(This is my first attempt at a short story. I want to edit it, add more detail.)
I loved my wife Val. She had golden hair and wore sundresses at every opportunity she could. In the Summer, she would always plan out these elaborate picnics for the two of us, even though I never really cared for picnics. After the third lunch in the park near our apartment, I came to appreciate the small sandwiches and fresh fruits and cool waters she pulled from the igloo.
She infected me like that.
We were married on a sunny day. She planned the wedding out. Ever since she was young, she always dreamed that she would be married in an open field, surrounded by rolling hills and luscious pine trees. Maybe, if we were lucky, there would even be a mountain the background. So she planned our wedding for August in Sonoma Valley at a small church, built on the bank of a river. That day, the sun rose auspiciously and brought us good fortune.
Around noon, the clouds rolled lazily in, but only after we gave our vows and said ‘I do’. There was crying and such on both our behalves. It was quite a beautiful ceremony.
Our guests consisted of her parents, my parents, friends, past and present, family; the standard. We ate and danced under a vanilla colored tent, propped up only by poles and spikes. As the night waned and the wedding became more inebriated, rain fell onto the tarp above, creating a chattering above and below as the party danced.
Eventually we had to take the first dance. I was never the dancing type of guy, only when it came to joking around or being completely drunk in a crowded room.
She came up to me, dressed in her beautiful white wedding gown, hair and train flowing, smiling that wide smile that showed her magnificent teeth (even though when she was a youth, she fell at a fountain in Paris and shattered her front teeth, so she received veneers. Even though her front four teeth were artificial, she still had a disarming smile.)
She grabbed my hand, “James, let’s dance.”
Her playlist began with the first song we danced to, which was a jazzy, ambient song that was played in the dive bar we frequented in San Francisco. I loved cello and she went crazy for high hats and trumpets, usually with some scaling thrown in.
We swayed a bit, back and forth. Sometimes she spun.
“You sure?” I asked. “I’m a bit tipsy.”
“Yes, just do it,” she insisted.
I dipped her, focusing intently on planting my leg underneath her so I didn’t drop her. She leaned back, her hair gracefully sweeping the floor, and I brought her back up again. She came back up into my arms, smiling throughout the ascension.
We spent the rest of the night, dancing closely, her head tilted gently on my shoulder as friends and family would circle around, congratulating the two of us on this glorious event.
The night ended. Everyone staggered out into the parking lot, shaking the hands of friends, new and old. My drunk, single college buddies came up and patted me on the back a bit too hard, shouting how I am now a lost man and that I’ll miss being single, all within earshot of the bridal party. I smiled and told them that I appreciated their attendance.
Val and I were the last to leave the parking lot. She and I drove to the hotel and fell asleep, tangled up with one another.
Life passed. We both had jobs, taxes, debts, two children. But in the midst of it all, she still managed to convince me to go on a picnic every so often.
“James, it’s a perfectly nice day, and we’ve had a hard week. It’ll be quick. I’ll make the sandwiches, you get the stuff.”
I tried to reason my way out of it. She would stand there with her elbows bowed out, hands cemented on her hips, head cocked to the side.
“But we need to-”
With each word I spoke, her head would tilt and her pupils would widen just a bit more.
“Okay, okay,” I conceded.
She clapped her hands lightly and kissed me on the cheek, “Yay!”
I grabbed the igloo and she made the lettuce wraps. They weren’t particularly filling, but they were good.
She sniffed around.
“I smell copper somewhere. Do you smell that?” she asked.
“No. Maybe you should wash your hands? See if that would help?” I advised.
She nodded and washed her hands in the basin with that beautiful cucumber melon scent that she’s had for years.
We went out to the park and had our picnic. It was delightful as always.
Life continued to pass.
My hair started falling out, my beard began to show signs of greying, until it altogether turned white. Retirement was looming, so I decided to purchase a convertible Miata, although I didn’t drive it too often.
Val’s aging process was enviable, to say the least. The lines on her face were beautiful, creasing into a permanent smile, as was to be expected. She remained active, as she took walks ranging from small trips downtown to long hikes in the state park.
She would forget words, which is normal as a person grows older. However, her sunny disposition never faded. Age would never take that.
We decided to watch a movie in the living room for our 25th anniversary. It was a comedy that we watched fairly regularly. She sat down on the brown couch that was handed down from her father, while I made popcorn in the kitchen.
I stood at the island, pouring kernels into a ceramic bowl, sprinkling them with salt, pepper, garlic salt, a little cayenne, and some butter. I threw the bowl into the microwave. The television made a bit of noise as I stood there, waiting. The popcorn began popping, and crescendoed until the timer went off. I poured the popcorn into the bowl.
“What?” she yelled from the living room.
“What?” I yelled back.
“Did you say something?” she asked.
I twisted my face into a confused expression,”No Val, just getting popcorn.”
There was a slight pause. “Oh, ok.”
We watched the movie. We laughed quite a bit, as we always do.
