Not the Fish
"I'm not ready to let go," she said.
"You don't have to keep holding on, only if it keeps you happy."
"I don't understand," her brow furrowed in frustration, "any moment now, your breath could be taken from you, relinquishing life for death."
"Yes, I know, but still…." he replied, eyes cast down, flickers of hope and acceptance fighting for first choice.
"Your eyes will close; they will never look at the world again," she felt the anger that had flourished in her belly at the start of his end. It had faltered until the end was visible and clearly in front of them—showing itself in his frail limbs and yellow skin. In his faded cornflower blue eyes, in his amiable, drug-aided sleep that lasted longer each time.
He reached for her hand, his paper-like skin colliding in familiarity, two fragments that would always suit, her warm palm clinging to life for the both of them.
"There are places you don't have to let go, where I'll still be if you let yourself look."
She shook her head, eyes cast to the side, trying to hide fresh tears.
"Where? Where could you be if not here with me?"
He sighed, taking the seconds he needed to gain vigor, "I'll be where the sun rose for the first time just for us. I'll be on the New York streets we walked together, feeding each other black and white cookies, hunting down the city's best cannolis. I'll be in the blooms spilling along the garden walls, the ones I planted for you. I'll be in June, waiting for the day you were my bride."
Her tears ran heavy, the light fading in the single window that adorned the crisp yet stale hospital room. His hand tightened in hers, his sudden strength that had been gone for months surprising her.
A whimsical, sad smile lilted her words, "Next, you're going to say I'll see you in the fish on my dinner plate because you would always find an excuse to talk to me when I cleaned fish on the landing between our parent's apartments," she said with a rosy smile full of heartbreak at a memory that once felt so good but now clutches the heart with the fury of anguish and death.
He grinned, "Not the fish. I'll be the boy on the other side of the door, asking to use your parent's telephone when I only ever wanted to talk to you." He cried waterless tears, his body slowing, readying itself for its stop, its ending.
She reached for his cheek, brushing her thumb across the frail skin that hugged his bones. She could still feel the youth of their love in one caress of his skin to hers. "You’re going to go now, aren’t you,” she said, knowing it more than questioning it.
“Will you remember?” he asked, “will you remember where to find me?” He felt an intense need to know, as if her answer had to be then, quick and relentless. He didn’t need to tell her goodbye; he didn’t believe they would ever truly part.
Her tears ran faster now, their eyes catching, connecting in a thousand silent words that told the story of their life in all its moments, the horrid and the happy. With the swell of finality crushing at her ability to speak, she grasped at the edges of what felt like the ending of more than a life and said,
“How could I forget?”