Michelle’s husband had driven over a cliff on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. A driver coming around a mountain curve sideswiped his car, causing it to crash through a guardrail. He survived the nearly 75 feet drop long enough to be taken to intensive care. She found him there, on a ventilator, with tubes running in all directions, and that ominous whir of multiple machines that seemed to say nothing will change soon, if ever.
While in the ER, he suffered a heart attack. X-rays showed severe upper thoracic spinal injury. He would likely be a paraplegic. When he could be transported, and when his condition was not going to require extraordinary measures, the hospital sent him to a “rehabilitation facility,” a cost saving measure that would maintain her husband’s condition. She visited his unconscious body every day, watching his vital signs, tracking his respiratory therapy, and calling for nursing support when his condition seemed to worsen. After two months, on a cold morning with a light drizzle, shortly after her arrival, he stopped breathing. She screamed for help. Efforts to resuscitate were unsuccessful.
Their two children, a boy and a girl, had recently graduated from college. She called them home for the memorial service, and then they returned to their jobs, both out of state. She wondered how 30 years of marriage could be wrapped up in 90 days, from crash to burial. Even his clothes were shipped away to charity. Secretly she kept a bottle of his cologne.
When the children left, and the last well-meaning friend said good night, she sat alone in the house they had shared for 10 years. The grandfather clock struck exactly as it had most of their marriage. If we were as simple and efficient as grandfather clocks, she mused, we could be wound up every six months or so, and go on indefinitely, but we did not keep time like that: time kept us.
Several years later, she began to feel almost normal in bed alone. What was not normal is the being alone during the waking hours. She carried the feeling of him as part of her. The bonding of all those years had written its signature across her heart. She began to search for routes they had not traveled, paths they had not cycled, streets they had not walked together. She struggled with feeling him present when he was not, of talking to him of some thought or feeling that had sprung up, when he was not there. The “empty nest” that she and he had talked of always included the two of them. They had never talked of an “empty heart.”
She turned 54. She was young enough to want the closeness of a man in her life, and old enough to shed the illusions that she was the perfect woman, or that she would find the perfect man. She had entered the land of the frumps, she told herself, and she had to work with frumpy.
She sometimes wondered if she could step out of the deep imprint of his memory. If she could have lived just on the memories of him, she would be content as a single woman. Ironically, it was his love and passion for her that enlarged her heart to love again after he was gone. She knew she could not keep her soul alive by memories alone. In her prayers, she asked for God to bring her a man to love that would have pleased her husband. She knew he loved her so much that he would never want her to spend her years in loneliness.
The house was too large, and too full of memories. She decided to sell the house. She sold their cars, and she bought an SUV to pack for trips to the sea and mountains. She sold the furniture. She gave away their books to the local library. She hired a company to digitize and sort their family photos, and sent the originals to her daughter. She donated her own clothes to Goodwill, and bought a new wardrobe. She even shipped the cat to her daughter, having kept it for her since she had left for college 8 years ago.
She rented a cottage on Balboa Island, a simple but quaint one-bedroom place with a little space in the front surrounded by a low white picket fence. She purchased large, high backed whicker chairs, and filled the little yard with multicolored flowers. She did not know how life would unfold, but she knew that she needed to travel light if she was to experience the journey at all. In the mornings, she read her bible, and in the afternoons she walked two blocks to the ocean to catch the last glorious rays of the setting sun.
As she dismantled her material world, her friends said privately that she was lost to grieving or having a midlife crisis. She could see the fear they felt. She felt no fear herself. She felt she was moving toward a new life. She felt that God wanted her to live her life fully in the present, unshackled to the losses of the past.
When she decided to fly to Greece to spend a month in the village of Theologos on the island of Thassos, Greece, her still married friends again just shook their heads.
She picked Thassos because it was an island, less acceptable to a flood of tourists, and because it was a mountainous area that tourists would find difficult to navigate on the narrow two lane roads. She also wanted to travel the long mountain paths that crisscrossed among the villages.
When she arrived at the capital of Theologos, she was surprised at the natural beauty of the region. Nature had cycled through itself, renewing its grandeur endlessly even as the generations of inhabitants died away. In the first days there, she began to explore the many stone memorials that marked the coming and going of these generations. In days before vehicles or roads were available, the people had formed paths from every village to the south ending at Theologos.
