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In This Issue

Assimilated

Silent Journey
DeJay

Iz's Story
Doreen Perrine

Communion
Fran Walker

Games With Chance
Andi Marquette

Backup Plan
Jess Sandoval

Bridgework
Darby O'Neil

Who's In Charge?
DeJay

Water Rites
Mary Douglas

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I awake curled up behind you--my arm draped across your side, my hand cupping your breast, my leg slipped between yours. The early morning sunlight pouring through the windows wakes me. I lean up and kiss your cheek like always. You moan quietly but don't stir. I slip out of bed silently and put the dogs out. Then I make a dash for the bathroom for my morning ritual. It's not like you to sleep in. You haven't been feeling well of late. The flu, you say. I bring the dogs back in and tell them to be quiet. Momma's still asleep. I feed them, then barricade them in the den so they won't jump on the bed and disturb you. I prepare your favorite brew, French vanilla. Then flip the switch to turn the coffee pot on. It will be brewed by the time you awake.

I slip into my running clothes, then quietly let myself out of the house. I head down the steep drive, trying to pace my run. The incline and forward momentum usually throw my stride off. I wave to our elderly neighbor, Helen, but keep going. I have no time for chit chat today. I round the corner and hit the flat of the cool macadam. Now my pace is even, my stride full out. I check my pulse. Everything is good. The doctor put me on this damn regimen a year ago. "You have to take care of yourself if you want to live to enjoy your retirement." Why she thinks dieting and jogging are fun is beyond me but, for the most part I am feeling better. My last check-up was good. Blood pressure down, weight down, cholesterol down. Too bad about the inoperable tumor growing in my throat.

I run along the road, taking in the beauty surrounding me. The lake is calm after last night's vicious storm. Thunder rattled the rafters and lightning lit the skies. You claimed it's just God's way of letting us know who's in charge. I told you he must have had a lot to say, 'cause the storm lasted for hours. The boats float on the glass-like surface of the water that now laps gently upon the shoreline. The winds have died down, barely ruffling the leaves. There's a family of ducks wading into land. I pause and throw them the stale bread from my pocket. The mother duckling shoos her little ones away until I depart.

Now I must gather my momentum and start the climb up my first hill. The ascent winds back into the woods for almost a mile. The dew from the trees makes the ground damp, the roadway slippery, and the air chilly. The sun doesn't breach the canopy of the trees here, so the temperature dips. It's fall after all. The temps are dropping each and every day. You say God is making room for new life, new beginnings, but first the old has to die away. You love the seasons equally, but fall and winter are your favorite. You find joy in every thing but especially in the holidays. I smile recalling our first Christmas together. I had never had a tree, never exchanged gifts. I didn't know how. You were patient. You taught me. You've taught me so much over the years, I don't know how to tell you.

I reach the summit of the first hill and turn left, back toward town. Sweat runs down my face and my back, but I push on. "I hate jogging, I hate jogging, I really hate jogging." I repeat the mantra to help get me through. My voice rising with each verse. I often wonder what the four-legged creatures think when they hear me, see me. "Just another crazy human torturing herself." I smile at that thought and push on. My legs ache, my lungs burn, and I'm not even half-way through. I growl and push myself even harder. I decide I'll stop at Dutch's Market mid-way through my run and pick up some Danish for you. You do love your sweets. Maybe it will make you feel better. Remember feed a cold, feed a fever. You always say this, even though it's wrong. As I swing around the bend, I'm startled by the deer standing in the middle of the roadway. I stop dead in my tracks, shocked as she is. My heart thumps in my chest, my thigh muscles twitch. I lean over to catch my breath. The doe takes off into the woods, and I need to continue.

I do some of my best thinking out here each morning. Planning my day, recalling what needs to be attended to. Lists. I've always been good with lists. Write it down and you can accomplish almost anything. Make a plan and stick to it. Have your goal in sight at all times. That's what I've done our entire lives, that's what I've arranged for today. I've made an appointment with our lawyer. I want to be sure all is in order. I worry that I might have forgotten something. Tammy assures me I haven't. She's agreed to go over everything one more time just to ease my concerns. We have reciprocating Durable Powers of Attorneys, Living Wills, Wills and a Codicil with emergency instructions. Mine are very specific, there is to be no equipment of any kind used to prolong my life. We talked about it. You cried but finally conceded. I don't want to rely on a machine for life. For me that is no life. Tammy has given her word my DNR will be obeyed.

I arrive at the next hill and increase my stride. I'm feeling good this morning. My breathing is a little labored, but my pace is fine. My legs are holding, not bad for a fifty-six year old. I manage to do four miles a day--two out, two back. It took me a while to get there. Initially I ended up walking. Now I can jog the entire trip. I'm secretly pleased about that. Though I'll never admit it to you. You nag me when I don't want to get up. You cajole me until I'm out here gasping and sweating like a fool, all because I love you. Want to stay with you for as long as my body can manage. The doctors all say I can lead a normal life. Normal for me is not having a machine breathe for me. Normal is not making you take care of me. Normal is not having the medical bills eat up everything we've worked for, only to have it be for naught.

