Joe worked hard all his life for his family, but a secret would erase any memory of this.
With red, swollen eyes, Joe’s middle-aged daughter did as her mother told and closed the hospital door behind her.
“Fifty-two years, Joe.” Joe was surprised at his wife’s even, almost unemotional, tone.
“I know.” He turned his head to the beeping heart monitor. Wishing the jagged lines that soldiered on one-by-one would just go flat. His thought of the grave was suddenly a more welcome one with each passing second.
“Fifty-two god-damn years!” Her even tone disappeared.
He turned his gaze back to her, not wanting to reveal just how cowardly he felt. But he also looked because he was curious – his wife never swore, if the nearly innocuous declaration of “god-damn” could even be considered a true swear.
“I’m sorry, Sue,” was all he could muster. And he was sorry. Sorry he hurt his wife, but even more sorry that Christine couldn’t keep their love for each other a secret just a little longer.
Joe was pretty confident throughout his years that multitudes of men came to the end with the knowledge that they might not be waiting “upstairs” where their wives would be expecting them due to their infidelities. And being the short-sighted creatures they are often cursed to be, of course they figured the fun they had would be worth the eternal jump in temperature.
“Why?” she asked.
He glanced again at the monitor for some hope that the cancer plaguing his body would save him from this question. No such luck.
Sue, now 74, was still the slight woman she had been when they married. Delicate and easy-going were terms often used to describe the calm hand she used with everyone she touched in her life. For this, Joe loved her. He did. But he also loved Christine’s passion for living, and his willpower refused to resist it.
“I’m just an idiot, I guess.”
Sue slowly shook her head, unfolded her arms, reached down and grabbed his chin, snapping his attention from the monitor to her face. He realized then that his wife and his children would never leaf through the photo albums stacked neatly in their living room to remember all the good times they’d had together or the sacrifices he’d made. In that instant she had finally called him out, and there would be no time for forgiveness. For years he feared he might one day get caught, but he never imagined it would begin this way.
7/20/11 Writer's Cramp Contest Submission - Prompt: End story with "he never imagined it would begin this way"