Sanctuaries and shrines were scattered throughout the village. The Church of St. Demitrios held the treasured iconoclast that gave the village its sense of pride and identity. The villages to the south were generally no more than one day’s walk away, and in the first weeks, she hiked those ancient trails, often choosing to pause often to enjoy the beauty of the area, and to journal. She would then stay at an inn or a home offering a room and a meal in one of the villages. In her first two weeks alone, she visited the tiny villages of Kastro, Maries, Kazaviti, Aliki, Rachoni, Panagia, and Potamia.
It was on her walk to the last village, Potamia, that she encountered him. He was as stark and sudden as finding a burning bush in the wilderness. He was alone, dressed in white, with a large panama hat, and working to adjust a tripod as he aimed his camera and lens in the direction of a waterfall surrounded by lush ferns and blooming lilies. He was perhaps 45, she thought, with just the beginnings of gray showing in his hair. He was tall, lean, and she thought even handsome. He was so absorbed in his work that he did not hear or see her standing there, and for a while she just watched him.
Morning glories hung from the surrounding trees, turning toward the midmorning sun. The water sparkled with the light, and the splashing of the stream soothed her. She had not encountered a single person in all her hikes. The trails were so ancient, and now so little used, that at times they seemed to disappear, and she feared she would be lost. Finding someone here both irritated and attracted her. She had come here to avoid people, or more exactly, she had come to make peace with the shattered parts of her life. She decided to engage in some short civil exchange, and move on. He did not appear to be Greek, with blond hair, blue eyes. If he didn’t speak English, the whole matter would be over in under a minute. But, he spoke English.
Surprisingly, he spoke first. He had been aware of her all along. Without looking at her, he began sharing his thoughts on the lighting. “These morning glories are never so morning glorious as right now. The blues are brought out best in the morning light.” Well, so much for introductions, she thought. “They are magnificent,” she agreed. He now turned to her fully. “I’m sorry to be a bit distracted. In my vocation, the light can be fickle. A cloud here, a wind there, and the entire situation changes. I have to capture it quickly.” He paused, taking her in. “Your eyes for example, are almost sky blue in this light, but by noon could look azure.” She was both intrigued and disturbed by his easy familiarity. Was he flattering her, or making an objective observation on the matter of color? “I haven’t seen a person on these trails in two weeks. What are the chances I’d meet another American on this remote island?” she noted, feeling the need to change the subject. “Well, you could consider it chance, or you could consider it inevitable.” She smiled at his Delphic comment. “I’ll go with chance,” she said.
“Would you mind holding this light meter?” he asked her. He held it out to her, and unable to say she was late for an appointment in bustling Potamia, she stepped forward to take it. “What do you see here?” he asked her. “You mean these surroundings?” she asked. “Well, just stop all your thoughts. Be still. Be totally here. Feel the energy that’s in this place. What do you see?”
His sphinx-like questions were, like his presence, both attractive and disturbing. He was already interfering with her plans. She decided to go along. After a moment of clearing her mind, and connecting with her raw senses, she shared that she felt a deep quiet, and deep sense of endlessness. “Yes!” he almost yelled. “That is what I want to capture in these photos.” “It seems to me you want to capture God in a box.” He was now the one to be off-guard. “What do you mean?” he asked, now focusing totally on her. “I mean religions are doing this all the time. Your box is your camera. Religions use a tabernacle. Moses used an elaborate tent made to God’s specifications. Later, the tent became a permanent temple. In 1551 the Council of Trent confirmed as dogma that the person of the transubstantiated Christ was to be kept in a “sacred place” –just another way of saying a box.”
He was surprised by the depth and irreverence of her statements. “Well, it’s pretty clear you don’t care much for religion. But I was talking about capturing the feeling and presence of an eternal moment. I consider that art, not religion. That’s why I’m here with a camera, instead of on my knees in the sanctuary back at St. Demetrius” he smiled.
“Nothing like a little light chit chat while stuck in a traffic jam on the way to Potamia,” she said after a while. They both laughed. She felt more comfortable with him now, maybe because he was so obviously engaged in his world that she did not feel him crowding in upon hers. He walked over to his knapsack, pulling a brown bag from it. “Join me for lunch?” It was now nearly noon, and she was hungry, and a little tired. “I hope you called in reservations,” she joked. “Oh, that “God in a box” you mentioned. Well, yes I called him, and he wasn’t in . . . or maybe he was in, but not returning his calls. Anyway, here we are in the most exclusive dining establishment, and we have our choice of tables” he laughed as he swept his arm over the surroundings.
