He glanced again at the stack of letters from the attic. He’d only gone up there because Ruth was dying, to get affairs in order. Now he laughed bitterly about that: affairs in order, because the letters were chronological. The box had been locked, but he found the key under the curled paper lining her nightie drawer, because now he changed her nightgowns. And now that her mind was gone he would get no explanation. He could not confront her; she could not defend herself.
The letters were from a man named Paul, starting the year after Carl and Ruth were married. Carl couldn’t remember any Pauls. In every one Paul loved Ruth forever. He was fruity, used words like “blazing comet…” In every one he said, “What will we do with that husband of yours?” Carl had stayed in the attic reading, sitting on a box until his legs were numb. It took him an hour to get up, and then he fell and knocked over a bookcase.
Eventually he brought the letters down, intending to read them out loud to hurt her, but he didn’t. He stayed away from her. He sat in the corner where her flicking eyes couldn’t find him. He sat on the porch and smoked one after another, branding the railing with the tips and even his own hairless legs. He burned letter edges and blew them out so they looked like maps of unsolved mysteries. The last letter was recent, five years old. I’m going now, but I’m not suffering. I’ll meet you. How could the bastard not be suffering, that blazing comet of unrequited love?
He stayed away until he heard her cry out. When he finally touched her, after so many hours, she arched her back. Cold sweat beaded on her brow. Her eyes opened wide on the window. In the dusk a fog settled over the pond and the light was strange, slanting horizontally, as if a well lit doorway had opened in the woods. There was a long shadow, a tree or a man. Carl felt her pulse slowing. She pulled her hand away and her body stiffened and seemed alert. He almost expected her to sit up. The shadow moved, and Carl knew it was him, waiting.
At the end she was looking for Carl’s hand, fingers crawling along the sheet, but he kept it from her until she was gone, and it was too late, and then he reached.
Gary Moshimer works in a hospital. He has stuff in DecomP and Night Train, among others.