A brief story of memory, and loss
|The warm wind was perfect, a breath of summer upon the street-front cafe. Pigeons scattered at its touch, bold and colorful above the gritty pavement. Somehow Italy made even the pale clouds exotic.|
Jenna swirled the blushing red gently about her glass, and took a sip. It was exquisite, a burst of joy: not too fruity, but with just a hint of a nutty flavor. Roger had excellent taste, and he had spared no expense. He could afford it, she thought, and he so wanted to please her that she couldn’t bear to disappoint him. Thankfully, it took no effort at all to play her part.
Roger himself doted on her, and God above, his eyes were blue, especially above that smart white coat. He smiled now, eyes crinkling as if she made a joke, but it was just the moment. Her heart knew what he was going to ask, and it beat so quickly, it threatened to burst through her chest. It was like that time years ago when - no, but her mind was too fuzzy to think, and somehow she could not recall it. The sudden anxiety threatened to tear her from paradise. It was such a beautiful moment, why didn’t she know?
Roger’s piercing eyes clouded only a moment, as if the darkness had struck him too, but no - his hand only fumbled in his pocket, and it was steady now. In all that she had faced, her mother’s cancer, her eviction, the grueling hours in Nursing school, he had been her rock.
“Jenna,” he said, “this vacation has been magical. After all that’s happened, thank you for letting me take you away, if only for a week.”
“I know. However did you find this place?” Jenna laughed. “It’s more intoxicating than the wine. Going back to books and stints in triage is going to be impossible now, you know.”
“Well, I - “ Roger began, and then paused, running his hand through his chestnut hair. “I think in my case, the company had everything to do with it.”
Oh please don’t let him see you lose it, Jenna! So many times, she had been let down. The boy from her High School had seemed so nice - and damn, what even was his name? The anxiety threatened again, and she didn’t even know why. Her voice was unaffected though, light and teasing, as if she read from a script, “You’re not falling for the waitress, Roger! She hasn’t missed a refill, and she is cute in that Italian skirt.”
Roger rolled his eyes, but the smile never left them. How could the man do that? “You never could take a compliment, however deserved.”
“It’s too much, Roger! You’ve been too wonderful to me, and after this past year, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for things to return to being like they were before. Your love is so far beyond anything I could deserve, it hurts, and I can’t get enough of it.”
Finally, encouraged, Roger broke into a full, breathtaking smile, and then he slowly stood. “What I want to say is, it’s you that has made me so happy, or rather us, being together. I don’t want that to end, ever.”
"Please don’t! Don’t take him from me!" The thoughts raged in her mind, more urgent than life, and she didn't understand them at all. The whirling fear mixed with her pattering heart and queasy stomach all too well, as he slowly sunk to his knee, and his hidden hand came forward, bearing a beautiful golden ring.
“Please,” the love of her life said, “make me the happiest man alive, and let me spend my whole life trying to share with you all the joy in my soul. Marry me.”
Jenna writhed, trying to free herself from the strange man, thrashing and screaming, but his grip was iron, and her bones too old, her muscles too weak. “Please, don’t take him from me! Anything else, but not Roger!”
But he was merciless, and all thought and memory fled as she fell to the stiff cheap bed, in the room that looked and smelled of age. Jenna curled up, wrapping wrinkled arms around knobby knees as the pain passed.
The paunchy man ceased his labored breaths, reddened pupils fading to brown, the sharp points of his flashing white teeth softening into more rounded canines, like those of men. “I am sorry, my dear,” he responded in an urbane voice out of place in a hospice orderly, “but we all need to eat, and you have lived long and well.”
Jenna sat slowly, eyes anxious and unfocused, hands shaking with a new palsy, as she spoke in an ancient, quavering voice. “Oh my, I must’ve dozed off. I was just thinking of - well, I’ll remember in a moment. Wait, who are you? Is it time for dinner already?”