Golden sunlight dripped like thick syrup through swirling dust specks in every corner of the antiseptic room. It drifted over the layer of nascent fog in Harry’s brain that had settled in years ago. It could have been months, or days. He really couldn’t tell. Locked in the cell of his memory, he would bubble to the surface only sporadically and momentarily. In the moments when he did, he gulped the air of the conscious present like a drowning man at sea bursting toward sunlight.
Anne dutifully held his hand, waiting for him to emerge. She studied each new line etched on his face that seemed to form in the spaces between her visits to the nursing home, which were never more than three days apart. It was as long as she could bear without seeing him. An elixir of love and guilt, along with a faint mist of hope, edged her forward. She studied his familiar grimace under the third day of salt and pepper gristle on his face. His hair was thinning, but still jet black. He was unusually young for a man with his diagnosis.
They sat there, joined hand and heart, in the enchanted passage that comes before the light slips over the edge of the earth. Or perhaps, it is the moment when our presence on the earth turns away from the sun, whichever perspective one takes.
Anne’s memories were thick today, of when they met and courted decades ago on an ivy crested autumn university. They met in a French class. Laughter and learning catapulted them into a life full in conversation, travel and discovery. He revealed himself and made it easy for her to adore him.
Harry was born to inhabit an academic life, possessing a clever and curious mind. He shared beguiling questions and theories with Anne, his confidante and lover. He was rigorous and demanding with the world but gentle with her. As tough as he would challenge others’ academic and philosophical positions, he deferred to Anne as the trusted holder of his essence.
Anne adored him through his conquests, struggles and defeats. Her heart was the sanctuary that allowed him the courage to explore the world. And now she held what was left of him in an excruciating limbo, unsure if she wanted him to slip peacefully over the edge, or if she, herself, would turn away.
A fresh faced nurse floated in on a cloud of music playing on the cell phone on her pocket. Anne heard the soft strains of Charles Trenet crooning his dulcet whisper to the ocean.
It was their song. The song they danced to in their kitchen, at gatherings and on their many trips to France, swirling softly in step with their heartbeats. Anne tasted again the sweet memories of wine, laughter and love. France, and the dancing diamond lights of its seaside, had been their haven. French had been the language they had spoken with each other exclusively and in their most intimate moments. A smile swelled open her melancholy as she turned to the nurse.
“Pardon, I am so sorry madam, it’s my ring tone, I should have turn it off, I forgot,” the nurse said with a faintly Parisian inflection.
“It’s OK,” replied Anne, “it’s just a memory, that’s all.”
“Well I hope it was a good one,” the nurse offered.
Anne felt his grip tighten in her hand and turned to see her beloved, a broad smile lighting his face, his eyes sparkling like the sophomore she fell in love with. His lips began to flutter and she heard the soft familiar French lyrics begin to take flight in his trembling voice.
“He is singing again,” said the nurse.
“He’s done this before?” Anne was startled.
“Mais oui, he began two days ago, when I start here. He had a beautiful voice, and it remind me of home.”
Anne watched his eyes grow wide. She felt his fleeting presence returning to her.
His voice rose steadily stronger, rising to a full crescendo, vividly channeling a voice from their past, embracing their essence in the glow of the shimmering twilight. And then, after his rumbling cadence, he ebbed into the darkness, slipping over the sea’s golden horizon.