She found herself enjoying the company of a man who knew nothing of her 30 years of marriage, or of the man she loved, or their common friends, or the long empty nights that followed his death. She had come here not to deny the past, but to move beyond it. He seemed to so focused in the present, so captured by it even, that he didn’t probe into her past, but asked mostly questions about what she was doing and thinking now. And so they talked of his photography and how he selected the Island of Thassos for his current work. She simply said she was on a vacation, and wanting to be away from whatever everyone else was trying to see. He asked about what she liked or disliked about the Island and people. He asked about her current interests, and how she most enjoyed her time. He asked if she was working on “any interesting projects” even without asking what she did for a vocation or avocation. “Do you mean in my work?” she asked. His answer felt liberating. “Not necessarily. Any project—whatever is important to you.”
She looked up through the trees at the shafts of light penetrating into the forest floor. She spoke slowly. “No projects, she said, just being here is enough.” She avoided explaining her husband’s death, that the children had left home, and that her friends seemed not to understand the changes she was making in her life. She had come here to leave those questions behind.
When she finished, he remained quiet. Finally, he said, “Are you discovering what you hoped to find here?” “Yes and no” she replied, moving toward a grassy area next to the pool fed by the waterfall. She sat on the grass, wrapping her arms around her knees as she brought them up to her chest. She let herself be drawn into the hypnotic sounds and sight of the swirling water. He waited, but she did not speak again for a long while. He walked over to her. He pulled an imaginary ticket from his pocket. “Let’s see, row A, seat 37, Orchestra section. Yes, I see we’ll be sharing this performance together.” He sat down beside her, looking as she did into the play of the water over the rocks. “My name is Alonso”, he said finally, offering his hand in a formal introduction. She took it, smiled, and nodded “I’m Michelle.”
He offered her some of his lunch. She declined. He ate silently enjoying the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the day. She felt surprisingly comfortable with this man. She appreciated that he did not feel the need to fill every moment with talk. She did not know why, but she let herself relax further. It was odd, she thought, that they could just “be” like this in one another’s presence, having just met.
He packed his equipment, and they walked together the several hours of hiking needed to reach Potamia. The village sat nestled in a valley filled with vineyards and orchards. Farmers mostly supplied the Island, the costs of exporting their crops exceeding their profits. It was dusk when they arrived. They had walked mostly in silence, stopping when Alonso found a perspective too compelling to resist. She waited for him patiently, taking the opportunity to take in the vistas herself. She marveled at the way his interest narrowed and enlarged as the situation might intrigue him: one moment a flower, the next the horizon.
“Why did you come to this island?” she asked him ask they walked. “I came to find some respite from the insanity of the world” he answered, “and to pursue my avocation of photography.” “What made your world insane?” she asked him after a long moment of silence. “Repetition of meaningless routines”, he answered. “I finally came to the point of asking what did my life count for, and was I living it the way I wanted?” “What brought you to ask that question?” she probed further. “I’m dying” he said matter-of-factly. He continued a few steps, then realized she had stopped. He turned around to face her. “Oh” he said, not waiting for her to speak. “We’re all dying anyway. I simply happen to have a better idea than most when my time will be over. I’m dying, but not today” he said smiling.
His attitude lifted the gloom of the subject. Still, she was surprised at how strongly she felt at the news. She hardly knew this man. She walked silently beside him. She realized her thoughts had taken her back to her husband, and things about his leaving her that she had not resolved, or even examined. The idea of another loss was unbearable to her. The idea of anyone dying bothered her more than she knew. She was angry at death itself, and also intimidated by it. She could not shake her fist at it, any more that Captain Ahab could challenge the dark forces of the world he sought to dominate by sheer force of will. Those forces always sucked you down, engulfed you, and left not a trace.
They walked silently. Finally he asked her, “Why the silence?” “I’m thinking” she said, “of the cruelty of death. I’m asking myself why I take personally something that is as impersonal as death. That’s the paradox for me. Something that is simply “here” like the weather. It just is, and it doesn’t care a thing for me, but I care inordinately about it. I’ve been thinking of it far too much lately.”
He didn’t answer, and she felt the selfishness of her comments. He was dying, and she was talking about her attitudes toward death. “I’m sorry.” she said. “For what?” he asked. “I haven’t asked a thing about you. I’m not sure how much you want to share with me. Do you want to talk about it?” “Not really”, he said. But I’ll give you the basics: Stage 3 leukemia, in remission. Good days, bad days. Today is a good day.” “Do you have family?” she asked him. “My children are in their 20s. They have that peculiar disease of young people: they are oblivious to worlds outside their immediate orbit. They turn Copernicus on his head.” Michelle remembered her own kids as they came home for their father’s funeral. There was an obligatory aspect to it for them, as if they were processing the shock, and going through the motions, but eager to get back to their usual worlds.
