Royals (Story by Risa Peris)

“Go gentle, my lamb, go gentle.” I patted his dry hand and was careful not to touch the IV. He was dying and a lump, like a giant undigested potato, was lodged in my stomach. It was grief and I really hadn’t expected it to engulf me. 

I looked up and David’s dark eyes bored into mine. We weren’t so old. In our fifties. But the cancer had ravaged David and made him seem like an eighty year old man. We were lifelong friends, lovers, a couple, husband and wife. Neighbors since children. I leaned my head on his shoulder. 

“What will I do without you?” Tears stained his hospital gown. 

“Remember….,” he said. “We built a clubhouse in my backyard made from old wood. It was full of old things from our houses. One summer, I found a tire and got some old rope from Pa and we made a swing on a tree near the lake border. We spent hours there. Your skin got brown and mine got red. You packed us a lunch every day. Ham, bread, root beer, chips, Twinkies.”

“Yes, I remember.” The tears kept flowing. 

“Do you remember running through the fields? Collecting rocks? We found an ancient doll with one eye. We were excavators and archaeologists. We dug in the soil and piled a collection of bird bones.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Do you remember you ignored me at high school because I wasn’t cool. I was a nerd and you were the beauty queen. You went to prom with me though. Some idiots laughed. That was the night you first let me kiss you. I never wanted another woman after that kiss. I’ve loved you my whole life.”

I was sobbing now. 

“Do you remember our wedding? We danced to Moon River. It was our song since we were six. Ma had an LP and we played and played that song for years.”

He sighed. “Do you remember….”

“For God’s sake, Carl. I remember everything. My body is engraved by your smell, shape, feel…you are my life. I can’t remember a life before you. When we were babies we took the same first step together.”

Carl started crying. “Don’t forget me. Please don’t. That’s my biggest fear. I will be forgotten. I leave you everything. I regret not having children. It was my fault. I had no idea I was sterile. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, Carl. It’s fine.”

“Get some sleep Gloria. I’m just going to remember the past.”

I laid on a cot in the hospital room. It was raining. The long march to death was destroying me. Can anything give me relief?

When I awoke, I knew he was dead. The nurses were gentle and one rubbed my arm. 

“I need to call a cab. Why won’t this rain stop?” The sky was so heavy and deep gray. 

I wouldn’t look at Carl. I made it down the hall before I collapsed in the most profound grief. 

“I can’t,” I said. “I can’t. My life is over.”

They laid me in a bed and I remembered Carl weaving me a crown of weeds and flowers to match the cardboard crown we had created for him. We were royals. Our love was majesty. 

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