One day in November, she fainted. While in the hospital, Val told the doctor about her headaches. I didn’t know she had headaches.
A few scans later, we discovered it was a brain tumor. Temporal lobe.
The doctor told us his prognosis,”Typically, when we have a patient with a brain tumor, we gauge whether or not the tumor is capable of being removed. When you have a temporal lobe tumor, it’s typical for one to forget words, hear voices, smell peculiar scents, and to experience short term memory loss.”
She sat in the examination room, resting her hands in her lap. She looked at him with a glossed look, trying to smile, but she showed no signs of tears.
“The tumor has been there for a while, given the size of it. In my professional opinion, I don’t believe we can operate,” he explained.
I looked at the doctor and couldn’t find any words to say other than,”You have to.”
He looked at me with a disappointed look in his face, shaking his head side to side. I have to believe this never gets easier for these doctors.
Shaking, I begged again,”You have to.”
The doctor left the room.
Val held my hand and looked at me. Her eyes dismantled me, and I heard her speak. I heard her say ‘it’s ok’ without moving her lips. I couldn’t stop crying, but what else am I supposed to do?
We were in that room for a few hours. She stayed for me, I know that. In the first ten minutes she was probably ready to leave and go home and to set the table while I made a chicken casserole and we’d fall asleep and wake up grinning at each other because the day started and she was there and I was there and it was fine.
I couldn’t move. My feet melded with the linoleum floor as the patients slowly shuffled past the closed door. ______________________-
She refused to get any sort of hospital treatment, as she’d rather just live out the two, almost three months, she left with me.
Each day was a struggle. I would wake up a few minutes before she would and cry. I could she her eyes fluttering, dreaming. A few times I asked her what she dreamed about, and she could never remember.
As time progressed, her tumor grew. She took medication to ease the pain, although her lucidity began to evade us. Each conversation we had became more and more simplistic. Typically it ranged from the quality of the flowers by the front door, to daily tasks, to how tired she was.
A few weeks after the diagnosis, I asked her in the living room,”Val, do you want to go on a picnic?”
Her medicated eyes turned to me and said,”No, I’m too tired.”
I collapsed onto the floor, bawling, my legs sprawled into the hallway like the fractured limbs of a Grecian urn.
Val walked over to my heaving body and laid down next to me and held me. She tried to speak, as I felt her diaphragm waiver a bit, but she eventually stopped trying to find the words and we fell asleep throughout the house.
Val died smiling.
At that point, she didn’t have a will or last requests or anything of that nature. It was merely up to me to decide. I was never good with these sorts of things. I could barely plan my own birthday party, eventually saying ‘screw it’ and eating at a pizza place.
How was I supposed to plan my last tribute to my wife?
I can say that I cried the entire time. I don’t remember crying around Val. Every time I was down, she would be there to stop me, holding my hands, putting her eyes right in front of mine. I would laugh, and we’d go about our day.
Not this time. She wasn’t there to console me as I cried in the flower shop, searching for the perfect bouquet of flowers and inevitably failing to choose because nothing was good enough. I cried into each envelope that was sent to inform her friends and family of her departure.
They call the family of the departed ‘survivors’. I now understand the war survivors truly go through.
I laid down in our bed. It was so wide, so empty. The sheets bunched in the wrong places. My feet roamed, searching for what they longed for like desert marauders. She was no longer there.
Eventually, inexplicably, I fell asleep a few minutes before sunrise. Maybe it was God, maybe it was her, but came to me in my sleep.
She was floating just a bit above my standing body, although I never saw my limbs. I don’t remember where we were. It was partially cloudy behind her, but an aura surrounded her, as it always had.
She looking at me with darling eyes,”It’s ok.”
“No, it’s not,” I professed. “It absolutely isn’t.”
“I would hold you if I could,” she conveyed, as she didn’t move her lips. Her body seemed to move in a sinusoidal wave around me, even though I saw her the entire time.
Grey, everything around us was grey. I remembered that.
“What do I do, Val?”
She looked down on me, tilting her head a bit. She looked sad. That gave me a sense of relief.
I woke up.
A few days passed, and I decided to do what Val probably would have appreciated. She would have told me how anything I did would be great, but she was that kind of person.
We held a memorial for her in the park. Myself, along with some friends, made a picnic for everyone that was attending. It seemed fitting.
Her memorial was held in August at the base of a grassy hill. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The attendance wasn’t large, but those that came absolutely adored her. One of the requirements for coming to this memorial was that everyone wear their summertime clothing. Women came in skirts and sundresses, men came in button down shirts. Everyone wore the traditional shades to block the sun and to hide their tears.
I don’t think Val owned a single piece of black clothing.
Some spoke about her life, some described her personality. They were all great, and I appreciated their words of adoration for Val.
Eventually I stood at the front of the group. I started my speech, shaking, tearing up before I could even utter the first word. I looked at the group, and her life played out in front of my eyes, in each person that was here. To her, it was never about her. I realized that, and smiled.
“I loved my wife, Val.”