She heard him laughing. “Yes?” she asked. “Oh, just interesting to see how you go suddenly into your world of thinking.” “Sorry” she said. “Yes, I can do that sometimes. I guess we all have our own worlds where only we reside. “ “What just happened in that big lonely world?” He asked her, smiling. “I just realized, she said, how I blame my kids for being self-absorbed, and that I was pretty self-absorbed myself.” He was silent for a while, then said simply, “Me too.”
They walked along a trail that cut along the edge of the mountain, displaying a tapestry of greens, browns, and reds below them. The sun was lowering along the coast, and clouds were hanging on the horizon, giving the hint of a spectacular sunset to follow. The sun was still high enough to bring a warm feeling around her shoulders. The climbing brought a pleasant heat to her skin, and she liked how the exertion lifted her out of her musings. Just breathing right now felt absorbing enough.
She watched him climb ahead of her on the narrow trail. He was compact, strong, and vibrant in that way that emanates from a joy of living. She felt it. She saw it. She was drawn to it, maybe more because it was surrounded by a shroud of the inevitable. The contradiction of his virility and his illness struck her. She remembered his words that he was not different than anyone else except that the had some clue into the timeline of his immediate mortality. The rest of us, she thought, were on that timeline, but enjoyed the luxury of denial. Looking at him again, she realized the timing of his death, or hers, was irrelevant. Their lives were just a string of moments connected by thin thread.
Finally, Potamia became visible to them, nestled like an old woman in the comfort of her favorite chair, its few lights beginning to show in the dusk of the day. Turning around they looked to the distant setting sun. Swathes of glorious purples, reds, oranges, and pinks spread across the sky, changing hues as they watched. “We need to stop, and just watch this for the moment it is here” he said. She followed him to a grassy knoll, and sat close beside him looking into the sunset.
As the clouds surrounded the sun below, he got up, and noted they had little daylight left to get to the village below. “Would you have dinner with me?” he asked. “I’d love to” she answered. Not surprisingly, they were booked to stay in the only hotel–a large rooming house that was more like a bed and breakfast, a place that offered weekly and monthly rates because few people came to the island for just a night’s stay. Access was too much trouble, and the rates were too low. The things Alonso and Michelle were looking for were far removed from the usual crowds who flocked to places like the Parthenon.
She extended her stay to coincide with his. She enjoyed his company. She found that she enjoyed his love of the moment, his continuous effort to capture the ephemeral. The things she thought were solid, unchanging, and controllable had turned to dust. She was becoming more ready to fly without a flight plan, to cease grasping at the ungraspable moment, letting it be whatever it might choose to be. She began to see in his photography that same playing with the uncontrolled moment.
She called back home to let her real estate agent know she would be staying an extra month, and then an extra six months. The management company paid the bills, and what she couldn’t handle by phone, she handled with the hotels internet service. Her husband’s foresight had left her wealthy, and she was grateful she could simply stay if she chose to stay. In the weeks after their meeting, Alonso decided to reside on the island, renting a cottage in the week after they met. She accompanied him to inspect one of the few houses for rent. The landlord asked for a “long term commitment.” “Of course,” Alonso answered, “As long as you like” and signed the paperwork, noting a term of the lease relieving the tenant of the duty to pay in the event of death. “How considerate” Alonso laughed as he read the provision.
She spent so much time with him that he eventually invited her just to move from the hotel to his place, and she accepted. She stayed in a separate bedroom, and he never sought to make it otherwise. He never sought to kiss her or hold her, and she wondered at that. But she knew he loved her, or maybe loved the presence of her. For all his bravery and bravado, she could sense the terror of being alone. His inner world was not the impregnable sanctum he projected. As the days and evenings together passed, they shared silence like a gourmet meal, to be savored, a time to do extremely well the most simple things. “The sound of your breath marking time in the room with me is music enough” he had said one evening. Could he see that she too loved him, she wondered. Could he see that he had become for her the flirtation between life and death, and that they occupied that fragile space between the two?
She had never loved a man romantically except her husband. She did not know how she would even cross that barrier between his memory and another man. This man was so different than her husband. Maybe it was because he had found a way to let go of almost everything before it was finally taken from him. Dying suddenly left us mid stream in our illusions. Dying slowly, she thought, gave us time to drop things along the way, leaving us only with the essential.
