My left foot is suddenly painful. I take off my shoe carefully. The nails have penetrated the sole of the shoe and raked my instep. There is blood. I hear my name being called softly; a seductive female voice, rising and falling, squeezing a siren song from its monosyllabic form: “G-e-o-ff.”
It’s a dream.
I wake up in your bed.
Not the second-best bed that Shakespeare left his wife, but your second (best) bed; the bed you bought for yourself just before we met; the bed that had been intended to celebrate your new-found aloneness; the bed in which we slept, made love, argued over the duvet, drank tea, laughed, talked into the night, made plans, and dreamed of a life together. The bed that was too small for two people to sleep in comfortably. The bed we moved into the sitting room when you could no longer climb the stairs.
I’m alone in the house apart from Ted who is curled up on the floor between me and the doorway to the kitchen. He sticks closer to me these days, now that you’ve gone. The house creaks and groans as a winter storm lashes the trees in the garden and curls around the old stones. I listen carefully. Was it your voice I heard? If so, you are silent now.
I reach out for the alarm clock and bring it close to my face. Without my glasses, it’s hard to make out the exact position of the hands. I guess that it’s about 5.30 a.m. Yesterday was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. It’s pitch black outside. I turn on the light, step over Ted – who glances up at me and thumps his tail three or four times on the carpet – and make my way into the kitchen. I’m still half asleep; I make a mug of tea, bring it back to bed and think of you.
Portugal. August 2013. The first big seizure. The brutal diagnosis. “Inoperable,” they said in broken English. We sat in the hospital corridor, unable to move, for what seemed like hours. Suddenly, I looked at you and saw you gazing back at me. All the ifs and buts and maybes that had characterized our relationship simply melted away.
“Will you marry me?” I said.
“Yes,” you said.
Five words. That’s all it took, after a decade of dithering, to seal the bond between us. Love spoke and we obeyed its call. No champagne, no flowers, no extravagant gestures. Just two people weeping for joy in the face of disaster. And four months later came the wedding: the public declaration and ongoing private commitments of marriage.
I lean back on the pillows of your second (best) bed, the bed in which you died not three weeks ago, and let the memories of our wedding suffuse my slow waking into the day. Imprinted on my heart is the glory of you, radiant in your flame silk dress, as our families and friends sing “Sweetheart Come” and bind our hands together with a hundred multi-coloured ribbons.
Walk with me now under the stars
For it’s a clear and easy pleasure
And be happy in my company
For I love you without measure
Blessings to all who held and continue to hold us in their love.