A disturbing journey into the remorseful mind of someone who has lost his wife's love—or has he?
Things will never be the same between us.
I sat there, gently holding her fingers in mine as I literally watched
the love drain from her eyes. One moment she loved me. The next moment,
nothing. Her face was without any trace of affection. I told her over
and over again that I loved her; I have always loved her, I always will
love her, but she didn't believe me. In her blue eyes I saw only distrust.
She walked away and faced the wall, her cold hands touching her soft, pink lips. Those lips would never love me again, I knew. Those arms would never hold me again and mean it. I wanted to say I was sorry but I'd already said that too many times. And the words didn't do justice to how sorry I was. Nor could the words 'I love you' do justice to the love I felt. But I said them anyway, over and over again.
She turned to glare at my words and I suddenly felt embarrassed, as if I really didn’t mean them. Her haunting silence made me doubt myself. How dare I say that, her eyes accused. How dare I claim love, yet practice hate.
I cursed myself for my mistakes. I hated myself for causing her pain. But most of all I hated myself for not loving her during those few, brief moments when I loved another in this bed. I would have given my life to erase that awful truth. I would’ve died for her forgiveness. I asked if she loved me, if she forgave me, for that was all I really wanted. But her abused soul and weak, soft lips said no.
It was death all over again.
Unconvinced by my words, still she succumbed to my touch. Gently, I eased her down upon the bed and slowly began to undress her, surprised she didn’t pull away. She was wearing my football jersey from college, the number 81 spread evenly across her chest. Quickly, before she could think of my betrayal, I sought to regain her love. She let me slide the jersey up and over her head and for several seconds I leaned there, doing nothing more than admire the beautiful descent of her shoulders to the fall of her naked breasts. Her nipples were the same shade of pink as her lips, and as her nose on a cold winter's day. No other woman's beauty harmonised so perfectly with itself. None ever would.
Her skin was cold and pale. I wondered if the confession of my infidelity had driven all the blood from her; she was so very cold. She let me touch her but turned away when I did. I kissed her neck and shoulders, her stomach, and finally her breasts. She wouldn't turn her head to face me. My legs separated hers, and gently I climbed on top of her, my hands now falling to her slender hips. She let out a little whimper when my fingers wrapped around her panties. But still her face didn't move and there was no imprint of her profile on the pillow. I set out to appease her, to make her love me and my mouth travelled between her legs. I thought I felt her tremble slightly as my lips touched hers, but then her hips tensed. She seemed to open herself to me, as I licked and swallowed, and I loved again the sweet taste of her small mouth tightening around my tongue. I apologised to her all over again—showing her my love, breathing the words, 'I love you' into her; doing with my body what my words could not. I was reaching in, as far as I could. And then my soul reached in. My red, throbbing hard soul pushed her roughly into the head of the bed. I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes, and grabbed at her breasts with my crawling, spidery fingers.
Her moans were barely audible as I pumped myself into her, dying a little with each desperate thrust. And finally, but not soon enough by the look in her accusing eyes, I spent myself inside her and felt the endless flux of recaptured joy. Our love was like a river, flowing eternally amongst all storms.
When I awoke the next morning, everything seemed right again. She was lying beside me, wearing only her sparkling wedding ring, as if she were waiting for me again, in forgiveness. With her head still turned, I kissed the corner of her mouth and rolled on top of her again. But this time I couldn’t satisfy her. Luckily for me, she didn’t wake to notice. Defeated, I hung my head and saw my literal limpness. It was covered in blood.
Confused, I jumped out of bed and retreated to the window, where the heavy drapes kept out the morning sun. Hesitantly, I opened them, and saw my cold, naked woman lying on sheets spotted in red. She was lying that same way, her long legs apart, a puddle of blood between them and her head cocked to one side; eyes wide and open. But not awake, no. Not conscious. I panicked, fumbling for the pulse in her wrist and neck. No, not even alive!
My stomach sank. My mind burst asunder. She could not be dead, I told myself. Could not be dead! I'd just been making love to her cold, stiff body!
I clutched at the sides of my face and closed my eyes. The sight of her naked, bloody flesh seared my mind. Unable to look any longer, I turned way. How could she be dead, my escaping reason asked. How could my love have killed her?