She became grateful that they lived in that slow world of friendship unclouded by sexual passion. She longed to hold him, and to be held by him, but she also felt safer. She had for a while she even felt guilty moving in with him, as if committing adultery against a dead husband. She struggled with keeping her situation a secret from her children, as if she were living in sin. She emailed them with her location, but omitted any details about Alonso. It was just too much trouble to explain.
One evening, as the fireplace embers began to burn down in the late of the evening, he rested from sorting and storing his photography of the day, and poured a glass of wine for them both. She put aside her book, and joined him on the couch. The chickadees kept rhythm outside. A cool breeze fluttered the white linen covering the window. She watched him as he gazed into the fire. He had grown weaker, and more pale. He no longer took the long jaunts they had first taken early each morning. She had not breached the subject of his condition with him, thinking he would do that if he chose, and when he was ready. “Are you continuing to receive treatment?” she asked him as the flames played against the shadows of the room. “No” he answered, with that wonderful direct clarity she had come to love about him. Death had brought an economy of speech to his life. He wasted words no more than he wasted breath. “More treatment might have bought me 6 more months. I would have been tethered to a treatment center, living my last days filled with chemicals and radiation that made those last months wretched. I’ve decided to go out on my own terms.”
“What happens as you get weaker?” she dared to ask him. I’ll die here” he responded. “That’s your plan?” she asked, nonplused. “Well, it wasn’t my first plan.” he said with that sly smile he had from the day they first met. “Were you planning on just dying here, alone, with no friends or family?” She felt the accusation in her words. She knew those words were more about her own fears of losing him, of losing life itself, than it was concern for him. “I’m sorry” she said finally, now also staring into the hypnotic dance of the flames. “It’s your death. How you plan it is up to you.” They had come to feel comfortable with silence, but now the silence was a wall between them. He did not know how to reach across her fears to her heart, but he tried: “I thought dying alone would be easier, for me, and for everyone. Saying goodbye while you can is better than those dramatic last breath moments. I’ve taken care of that business. But I didn’t plan on the gift you’ve brought to me. That has been pure grace. You have made these days wonderful for me.”
He reached for her hand. She drew closer to him, placing her arm on his shoulder, and turning toward him. He pulled her closer to him, holding her, and she let her head rest against his chest. The beating of his heart and rise and fall of his breathing consoled her. She was content just to be held like this, in a refuge from the storm of her thoughts. He pulled away, and lifting her chin with his finger tips, he kissed her lightly on the lips. She responded, pressing her lips more to his.
The sensation of another man’s lips upon hers after so many years was strange initially, like a new key to her soul. She pulled away after a few seconds, and again let her head simply rest in the curve of his shoulder. He seemed to sense her need to let the experience just be for a while.
For weeks now they had been virtually inseparable, never touching except as friends might touch. Yet this time of kissing was as natural to her as opening the door just wide enough to let him fully enter for a morning cup of coffee. But like someone awakening from a deep sleep, she needed to get her bearings. Who was she now, and what were these feelings for another man? For a moment she thought her husband might walk in on them at any moment, as if this were just a dream, and he had not died at all. They knew they had little time for hiding feelings or thoughts. I need time, she said. I think I better just go to bed now. He stroked her hair and for a second rested his open hand on her cheek, then nodded agreement. He sat by the fire a long time afterwards, alone, finally falling asleep there.
When he awoke, she was gone, and her things with her. She left a note. He could not finish it. He simply grasped she was gone, and he dropped it to the floor. Later, maybe hours later, as his body seemed to come from a deep well of water to grasp the first air of the day, he picked it up again. “I cannot bear to love you and see you die. I cannot bear to lose someone again. My heart cannot bear such pain. Please forgive me.”
He walked outside, just to be walking, like a man pretending to have a destination, he needed this walking to seem alive, to be aware that he was not just a jumble of numbness and pain. By noon, he had exhausted himself, and he returned to their little home. Then he cried a death cry, a cry of things ending, small and great, until nothing remained. Finally, he fell asleep.
When she returned 3 months later, he was hardly able to walk. His disease had ravaged him, and she was shocked at seeing him. She had tried to reach him. He did not respond. She learned from calling the landlord that he as hardly ever seen, but still lived there. She asked how he was. After a moment of hesitation, “Not well. Not well at all” was the answer. “If you want to see him, Michelle, you should come quickly.” “Don’t let him know I’m coming,” she made him promise. “He may leave or try to stop me if he knows.”
