While she slept, I wrote. My desk sat in the corner of the room with me leaning over it, typing furiously. I knew that the end was coming soon, I could feel it. One more chapter was all that was left, but finishing the novel would be bittersweet. Is that all she’s waiting for? I wondered. If so, shouldn’t I slow down? Somehow, I knew that the answer was the opposite. I was racing against the reaper and I didn’t know if I was winning or losing.
“If I’m going out,” she said that night while we were cuddled up together on the sofa with our wine glasses almost empty, “I’m going out the way that I want to.”
She held her glass out and I tapped mine against it, fighting back an ocean’s worth of tears. We drained our glasses and then I pulled her closer to me, shuddering slightly at the feel of her skeleton poking against my shoulder. We stayed that way for a long time, both of us embracing the one thing on earth that we truly loved and staring into the fire.
“I’m sorry,” I said after a while.
Still staring at the fire, she asked, “Why? We’ve had a wonderful life together.”
“I’m sorry that you got sick,” I said. “And, I’m sorry that we never had kids. I know you wanted them.”
She pulled away from me, placed her hands on both sides of my face, and said, “Oh sweetie, none of this is your fault. It’s just my time, and if God wanted us to have children, I’m sure we would have. I’m more worried about you.”
“Of course,” she said. “What are you going to do when I go?”
I pulled her close again and kissed her on her forehead.
“Don’t worry about me,” I said, “I’ll be okay.”
We returned to staring at the fire, sitting together, but minds occupying a future where she didn’t exist anymore. It was a future that didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. I’ll be right behind you, babe.
“I do have one regret, she said, “I never got to read your book,” Her statement pulled me from the land of things not happened yet and I didn’t know exactly how to respond, so I just said, “My book?”
“You always wanted to be a writer,” she said. “I know that the only reason you gave up on your dream and took that job at the plant was because of me. You gave up on your dream for me and that makes me sad.”
“I never wrote a book,” I said.
She giggled and nuzzled her face against my chest.
“I know, silly,” she said, “that’s my point. If I have one regret in this life, it’s not reading the book that you didn’t write.”
“That makes absolutely no sense,” I said, chuckling, but inside, my mind was already churning. I knew what I was going to do.
I only gave her half of her pain-pill that night because I didn’t know how it would react with the wine. After I put her to bed, I retrieved my laptop from the coat closet and put it on the coffee table, where it sat staring at me. The idea of writing a book seems like a simple one until the blank page is actually sitting in front of you, mocking you, and preparing to laugh at what you write. I tried to think of the thousands of books that Valerie read over the years and couldn’t come up with a specific genre that she liked the most. She would read the back of a baking soda box if she ran out of other material. I smiled at that thought. It was amazing how much we knew each other, how much we were destined for each other. Soul mates, I thought. We’re soul mates. Suddenly, as if from divine intervention, a story sprung to life in my mind. I envisioned a man on his death bed, reliving his life with his wife that had passed on years before. His kids and doctors were locked in a power struggle over his right to die, and the man; well, he just wanted to join his wife in the afterlife. A surge of energy flowed through me and I began typing. When Valerie opened her eyes the following morning, she found me sitting in a chair by her bed, my computer on my lap.
“What you got there?” She asked.
“A House in the Clouds,” I said, smiling. “Chapter one.”
Over the following weeks, I wrote while she slept and always had more of the story to read to her when she woke up. Sometimes, after I finished reading the latest chapter, she would ask me what was going to happen next. I told her that she would just have to wait to find out. I’m sure that part of me thought that she would hold out for the end of the book. In a way, I felt like I was buying more time with her. To be honest though, I had no idea how the book would turn out. I didn’t even know what would happen from one chapter to the next. I just kept on writing and let the story unfold, hoping that she would like the end result.
During the first few weeks, she would sit up straight in her bed and listen to me read my story, but after that, it began to get harder for her to do it in one sitting. She would get violently ill in the middle of a chapter or would just become too exhausted to pay attention. I always knew when the latter would happen because she would ask questions about what was going on in the story up to that point or ask me to reread the last few paragraphs. When that happened, I would highlight the spot where I left off and pick up there later that day if she felt up to it, or include it in the following morning’s reading session. She had her bad days and not as bad days. I would usually be able to catch her up on the story during the not as bad days. I also noticed that I began to read the story faster and faster as the days passed. At some point, it began to feel like a race.
On the night of writing the final chapter, Valerie fell asleep on the couch. I easily carried her frail body to the bedroom, laid her down on the bed, and pulled the blankets over her. She was going soon, I felt it, knew it. Earlier that week, I bought a cheap desk and put it in the bedroom. I wanted to be there at the end, had to be. Sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night, crying from the pain or from nightmares. I would immediately stop writing and go to her, comfort her, then return to the book after she fell back to sleep.
My story had taken a turn into the spiritual world. The main character, Hank finally got his wish and was allowed to die, but when he got to paradise, he found that his wife had chosen to be reborn. In the last few paragraphs, Hank asked to be reborn himself and the angels sent him back. At the end of the book, Hank and his lost love meet as children in a playground. I read over the last chapter and then, satisfied that it was complete, I typed, The End and immediately moved the computer to the chair beside the bed. This is it, my love, I thought. I finished the book and now you can move on with no regrets.
Sometime between writing the second to the last and the last paragraph of the book, she had slipped away. I held her and talked to her about what heaven and the angels and the book. She shuddered in my arms and then stopped moving altogether. The tears broke through the floodgate and I wiped them away. I didn’t have time to be sad. I had a book to finish. I returned to my computer and finished typing the final paragraph. When it was done, I returned to the chair by the bed and read the last chapter to her. I like to think that her spirit hung around just long enough to find out what happened in the story. That felt like something that she would have done.
When I finished reading the last chapter, I put the computer to the side, leaned across the bed, and kissed my wife on her forehead.
“I hope you liked it, Babe,” I whispered and then pulled the blankets over her face.
I sat back down in the chair, pulled the computer back onto my lap and, with a shaking hand, scrolled to the second page and typed, For Valerie, and then I saved the file and closed it. I did it, I thought. I actually wrote a book. I looked over at the small mound on the bed and then back at the screen, the file. For you my love, I thought – only for you. Then, I moved the curser to the file and deleted it.