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A couple in an assisted living home discover bliss before making the ultimate sacrifice.

Timothy A. Wren
5.0 3 reviews
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It was after midnight and Alexander Denmark lay staring at the yellow moon glow bathing the window blinds. The goddamn windows. The metal blinds were worn and twisted and they never replaced them, no matter how many times he had asked. Tonight he didn’t care. Tonight he was happy to see the moonlight shine through the holes in the blinds.

By now Henrietta would have snuck in the door using her walking cane, her delicate frame bent to the floor as she listened for the staff in the hallways, as though she were a teenager running away from home. There were occasional incidents. The first time she came to see him she had knocked over the cactus his son had sent, alerting staff before she even got into bed with him. Of all the things he could send, a cactus. A spiny, noxious thing in a pink clay pot that he couldn’t even touch. She had knocked it to the floor with the cane and it was the end of the cactus, a beginning for them.

She was always barefoot, her dancer’s feet whispering across the green tile, her knotted fingers folded across the top button of her nightgown as though it might suddenly melt away. When she slipped in next to him her feet licked his body like icicles. Her feet never settled, but caressed his legs in a constant friction. It wasn’t until she fell asleep that they were still against his flesh.

Her body shivered. She was weightless next to him, ounces and ounces gone from her frame, and when he slept he dreamt they were floating, floating away from it all.

In those nights he did what he could to please her. He wanted nothing in return, yet she touched him and he closed his eyes and turned toward the pale wall because she had made clear what she wanted him to do eventually. This was how they found them most mornings, cocooned in bed sheets and each other’s ancient skin, their thin legs dangling off the bed that wasn’t big enough for two people. Some nights the midnight staff let them be, and by then they would have had five hours of bliss, mostly talking, evoking yesterday’s synapses, with bouts of sleep that wasn’t really sleep for him but fits of nostalgia. He always waited for her to fall asleep first. When she slept, he held her and watched her chest rise and fall in the moonlight. That was the bliss. Holding her.

After she was gone, her only daughter, still in her thirties, had come to see him, had sat with him in the atrium sipping ice tea and nibbling Girl Scout cookies as though she were at the conclusion of a dinner party. “She was very fond of you,” she said. “And I know she was happy to be with you. You made her happy.”

Perhaps what bothered him most was the loudness in her voice, the pitch that changed with each sentence as though his hearing required it. And the youth these days and how they shortened their words to symbols instead of words. Looking at her, the moon face and the weight on her frame, the short legs not dancer’s legs but tree stumps, he wondered if this were a trick, if she were, indeed, the famous ballet dancer Henrietta Beckincheck’s daughter. She had rarely visited her mother in the past, and he had never met her, yet here she was now that her mother was dust.

Still, he reached out and placed his hand over hers.

So now as he lay in the bed they once shared he knew she wouldn’t come because he had done what she had asked and he looked at the door and the foggy light from the hallway silhouetting its frame. The morning they found them she was still embracing him, and he had been awake all night holding her body, had felt it grow colder as night surrendered to morning. Some time in that night he had taken the pillow and bunched it up and stared into her wet eyes. She had nodded and squeezed his hand and wrapped her arms and legs around his torso. He had used all his weight and pressed into her face and her body arched and shook until she was still. He removed the pillow and turned her on her side facing him, careful not to let her arms and legs separate from his body. He lifted her head and set the pillow under her, and lay with her until the sunrise burst through the broken blinds.


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