They won’t let him forget her.
They mean well, his kids. Not that they are children anymore. The youngest one, Greg, is forty-one, or maybe forty-two, he didn’t remember exactly. Sandra was the oldest at nearly fifty, with Gretchen as the middle child.
One of them stayed with him during the day and someone stayed in the house until he fell asleep. He didn’t know if he slept alone at night. There was always someone there when he woke. To fix him breakfast, to clean the house, to make sure he wasn’t lonely.
But most all, to make sure he didn’t kill himself.
They talked about it a lot. In the next room where they didn’t think he could hear. Married almost fifty-five years, they would say. To lose her like that. Not more than ten feet away. Dying slowly in the night. He was so close and yet he couldn’t hear her cries for help. To lose her like that. It had to eat away at him. There was no telling what he might do to himself.
They could be annoying, with their cloying, condescending attitude, treating him like a child, like he couldn’t hear or understand what they were saying. Like he hadn’t changed their diapers, fixed their toys, took care of their aches and pains, put a roof over their heads, made sure they had something to eat and clothes to wear. Did they think he’d forgotten all of those years? Had they forgotten?
Still, he is glad they are here. They are in the next room. He can hear them talking and occasionally laughing. They haven’t been around this much in years, not since their early days as struggling young adults, eager to be out on their own but not quite strong enough to do it without Daddy’s help–or Daddy’s money. They are a family again, mostly, only without their mother. But she would have been glad, he thought, glad her death brought the family back together.
That’s what he told himself, what he held on to. He couldn’t allow his mind to go back to that night. It was too painful. Lying in bed, hearing her cries for help, pleading for him to come to her. He’d been taking care of her for almost five years, picking her up, bathing her, feeding her, cleaning the shit from her and from the sheets, putting her in the wheelchair, wheeling her down the hall, picking her up and placing her in her lounger.
He loved her, even more now than he had fifty-five years ago when they’d wed. But she was killing him. When the doctor told them that, with proper care, she might live another ten years, he knew then. He’d fought the idea when it came, forced it down deep inside, refusing to acknowledge he could even have such thoughts.
Six months later he couldn’t think about anything else. Every call for help a jab in his side, a spike in his brain. He loved her, more than anything, but had come to hate hearing his name from her lips.
So that night when she fell and called his name, he’d just left her there. To die. So he could live.
As the laughter increases from the next room, he smiles and joins them, as he knows she would have wanted him to.
Ray Kolb is an assistant district attorney in Alabama. He spent two years in Afghanistan working with Afghan judges, prosecutors, and police officers, training and mentoring each in Afghan criminal law. Ray has had numerous stories published, most recently in The Subterranean Quarterly. Ray blogs way too infrequently at www.raykolb.com.