“Dead Tree” by IIse Morris

 

She reached out and touched his hand, the way she always did at this time of day, when the afternoon shadows grew long and smoky and warm. He continued to read, but she knew, almost as if she could feel it through her hands, that he loved her touch. There was a deep, lasting comfort in their presence with each other, like a fire that had died down to its last golden embers, but that still radiated with the heat of its fiercest blaze.

He turned the page and smiled, as if he had read something amusing, but then he lifted his eyes to meet hers. “Thank you,” he said, rubbing his forefinger over the slender bones in her hand.

“For what?” she said.

He looked at her for a long time, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes smiling with the rest of his face, his finger making a slow, circular motion.

“For everything,” he finally said.

Her eyes fluttered, opened, and then closed again.

They slept.

Morning brought its usual market basket of sounds and smells: the sunshine creeping down the wall outside their window; birds noisily warring for territory and sex; the trash truck rumbling and crashing in its distant corner of the universe. But today something was different. Something was…missing. She lay, half-asleep, wondering what it was. It was like forgetting to add baking soda to the cake recipe so that it would not rise, and so this morning would not rise without this one missing ingredient. What was it?

His breathing.

She grabbed his hand. Cool to the touch. Unresponsive. Like a tall oak that finally had lost its powerful clutch of the earth and slumped to the forest floor during the night, or a grandfather clock that had not been wound and gave its last declaration at midnight, the man was gone. The hands would not move again, not ever tell the time, nor play the guitar or make banana pancakes or caress her body in love. The time had come for him to go. And so he had.

She lay there, fully awake now, not wanting to move, knowing that when she did, a circus of madness would begin ~ of grieving, of fateful decisions, of old encounters, of new opportunities. She wanted to be with him, alone this final moment, one that was all theirs, lingering in the private intimacy of their love.

She cried.

When the sun had fully drenched the wall outside their window, she knew it was mid-morning, and so she rose, dressed, and reached for the phone.

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