He was sitting in a rocker on the porch, with a blanket around his shoulders on a warm October day as she walked the narrow cobblestone street leading to his house. He saw her nearly 50 yards away. In his weakness, he thought he was hallucinating. He lowered his face into his hands, massaging his own temples for a moment, then looked up again. She was closer now. He forced himself to stand. He used a cane, and moved his body down the three stairs leading to the walkway. He stood a few seconds there, gathering his resolve, and moved toward her, reaching the iron gate leading to the courtyard just as she arrived.
She said nothing. She stood there, looking at him through the bars. His heart beat against his chest savagely, only partly from fatigue. He reached forward, and unlatched the gate, and with an effort she could see in his face, he pulled it toward him, stepping back once to allow it to fully open. Still she stood there, not sure what to do but searching his eyes. His eyes were still that clear intense blue of a fully alive man. She felt his soul would always burn with him until it could hold him no longer. He was frail, drawn, and hardly recognizable from just 3 months earlier. She refused to let her shock register in her face or voice. “Come in” he finally said. He voice was steady, calm, and without anger.
They walked slowly back to the porch, as he pulled himself up the stairs. He motioned to her to pull a chair near him, and to be comfortable. He seemed almost to fall into the rocker, catching his breath. “The courtyard is as lovely as ever,” she noted. “I so loved sitting here in the cool of the evening listening to the water bubbling in the fountain.” He didn’t answer. Then after a minute, “Why are you here?” he asked in a flat tone that told her how deeply she had wounded him. “First, I think I should explain why I left.” “I know why you left, he interrupted. “I never questioned why you left, although it hurt me deeply. Yes, I was angry for a while, and it consoled me to think how you had wronged me. But I knew resentment was a luxury my remaining time did not permit.” “Do you forgive me?” Michelle pleaded, kneeling at his feet, and placing her head in his lap. “I am so, so sorry Alonso.” He stroked her hair as she sobbed. Shssh, he said softly. I forgave you months ago. But I need to know why you are here. She looked at him quizzically. Reading her eyes, he asked, “Was it guilt, remorse, pity? Why are you here?”
She stood up, drying her eyes and pulled her chair close to his, taking his hand. She looked steadily into his tired eyes. “Because I love you, and I want to be with you every remaining minute God allows us.” His face softened, and that charming boyish smile returned. Whatever took you away, he said, I’m grateful you returned.
The evening he died, a thunderstorm suddenly moved in. The rain pounded against the windows of his bedroom. I’m so cold he had told her. She brought another blanket, and got into bed with him, and wrapping the blanket around them both, she held him closely, listening for the sound of his breath. He seemed to labor less with her holding him like this. She stroked his hair, as she had stroked her children’s hair when they awoke in the night from a nightmare. She tried not to cry. The rain outside pounded, and the small house vibrated with the sudden explosions of nearby thunder. She felt as if she were holding him over a precipice, unable to pull him from the vortex that had its hands upon his throat. She knew he was slipping away. His breaths were slower now, with long gaps between them.
“I love you Alonso. I will never forget you, my dear friend. God loves you so. Don’t be afraid. He is with you now and he will welcome you into his presence soon my beloved.” She was crying now, her tears falling upon his face. He lifted a hand to her eyes, gently touching her there, and wiped away one of her tears. Then his eyes opened, and he seemed suddenly energized and alert. Looking away from her now, and toward the foot of the bed, he asked, “Do you see him?” “Who my darling?” “There,” he motioned. “There, the man dressed in glowing white.” She could not tell him she did not see. “What is he saying? she asked. He did not respond to her, but now his attention was focused on the being he believed to be there. “Yes” he spoke as if to that unseen someone. “Yes” he said again. “I’m ready,” he answered to an unspoken question. Then he turned to her, and again he reached to gently to touch her lips, and smiling, he turned away from her again, lowered his hand, and closed his eyes. She felt his last breath against her cheek, felt his body go limp, and knew at last he was freed from all the unanswered questions and unending pain.
She buried him on the island, just as he had requested of her. The day was clear, bright, and warm, with a slight ocean breeze that reached far inland. She returned to their house, and packed his remaining things, giving them to the villagers as they gathered outside to sort through whatever remained. As he also requested, she took possession of his catalogued photographs. In the years that followed, she arranged for them to be exhibited. Eventually, his work became widely respected, and their private story became public as galleries told the background of the work and how it came to be discovered.
At one exhibition, twenty years later, someone asked what she most remembered about him. Pausing a moment, she replied, “I remember the day he opened the courtyard gate for me, and said, ‘Come in.’”
(c) 2010 FXP