I remember the first night we met. You entered the classroom and smiled as you walked past me. I swore we'd had a power surge. We became friends immediately. Not much choice--there were only three women in the class. Your smile hooked me, but it was your humor that reeled me in. You have the most incredible green eyes, and when you smile, they actually sparkle. I'll always remember the first time you smiled at me. It's like a snap shot in time, imprinted on my memory. I love remembering it and I love you.

I blink back my nostalgic tears and increase my speed. My shins are aching, I can barely breathe, my limbs all protesting. More importantly, according to my watch, I'm lagging behind time. You're probably having your first cup of coffee by now, spoiling the dogs while you read the paper. I turn the bend and see the store in front of me. I'm half way through my run. Amen. I trot inside and pick out two iced blueberry whatevers. I never remember the names of the damn things. I just point because I know you love them. I stand holding my sides, gasping while I wait. Clara laughs as she bags them for me. "Tell her I said good morning, and you enjoy your run." I pay on the way out and shove my purchase inside my pocket. I tie my shoelace and take off. I need to make up some lost time.

This part of the run is the easiest. It's all flat for the next half mile. I let my mind wander to those first days of loving you. I smile as I recall your words, "I'm not your ordinary everyday girl." Truer words were never spoken. I certainly had never met anyone like you. I always tell you it was love at first sight. You always claim it was lust. Whatever it was, here we are all these years later. I think I'll mention to Tammy I want to turn the house over to you now, avoid the inheritance taxes. I hate that you will be penalized on our savings. We earned it together, we sacrificed together. But the government doesn't recognize that. After all, we're gay, we have no rights. We've discussed moving. You refuse to leave the States, this is your home you say. Part of me agrees--then I question why I care. My own country thinks of me as less than a second-class citizen. Christ, even prisoners can get married.

I get to the last hill, the killer one. I need to really push here. I rarely make it up without struggling, but I do make it up and that's what's important. At least you think so. I start my climb, so far my pace is even. My stride could be a little stronger, but my breathing is already heavily labored. I go over the details in my head. I make a note to check the safety deposit box for cash. Any monies hidden there will be confiscated and assessed taxes if found. I know you hate this side of me, the strategizer--the one that makes plans--but it's just how I am. You don't want to think about it, so I have to. You want to talk. There's really nothing to say.

The high point is looming, my breathing is ragged, my leg muscles screaming. I'm in so much pain I'm having trouble thinking. Then I come upon the peak. I've almost made it. It's going to be a good day after all. I'm panting hard now and my vision is blurred by the sweat dripping down my face. Maybe later if you're feeling up to it, I'll take you to dinner. It's our thirtieth anniversary, definitely worth celebrating.

I've breached the top. Finally. Now it's a half mile on a slight incline to the driveway and then a quarter mile up and in. Then I'll be home. I hate running, absolutely abhor it, but I hate the thought of leaving you more. Our life together has been a good one, more than I ever hoped for. We've had our ups and downs, our bumps if you will, but you still make my heart skip a beat when you smile. You still send ripples throughout my system when you kiss me. My chest literally tumbles every time I see you after being apart--even if it's only for an hour or so. We must have done something right. I know loving you has been the best part of my life. At last, the driveway. Amen. I'm coming and I've got a sweet surprise for you.

I enter the house through the basement, take off my wet sneakers and climb the stairs. I call out to you, warning you I'm home. I vividly recall the morning I snuck in and grabbed you from behind, wanting to surprise you. I still cringe at the way you gasped. I had frightened you, you said. You've never forgotten it. After I get my morning kiss, I'll hop in the shower. There's lots to do today. I open the door to the kitchen and pause. The dogs are still penned. My heart starts to thump in my chest, my legs begin shaking. I walk to the bedroom doorway and look in. I slowly take in the evidence before me. You don't seem to have moved. I ease into the room.

"Honey?" I call, but there's no response. Dread ices my veins. I walk around the bed and take your hand in mine. Yours is cold. My mind is screaming, my heart hammering against my ribcage. I nudge your shoulder. Nothing. And even though I know deep down you won't answer, I start to plead, "Sweety, get up, it's time for breakfast now." My very life is shattering. "Baby, please don't do this. Get up." I press you harder. "Please, honey, you have to get up now." I touch my fingers to your throat, tears blurring my vision. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. There is no pulse. "No, God dammit. I was supposed to go first. You promised you'd never leave me." I roll you onto your back and pull you into my arms. "Please, honey, I need you." I rock you gently. "Sweetie, don't leave me. Don't you know how much I need you?" Tears run down my cheeks. All my planning, all my running, how did I miss this? I rock you in my arms murmuring to you, but you don't hear me anymore. "I love you. I love you, please I love you."

(c) 2008 Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company