“Really? It’s a bit cold and windy, isn’t it?”
“Don’t worry, I’ve come prepared.” I pulled a blanket from one of the bags and passed it to her. She smiled and we made our way down to the beach.
We chose a spot suitably close to the shoreline and I set up our picnic area: a large blanket to sit on, a five-pole windbreaker, and a hamper full of good food and a fine bottle of wine.
“I’m impressed,” said Jess when I was done, taking a seat on the blanket, “you truly have come prepared. You’ve done this before haven’t you? I bet you bring all the women here.”
I laughed. “You got me, I’m a serial picnicker.” I sat down beside her. “Could you pass me the wine? – Thanks, Alice. If you want to get the glasses out, I’ll open this.”
“My name’s Jess.”
“What did I say?”
“Oh sorry, Jess. I don’t know where I got ‘Alice’ from.” I opened the wine, poured, and handed her a glass.
“Don’t worry, it’s fine,” she said. Then, a moment of silence.
The weather was foul, the sea rough; I sat on the patio of the beach café watching the rain and the waves whipped by the wind, imagining what it would be like to be caught in a storm at sea, on some large trawler, or a pirate ship, hundreds of years ago.
A waiter came to clear my table and snapped me out of my daydream. I ordered another tea and returned to the book I’d been reading before my mind had begun to wander.
After we packed away the picnic, I walked her to her car. She turned to say goodbye, stepped forward to kiss me.
“I’m sorry, Cathy,” I said, halting her by gently placing my hands on her shoulders. “I think we should take it slow.”
“Slow? Well, OK, I guess. Something to look forward to next time.”
I smiled and agreed, knowing full well there was not going to be a next time.
The drive home was long, but in some ways it wasn’t long enough. I tried to drift off into a daydream, but I never can when I’m headed home. I sat parked outside for fifteen minutes before I finally left the car. As I walked up to the front door, I took my wedding ring from my pocket and placed it back on my finger.
It was a warm and glowing day. We met with shy smiles and walked close together down to the sand.
“It’s a bit breezy,” I said.
“Don’t worry, I’ve come prepared!” In the bag she carried was a rolled up windbreaker. I laid out the blanket and opened the hamper and we ate and drank wine in the summer warmth, sheltered from the wind. I remember her skin was browned from the sun, and how her yellow hair flashed in the sunlight.
We spoke of small things until the sun began to set, painting the sea red and gold. And when the time came to leave, she kissed me gently on the lips.
I’m ever thankful she did, I didn’t have the courage to kiss her first.
“Alice,” I whisper, gently stroking her brow. She murmurs and blinks open her tired eyes. She’s in pain. Exhausted. She looks ten years older than she is, her skin pale, her yellow hair thin and brittle. “Dr. Mayer is here, she’s just going to see how you’re doing.” My wife shows no sign of comprehension. There are good and bad days. This is a bad day.
After a brief examination, Dr. Mayer decides to raise the dosage of the pain medication; all we can do is try to make Alice as comfortable as possible. When the doctor leaves, I call to cancel with the woman I was supposed to meet tomorrow. I want to be here with my wife, close, should she begin to pass.
I spend the day by her side as she slips in and out of consciousness, talking about our life together, our seventeen years. Whether she can hear me or not I do not know. When night comes I recline in the chair by the side of her bed, blankets draped over my lap. I take her hand in my mine and hold it softly, until at last I feel myself slipping off to sleep.
We spoke of small things until the sun began to set, painting the sea red and gold. And when the time came to leave, she kissed me gently on the lips. I’m ever thankful she did, I didn’t have the courage to kiss her first.
“I’ll see you again?”
“Soon,” I replied.
“Goodbye,” she said. I try now to remember her smile, but it’s no good.