. ‘Anna and I are going to have another baby... it's a boy.’ Jen didn’t react.
‘That’s great news,’ I said. ‘Congratulations, you two! Grace, you’re going to have a little brother!’
‘Yes. We’re going to call him Oliver. I chose it,’ said Grace proudly.
‘That’s fantastic guys; I’m so pleased for you,’ I repeated and fussed around Anna and Martin, hugging and kissing them to cover up the fact Jen had not reacted.
‘Who’s Oliver?’ Jen asked.
‘Our baby,’ said Anna. ‘You’re going to be a Grandma again.’ The statement had no effect.
‘I think she’s tired. Maybe it’s time we left,’ I said.
‘OK. We need to make tracks anyway; it’s past Grace’s bed time.’ Martin hugged Jen first, and then Anna took her turn. ‘I didn’t see your car in the car park Dad. Do you want a lift back to yours?’
‘I’ve got a lift lined up. Thanks for the offer though. You three – sorry – four, take care! I’ll call you at the weekend.’
‘OK. Bye Mum. Love you. See you soon,’ Martin said as he walked towards the door.
The room fell quiet again, except for the low hum of radio adverts. Jen looked at me.
‘Why don’t you live with me anymore?’ she said.
‘You live here now Jen. You asked to move here. At first you stayed at home when you became ill, but when you couldn’t remember how to take a photo – something which you did every day of your life from being seventeen – you were so upset. Three years ago you made me promise to bring you here and start a new life for myself.’ Saying these words out loud cut deeper each time.
‘I always was wise,’ said Jen.
‘Stubborn I’d say!’ I laughed, though I didn’t find it funny. Jen stared intently. Neither of us spoke for several minutes.
‘I’m tired. I think you should go now.’
‘Yes, but I’ll be back this weekend,’ I said lightly as I kissed her cheek. ‘I love you, Sunbeam.’ I felt sick with guilt as I walked towards the door, and had almost closed it behind me when Jen spoke again.
‘Can you ask Tony to visit me – I haven’t seen him in ages,’ Jen said as she blew the candles out. I considered my response for a split-second.
‘I will,’ I choked.
I left the care home and walked towards the only car in the car park with its engine on. Once again, I tried, and failed to hold back tears. I opened the passenger door of the silver Honda Civic and sat down. Without speaking Helen reached out, gave me a tissue and tenderly held my hand.
‘I hate this. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it,’ I spewed from the pit of my stomach. ‘I feel like I’m mourning my wife, getting a divorce and looking after a child all rolled into one. To top it off we’re technically having an affair.’
‘You’re too hard on yourself, Mark. You love Jen, and she loves you, but it’s not Jen in that bed ninety-nine per cent of the time. You know today was a rare occurrence – I saw Martin and Anna on their way out. She’d be heartbroken herself if she could see you like this. She wanted you to live your life, not nurse her.’
‘I know those were her exact words. But I made those vows of for better or worse and I feel like such a fraud.’
‘You’re not a fraud. This disease... it’s brutal and unforgiving. You’re doing your best – doing what Jen wanted. Remember that.’
‘It just never gets any easier. She had so much to give.’
I stared at the streetlights on our journey home and reflected on how Jen loved light; anything that glowed. I remembered how, on the evening of our wedding, she looked radiant as we all lit and floated hundreds of tiny paper lanterns into the sky. She had attached a message to hers:
‘We two are iridescent rays which have joined to arch a sunbeam. Prisms of shimmering love which warm the gentle day. If my light should fade, I’ll shower you with tears of glittering rain to expose you for the rainbow that you are, and rest, in cut diamond until you wake me again.’
We pulled up on our driveway. When Helen shut the engine off we both heard the telephone – impatiently ringing – at the other side of the front door. Helen finally found her keys in her bag, and then swore under her breath as she dropped them on the porch. Now inside the house, she picked up the receiver and uttered a cagey ‘Hello.’
I didn’t hear anything after that. I sat on the third step of the staircase and stared at the photos which peppered the hallway and knew – without looking – that Jen was Jen again; encased in precious stone, awaiting my visit.
(c) Copyright Jane Edwards 2010