You’ve come here to see—
To see. To see her. That’s right. Ethel. Your wife of sixty-six years. You remember her: hair that was always in rollers, an apron knotted around her waist even though she stopped baking once she became ill, who put too much milk in your tea and smiled as you drank it anyway. You picked this place because of the cherry blossom trees, admiring the flowers from where you sit on the bench below, easing your swollen joints and tired bones.
Ethel shuffles over and sits beside you, back creaking in the same way yours does. “Oh, Teddy.” She smiles. Softly, like that time you gave her a daffodil that you plucked from the side of the road. “You’re wearing the tie I bought you.”
You rub it between your shaky fingers. “You got it for my birthday.”
Her smile wavers. “For Christmas. You remember, with the matching cufflinks.”
Of course. A frozen morning with a tartan-patterned tea mug cradled in your hands, wearing that tie throughout the day, even when you accidentally dipped it in the gravy of your roast dinner. Ethel wiped it down, tugged you forward, and pressed a cheek to your cheek. She’d felt warm then. She feels cold now.
“Why are you wearing it?”
“I thought it’d be nice for a special occasion.” Yes, the special occasion. The one you’ve been thinking about for a while now. Sat in your armchair, fiddling with a piece of thread as time ticked by.
She takes your hand. There is dirt beneath her fingernails. “How so?”
You pause to remember, and you remember why you chose today. You usually see Ethel on Saturday, but today is Sunday. You chose another day because today is different, because you want to see her for more than a day. Because you don’t like looking at the empty space of where she used to be. You rest your hand atop hers, bringing it to your mouth, brushing a kiss over her knuckles. “It’s time, sweetheart.”
Her hand tightens around yours. “Are you sure?”
You look past her, to her grave, the one you have visited for over a decade; the one she has left to come see you. And you see her. You see her.
Baked bread, sweetness and cream, a young woman behind the counter dressed in white. The glass separated the two of you, but you waved at her. Came back the next day and took her to late night dancing, and the next ten years after that. Asked to marry her the day you arrived home from a three-year tour halfway across the world, because she never left your thoughts, and your heart swelled at the sight of her again. You might not be sure about some things, like what day it is or what your neighbours’ names are, but you’ve always been sure about Ethel.
You stand, pulling her up with you. “I can’t dance without you.” When you first step into her grave together, you feel scared, pebbles and mud scraping your skin, weight heavy on your shoulders. But you remember. You remember that feeling of when you first saw her, when you saw her every day since. And you’ll remember the feel of her arms around you, holding you in her embrace, as you sink beneath the soil.