Light After Darkness
A forever bond
Dorian looked down at Margaret watching her shallow breaths barely raise her chest. She'd been deteriorating rapidly for the last month, although the signs of disease started a year prior. First it was just a slight tremor in her hand and tightness in her muscles. The next thing he knew, they were sitting in the waiting room for Doctor Helen Grey, their longtime general physician, and longtime friend. Dorian was patting his best friend on the shoulder and telling her that regardless of what happened that everything was going to be okay.
He glanced at her eyes momentarily but couldn't focus his gaze there for long. Her constant blank stare ate away at his heart. Her glossy grey-green eyes wandered off absently, into nothing but space itself. Below those eyes were cheekbones, sunken in as if someone deflated all the air from her face. Her mouth was slightly ajar, showing dying teeth stripped of enamel.
He had to shift his gaze elsewhere for the time being, so he chose the mirror on top of the dresser. Stepping over to it, he looked at his reflection and had to admit he didn't look much better. This came as no surprise to him. When he took her off of the machine yesterday, the doctor told him that today would be the day. He picked up the prescription bottle on the dresser and popped the cap off with some effort. He popped two of the football-shaped pills into his mouth and swallowed. His doctor insisted that he take the anxiety medication, and today, he wasn't going to argue.
He quickly glanced back at Margaret and decided he needed some air. He crossed over to the casement window, swung it open, and took a deep breath of fresh air. He peered into the garden below, looking at the dead roses frosted over with the first signs of winter. A chill swept through the room, and he decided to close it. Crossing back to the bed he was painfully aware of how labored Margaret's breathing had become.
Dorian sighed, grabbing the pill bottle from the dresser again. He took two more pills and put the bottle into his pocket this time. He went to the bed and took her hand in his own. "I love you, Margaret. We'll be together again soon." He kissed her hand and laid it back at her side. A moment passed before he realized her labored breathing had stopped, and her chest lay still. Tears welled in his eyes as he took all of her in. Over the past month. her legs and arms had shrunk to the size of his wrists. Her bones were clearly visible under her paper-thin skin. Her favorite silk nightgown was too big on her now, as if she were a child playing dress up in her mother’s closet.
Before he realized what he was doing, the pill bottle was in his hands again, and he was taking two more. He stared at his hands, noticing his vision was starting to blur. Dorian decided that he needed a drink. It wouldn’t clear his head, but it felt right. He'd make the call later. His wife wasn't going anywhere. He knew that. Truth be told, she'd been gone for a while. He stepped into the hallway and stared over the railing of the spiral staircase. Looking down into the foyer, he fondly remembered the first time he and Margaret stepped through the large double doors. They'd fallen in love with the place instantly. They were younger then and full of life. The house seemed to light up with their energy. He knew it was right for them because when he’d first started courting her, Margaret had joked, "the quickest way to a girl's heart is to buy her a house out of a Jane Austen novel," and he had never forgotten. The entryway was dark now, and visibly covered with a thick layer of dust. A cobweb hung in the corner to the left of the doors.
Dorian became suddenly aware that he couldn't feel his legs. He tried to move toward the stairs and staggered back. With great effort, he was able to steady himself on the banister. His vision was still blurry but seemed less so when he was moving. Unfortunately, his eyes and legs did not want to work together to resolve the matter. He made his way down the stairs at a turtle-like pace to ensure he wouldn’t fall.
Once he made it to the bottom, he staggered to the bar and sat on his stool. He grabbed a bottle labeled fourteen-year-old Light Whiskey. It had been a special gift from Margaret when they vacationed in Italy. That had been ten years ago now, but he had always said he was saving it for a special occasion. He popped the cap off and poured it into his favorite glass, not bothering with ice. It didn’t have to be good, just strong, and it was. The burn was immediate but oddly satisfying. Dorian took the pill bottle out once more and chased two more tiny ovals down with liquid fire. He downed the rest of the glass, which was filled quite generously, and almost instantly regretted it.
His head was spinning, and soon it began to flood with memories of the past. First, he was taken back to high school. He approached Margaret, surrounded by her friends, and held out a pink rose to ask her to prom. Her friends giggled, but she blushed and said yes. Before he had time to register it, the scene changed, and he was looking at the two of them in a diner. Pop’s Greasy Spoon, he remembered it clearly.
He took her there for their first date, simply because it was the only place to go in town that wasn’t fast food. The food was terrible, but the company was pleasant. They talked for an hour or so, letting most of what was on their plates go to waste because it turned out they had a lot in common. He remembered being seventeen and knowing with all his heart that he meant to spend the rest of his life with this girl. Then the walls of the diner started flickering in and out of the picture, and the next thing he knew they were in college.
They were in the library at OSU. Dorian was sitting at a table next to the piano pretending to read Jane Eyre, but he’d really been fixated on Margaret who sat at the piano hammering out Hey Jude. Watching her play was one of his favorite pastimes, and she knew it. The books he’d skim while she played never fooled her, but he didn’t want her to feel like she was being stared at while playing. God what I’d give to hear it one more time, he thought, or Für Elise.
His brain skipped again, and suddenly he was standing hand in hand with Margaret, in Saint Paul's Cathedral on their wedding day. She wore a beautiful, vintage black dress with frills and lace. He was also dressed in all black, down to the rose he wore on his lapel. They shared a soft embrace and a passionate kiss, and then everything went black.
For a moment, Dorian felt as if he was floating in the void, and then the shape of his bedroom began to form. Margaret’s bony frame was perfectly outlined under the blanket. Those bones, those feeble, tiny bones, that had wasted away from her in betrayal. He had tried to tell himself that when it was all over, she'd be in a better place, but that didn't feel right now. It didn't feel destined. His vision blurred again, and he hoped for more happy memories but was disappointed as it came back into focus.
She was thrashing, her old bones cracking and popping as she spun. A terrible screech was coming from her mouth and her head snapped back. It looked as if her skin was melting off and leaving the solid bone in its place. He shook his head in an attempt to come back to consciousness.
Then he was staring into hollowed-out eye sockets that had tears flowing freely from the depths. His love sat at the edge of her bed, sobbing soundlessly, almost unemotionally. She was there, but seemed to have accepted fate, and decided not to dwell on it. She stood now and walked toward the entryway.
He came to, lying on his back by the bar stool. His eyes made their way to the Latin cross on the wall. It had the phrase Post Tenebras Lux inscribed underneath. Light after darkness. He glanced up to the top of the stairs and saw Margaret standing there on the landing. Her hair was brushed back, and her body looked full and well again. A touch of blush appeared on her face; she was gorgeous.
He tried to call out for her but couldn’t speak. She held up a finger, as if to shush him, then motioned him up the stairs. He was expecting his legs to betray him again but found that he was able to move with ease. In fact, it felt as if he was gliding. He hesitantly followed her into the bedroom. He walked through the door to find Margaret standing over their bed, and saw that she was looming over her lifeless corpse.
She looked back at him, and though he expected her to be shocked, her expression was calm. She reached out and brushed the arm of her lifeless body, causing it to disintegrate and blow away into nothingness.
She led him out of the bedroom, and back to the top of the stairs. They looked out over the railing, down to the bar. His own lifeless body lay on the floor next to it, the empty pill bottle still in his hand. He felt as though he should've been upset, but instead he felt peaceful. Dorian turned to Margaret and smiled. He'd told her they would be together again, and here they were. She held out her hand, and he entwined his fingers with hers.
They would stay together in the house even after it was sold, resold, and sold again. They watched new couples come and go but paid them no mind. Every now and then when the residents would leave, they’d visit the study, and Margaret would play the piano. Dorian just watched these days, not pretending to read anymore, but simply adoring his love.