An exploratory and distracting work of fiction by Jonathan P
Though patient in my choosing and deliberate in getting to know her, I married young enough in life to be full of the stubborn belief that I could fix or do anything. She was young and beautiful herself, full of life and laughter and happiness. She was a vision of lightness.
Until the day that she wasn’t.
I came home to my bride, myself as light on the air as ever, so overjoyed to return to my private life with her. But on this day, all the lightness was gone from her. She sat on the ground, collapsed upon herself, the weight of something extraordinary crushing the soul from her body in front of my eyes. I ran to her, took her hand.
“My love, what is the matter?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, “But it is horrible!”
I tried to take her to a doctor, but she could not move. I tried to speak to her about what had happened, but she could not talk. I tried to hold her, to pull this hurt from her body and bring it unto myself, but she could not share her burden.
So we sat, she so sad and I so desperate. After many hours of sitting in the darkness, silent, finally I decided to tell her a story. I invented a tale, not very good and not very clever, but original and from my heart. I started with a character, someone lovable, and then I came up with a journey, something innocent and good, and then I added to it some comedy and love.
As I told my tale, I looked into her eyes, and I saw a flicker – of what I could not say at the time. But she looked at me, and the darkness seemed to fade away ever so slightly, and she grimaced for a moment. She looked me squarely in the eye, and said, “Please, my love. Keep going. Distract me.”
So I continued my story, and it grew and grew, becoming more fantastic and more daring, more heartfelt and lovable, and funnier and even a little bit better. And I could have sworn that she started to smile.
And so for two years I told her my story, and the darkness was gone, and she even laughed and spoke with me again, and the lightness of her being seemed to return.
But one day, the story became more difficult to create. The story was constantly dependent on her eyes, on her reactions, and she was becoming bored with the tale, I could tell, as I failed to see bigger and better adventures and loves and emotions. I began to falter in my story, and she slipped further and further into her collapsed darkness, her sadness. Over the course of a week she fell too far, stopped eating, and I feared the end was near for her.
So I learned to cook, so that she would eat.
I learned the basics first, and I caught and cleaned and roasted a trout for her. And her eyes lit up, and the darkness lifted just a little. And every day I learned something new to make for her. I learned to make pasta by hand, and I learned the basic sauces of French cuisine. I learned how to clean a squid and I pan seared it with garlic and Thai basil. I learned what meats and breads she most loved by watching her face every time I brought her something new, and I constantly read and read about the science and philosophy and religion of food. And she continued to smile, for a while.
And when that smile faded, I turned to music. I learned the guitar, and I learned to sing, and I wrote her a simple love song, and her eyes lit up for me. And then I learned the piano, and then the violin, and then the harp, and I composed songs both loving and sad, inspired by that fading light that I had not seen for so long. I was so scared of the darkness. And I swear there was a light in her eyes, however faint. For a while.
Failing at creating, I took her out. I took her to movies, and to shows. I took her to see world famous musicians, and to world-class restaurants in our city. I took her to grungy hidden theaters in the dark parts of our town where the oppressed find joy through expression. I scoured all of the resources of the world to find the very best, the most interesting things I could take her to see. And for years, we traveled and simply watched things, and she regained a bit of her strength, I believe.
And we were getting older now, and soon the light again faded from her eyes and she looked sad and worn down, and my heart ached for failing her. With no children of our own, no ties to a place, we picked up and traveled. I took her to the great places of our country, on the road. We visited old friends and saw new things. And then when she looked tired of America, I took her to Europe, to Rome and Madrid and Paris. And then we went to Asia, to see the alien and esoteric. We saw the exquisite architecture of China, the innumerable temples of India, and the overwhelming lights of Tokyo. For years we traveled, our itinerary set by suggestions made by me that seemed to set off a spark in her eyes.
Until the day she fell ill.
By now we were old, but together still. It started as a cough while downing Vietnamese noodle soup at a stand in Hanoi, a late night stop before heading to our hotel where we would sleep, check out in the morning and then find where our destiny lead us next. She choked a bit at first, and I smiled thinking she had merely swallowed too much of something too spicy. But she didn’t stop coughing.She hacked and bent forward, and put her hands to her face, and soon I saw blood coming out between her fingers. And she looked me in the eyes, though I saw no light there this time.
It was terminal, and it was fast approaching. The doctor told us she had mere days left in her. And so I took her back to our home.
The darkness returned to her. And now it was in me, too.
I held her hand by the bedside, and I looked at how old we had become. How wrinkled and gray. How worn by time and experience. I looked her in the eyes, and I saw a tear stream down her cheek.
“I know you have to leave me now,” I said, “and its okay. We had an amazing life together. Think of the wonderful tales you heard, the wonderful food we ate, the things we saw in the world!”
She released my hand, pulled in upon herself, and the tears streamed more heavily down her face now. She looked hard now.
“No,” she said through wracking sobs, “I spent my life full of darkness, watching you live your life only for me.”
I grabbed at her hand and she pulled it away again. My legs gave out and I collapsed to the floor, a heap of failing body and hot tears. “But think of everything we did! We were happy. We were so happy.”
“I was just distracted.”
I pulled myself up to eye level, only to watch the very last vestige of light, true living light, fade from her eyes.
In that moment, she lost her life, taking with her the entirety of mine.