Updated: Jun 15, 2022
A short story about everlasting love's new chances, old memories.
Music to listen to while reading:
Time in a Bottle (Jim Croce)
One Last Dance (Us the Duo)
You (A Great Big World)
Saturn (Sleeping at Last)
Miles Apart (Nick Wilson)
Your eyes stare up at me with such tired, tender longing. I say tired, not because you are. At least, not in the sense that your body is tired, but that your soul has lived so many years, that you have seen so many things, and now that the end looms close, you want it to come, just so you can rest. It is almost as if all I can see is the tiredness in your eyes, as if your eyes aren’t set so deep in the wrinkles of your worn face and the little spots the sun has left over the years. As if your arms don’t rest so unnaturally still by your sides, your legs stretched out beside me, heavy from holding your weight all these years.
I take your hand in mine, feel how delicate it is. Almost like a skeleton, as if you’ve already passed into the next life. But you haven’t. Not yet. This life still clings to you the way I cling to your hand, to these final moments.
My lips are warm against your chilly skin as I brush them across your knuckles. “Loraina …” The name rolls off my tongue and you shiver as if I touched your soul rather than spoken. I shake my head, as if trying to rid my mind of the screaming my heart lets rush forth. To busy my hands, I tuck the blankets up under your chin, just the way you like it.
“How has it come to this?” I clench my jaw, knowing you can’t answer such a rancid question meant only for a vengeful god. A tear burns in my eye as a strange smile lifts your thin lips. I brush my hand across your cheek, tracing the lines of this body that holds you, confines you. “Why did … why …” The words catch in my throat and I’m unable to finish.
“Do you remember?” Your voice, though so old and weak, sounds as sweet as a bird’s, like home to my ears.
I have to lean closer to hear your words. Though I’ve heard this question a thousand times, I want to hear it clearly again, have to hear it again. It’s the only hope I can grasp onto. But this time, just this once, I wish I could answer you with something other than, “No. I don’t.”
Sadness clouds your eyes but then you look past my shoulder as if looking into a dream or a memory. “That’s okay,” you whisper softly and then cough. “That’s okay. I remember. I’ll remember for both of us.”
The tender grip you have on my hand tightens and I cup my other hand over yours.
“We were beautiful.”
The tears roll down my cheek as I listen. I do nothing to push them away as I nod, and you continue.
“It was hard. Many things stood in our way but …” A glaze covers your eyes and I see something sparkle in their depths as you remember the life we shared before this one. A life your dementia has made clear, and my youth has turned sour.
“But we made it work,” I finish for you and a smile brightens your face.
The familiar knot forms in my chest. “But …” I loosen my grip on your fingers, resisting the urge to throw something across the room. Mainly the picture of you and the man you spent this life loving. “But it didn’t work this time.”
Your wrinkles deepen as you frown. “Yes. It did. We are beautiful.”
My forehead presses against yours as I smooth the white hair from your face and behind your ear. “No, love. It didn’t. The timing was all wrong. You lived … without me.”
You look so confused and I regret bringing this up. This is no way for you to spend your last hours.
Something like realization dawns on your face and I wonder if you are remembering, if only briefly, of the man you married, had children with, loved, grieved, and then forgot as dementia overtook your mind. “No, it didn’t work.” Emotion chokes your words and I know you’ve remembered again this pain we share.
I try to lighten the mood. “Do you remember when we met?”
Your eyes brighten and you laugh. “Yes. It was … um …”
“In the coffee shop.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” You nod and chuckle. “You spilled the coffee all over me, like a klutz.”
Even through the thick tears in my eyes, I smile and laugh with you. “It was my first day of work. You were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”
“Even so old?”
“Even so old.” It was true. Though she had been nearly triple my age, I had been enamored, had forgotten my job and all my senses, and tripped, sending the coffee I had been carrying spilling all over her. “And when your eyes met mine …”
Your hand was warm now as I brought it to my lips again and you finished my sentence.
“None of it mattered. Because I knew, and you knew, that our souls had loved each other in a previous life, and we had found each other again.”
“Yes,” I whisper as I rest my head on your shoulder and breathe in your scent. It’s so faint now and tainted with the sickness that has been dragging you down for years, the very one we spent all our time together battling. But if I focus on the memory of that delicate scent underneath the illness, I can almost, almost remember …
“I died too young …” Your words trail off, but I already know what you’re trying to say.
You died too young in the last life. Your soul entered a new body long before mine had. And the timing was all off—all wrong. I found you too late, far too late, in this life and we had been given hardly any time together. We had been wronged.
But next time … next time will be different.
Your grip on my hand slackens and your breath suddenly becomes shallow. Panic rises within me, but I push it down.
“It’s okay,” you whisper, and I nod, cupping your face in my hand, memorizing the way our souls touch and resonate more than our bodies ever could.
“I know. I know.”
Your eyes slide close. “Find me,” you whisper as your chest rises, heaving once more.
“I will. I promise I will.” I bite back the screams of grief that well up in my throat as the heart monitor drones one, horrific, loud note. And just like the breath of the wind, you’re gone.
I take only one moment to stare at your face, so old, so gentle, so peaceful, and to feel how your soul no longer resonates with mine for this body was only a vessel, before I stand and reach for the metal at my side.
The cold barrel is pressed against my head now. The trigger cuts into my finger. “We’ll be together next time. I promise.”
I lurch awake, a cold sweat dripping from my forehead, my heart racing violently in my chest. It takes me a moment to realize my surroundings. I’m in my room. It’s nighttime. I’ve just awakened from a dream … or nightmare. I touch the side of my head, at the temple, where it throbs painfully. The echoes of the ghost gunshot ring tauntingly in my ears.
Everything is quiet and still in the nighttime darkness. As my heart calms and breathing evens, I repeat to myself that it was a dream, only a dream … But if it had been, why had it felt so … real?
My hands grope the sheets and I feel my wife beside me. Her presence calms me and grounds me to this reality.
She stirs, rolling over to face me and in the moonlight streaming through the crack in the curtains, I can just barely make out her face. Her eyes flutter open and our gazes meet.
“It’s you.” A lurch of emotions suddenly chokes me, and I feel my heart stop. You blink sleepily against the dim light as you try to grasp wakefulness.
“What do you mean? Of course, it’s me,” you mumble against the blanket you’ve tucked under your chin just the way you like.
Tears slip from my eyes as I find my voice again. “No, I mean … it’s you … it worked. The timing is right again … it worked.” I can hardly contain this indescribable emotion that overcomes me as I realize it hadn’t been just a dream. I shakily take your face in my hands and gently press my lips against yours, as if for the first time. “Do you … do you remember?”
You rub your eyes. “Remember what?”
Something like a laugh bubbles from my lips as I caress your soft skin and gently kiss your sleepy eyes. “That’s okay, love.” I kiss your forehead, letting my lips linger on your skin, imagining them lingering on your soul, and lay back down beside you, pulling you impossibly close, feeling the way our souls touch more than our bodies ever could.
You nestle into my embrace, letting sleep gently pull you away again.
“That’s okay. I remember.” I breath in your familiar scent, the one that brings back wisping memories of lives gone past, my fingers threading through yours. “And this time, I’ll remember for both of us.”
Thank you so much for reading! If you enjoyed this short story, you'll love Aphotic Love, an Anthology on the Depths of Romance. Available worldwide on major retailers like Barnes&Noble and Amazon. You can also order your copy from my shop.
May the suns smile upon your presence...
—Effie Joe Stock