I left her there, soaking in her own blood as I showered the crimson shame from me. It flowed in reluctant rivulets from my skin into the drain, so easily discarded but not forgotten. Every few moments, I glanced into the bedroom to see her still lying there, naked and unmoving, her legs apart and head cocked to one side. She didn't move. She didn't breathe. But I knew she couldn't be dead. I still tasted her; the sweetness of her moist soul lingered in my mouth. I could still feel the burning of her juices as they slid down my throat.
I made breakfast for both of us and waited for her to come out of the bedroom, sleepy eyed and yawning. But she never did. I couldn't eat and threw the eggs and bacon away untouched and put the pancakes in the fridge in case she decided to live again.
Late that night, after I'd decided she really was dead, I rolled her blood stained body up in our white bed sheets and punched out the haunting imprint of her profile from my pillow. Then by moonlight I took my dead woman in bloody sheets down to the river.
With the shrouded body flung over my shoulder, I led a solitary funeral procession to our new home. I found a high rock to jump from, holding her in a bear hug that I wasn't willing to release. I wanted us to die together, in that embrace, the river's tide washing the sinful blood from both our bodies. I jumped, falling with her, managing to hold on as we pierced the water and sank until gravity no longer wanted us. We lingered, fifteen feet below the surface, quiet and still, slowly being pulled downstream by the strength of the current. I opened my eyes to see the waving weeds far below us drifting by. I was still holding her, my mouth shut tight against the water. But I forced myself to breathe to induce drowning. When I did, something kicked my leg. And the sheets I held seemed to rustle, as if roused.
As if awoken.
I choked and let her go, not on purpose, but not entirely accidentally either. As my burden sank I rose to the surface for air and sanity—to save my very life. I couldn't take in what had happened and what had gone wrong. She wasn't supposed to wake up. How could she not have been dead?
I dived back into the water for her, but to no avail. I looked in all the places I could. I looked until I almost drowned again—until I knew she was dead again. She was tied up in bed sheets beneath the water. She could not have survived. If my lovemaking hadn't killed her, the water surely must have.
I was crawling ashore when I found her body twisted in the branches of a tree growing out of the water. No flesh was visible but I recognized her form beneath the wet, white sheets. There was no mistaking those perfectly round, natural breasts and her soft, naked shoulders. I stopped, afraid to go near her. Looking closer, I saw her sunken face, her dark blue eyes glaring from beneath the white sheets. Alive, she was beautiful. But dead she was ghastly. Even her pink lips showed themselves through the wet fabric. Were they moving? Forming words?
"I love and forgive you."
Sheer terror sent me running away, not daring to look back. I ran as though she were chasing me. I felt sure she was.
Exhausted, I found myself again upon the strand, beneath the large rock I’d leaped from earlier. My jaw dropped and hung slackly open as I saw a figure above me on the rock. My eyes squinted against the light of the moon, and fear suddenly left me alone at the water’s edge.
There she stood, her arms outstretched, reaching for the heavens like clouds of smoke. The white sheets draped around her like a wedding gown, clean and unbloody. Her diamond wedding ring glinted like the sparkling water of her grave in the river below. She was my wife again, not the sunken-eyed cadaver I’d seen earlier. The wind began to blow, whistling around her as she twirled her head this way and that, as if she were looking for someone. As if she were looking for me.
Weakly, I called out her name and her gaze fell upon me. Though far away, I could see the tears well up in those blue eyes, and when I looked closely, I could see her soft pink lips moving. They were saying, 'I love and forgive you.' The words were snatched away by the midnight wind but rang like sonorous bells in my heart. Slowly she inched towards the edge and when I realised what she intended, I screamed and began to frantically scramble up the hill, determined not to let her die again. It seemed to take an eternity to climb to the top and I cursed each steep and resisting step, certain she’d be gone when I reached her. But she wasn’t. My heart stood still as she turned around, her back towards the water, so I could see her one last time. I reached out to take her into my arms but she fell backward, as if I’d pushed her. Slowly, she descended and made no splash when her white, shrouded body hit the water.
Without a thought I jumped in after her and as the dark, clean water entered my lungs, it washed away my guilt.
Story © 2005 Jennifer Gardner. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED