Anne lay on her bare bed, the one without a mattress, trying to salvage some moments from her memories that were falling out of her grip. She knew she had to write down her memories, those that meant to her, the ones which made up part of her life. The notebook lay by her, ignored and opened on the first page. She didn’t want to lift her hand to write anything, every part of her body hurt too much. There wasn’t too much time left anyway.
Brian sat on the floor, his head resting on that bare bed, staring at Anne. Wistfully, he hoped for more time. She looked peaceful, her mind surrounded by the storms of a leaking lifeline. He knew there wasn’t much that could be done.
They met at the funeral of a mutual friend, one who died of metastatic cancer. Amidst all the tears, they found each other. Both on the opposite sides of the coffin, they passed faint smiles to each other. After the ceremony got over, both of them walked towards each other and introduced themselves. Brian asked her out for coffee. They kissed outside a coffee shop, she smelling of caramel latte while he smelled of cappuccino and smoke. It was just a normal relationship until they reached the 8th month.
“Sweety, I have news for you” she told him over the phone.
“I just came back from my ob-gyn, and she told me I have a lump in my breast. It isn’t very dangerous and it is most likely a benign growth. Nonetheless, would you like to accompany me for a second mammogram? I have to make sure that I can take care of it as soon as I can”; there was more she wanted to tell him, but thought it would be better that she keep the details from him.
He agreed to take her and they left for the doctor the next day. He managed to pick up her favorite coffee and brought it to her. All she did was squeeze his hand and thank him for it. As she undressed in front of the doctor, he couldn’t stop staring at her body. The perfect curves on her, the long hair, and her smooth skin. Everything about her was perfect and he had her. The absence of a family meant that Brian was the only family she had. It wasn’t too long before she fell in love with him and he with her. The thoughts of her kept him awake at night. The only gadget that took up most of their electricity was their phones and laptops. They couldn’t stay away and yet they took the relationship as slow as possible knowing that they wanted to spend their lives together.
Yet, here they were. In the doctor’s office, waiting for the diagnosis.
“Anne, I don’t have good news. Since I don’t want to keep you in darkness, I would rather like to start your treatment as soon as possible. You have early stage 3 breast cancer; there is time to take care of it but relapse is likely in 5 years from now. You will need to start chemotherapy as soon as possible to prevent possible spread. I will tell my assistant to clearly list out all the things you will need to start, the medications and precautions, everything will be told to you. I’m really sorry for this, but I know we’ll get through it. And Brian, stick with her” the doctor stopped talking after saying this.
The ground beneath Brian shifted. He felt like he was in the midst of a constant earthquake and thrown into a hurricane. He only smiled back at her and said, “I’ll take care of you”. She broke down in front of him and wouldn’t stop crying. She kept apologizing to him, told him he should leave her and go find someone better. He didn’t budge and instead bought her her favorite burger. While she ate, she cried. While she showered, she cried. Everything she did, she was always in tears and he didn’t know what to do.
One day, while she lay in bed peacefully, back from a round of painful chemo, he crept up next to her. He took her hand in his and said “Anne, I fell in love with you from the moment I saw you tearing up at Jack’s funeral. Since then I have never stopped. And I really want to love you every moment, so all I wanted to say to you today, at this moment is if you want to marry me?”
She got up with a start. “Are you fucking stupid? I’m getting my chemo done and you want to marry me? I might not even live beyond a couple of months. What is wrong with you, Brian?”
“Will you answer please? Either way, I will still be here” he had tears in his eyes now.
“Yes, Brian. I will. I have wanted this for so long now, you don’t even know”.
“I know, my darling. It’s why I am here, aren’t I?” he was smiling and crying at the same time.
They got married the next day, in the presence of friends and Brian’s family. The small affair made Anne realize how much she was loved by everyone she was surrounded with. The whole day, there wasn’t a single moment when she thought of her illness, unlike other days. They ate, danced and smiled. After both of them got back home, she crawled up next to him, buried her head in his chest and slept off. He kissed her on her head, hugged her tightly and slept off too. He was truly happy at that moment.
They visited the doctor again the next day. Still there was no good news and they found that the cancer was slowly spreading to her bone marrow. This led to her being in constant pain and no amount of hugging and morphine was helping her. Slowly, she started losing weight and became a waif thin version of Brian’s wife. He remembered her as the angel that kissed him when he would be shaving in the bathroom, the girl who made him dinner in the middle of the night when he would return late from work. He quit his job to only take care of her. He only had his paintbrush, his colors and the canvas.
So, every night that she slept, he painted her. He painted her as the everyday objects that mean nothing to the general public but meant the world to both of them. He painted her as the bird that dutifully chirped beside their window every morning, he painted her as the sun, as the stars, as the cherry blossoms during spring. Without a job and having to pay for her hospital bills left him broke. He still managed with loans from his family. His parents understood and stood by him.
His wife was still as beautiful. Even with falling hair, with pain in her eyes, she was every bit the graceful woman he had fallen in love with. Every passing day, he managed to love her more. She, even in her sickness, surprised him everyday. She would make him breakfast somedays and on the other days, she would lay in bed with him and tell him stories of her family.
“Brian, have you never thought of having our own family?” she asked him while playing with his hair.
“Of course, I do. It would be the best part of my life, if I do have a family with you. But I don’t think this is the correct time to think about that. Let’s get you better and then we will talk about it” he kissed her.
Another doctor visit. This time she took only Brian aside and gave him the bad news, “Anne has only a couple of months now. Surprisingly the chemo is completely ineffective against her sickness. We are giving her the best medication but she isn’t responding. I’m sorry about this, Brian. I will still be trying though.”
“No doctor, this is alright.” He looked away at the distant trees and felt a deep abyss inside him
Later in the evening, he took her out for dinner. She wore a beret cap to hide her balding head and she looked like a French supermodel. Brian was amazed at how she could still look perfect amidst the turmoils in her. He fell in love with her all over again.
After the romantic dinner, he took his wife for a walk by the river. They sat there, ate icecream, made jokes, and gossiped. Generally did every thing that a normal couple does. While going back home, he even gave his jacket to her. “Let’s be really cliché tonight,” he whispered in her ears and she smiled back. So there they were, Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant from Notting Hill, trespassing into public property, watching the last movie, playing with popcorn.
The next day, Brian gave her the news. She stared at him and then heaved a huge sigh of relief.
“I love you, let’s make my time worth it now”.
They got down to work. She wrote personalized letters to everyone she knew. Since she was sapped out of energy, Brian wrote for her. She bought wigs and started going on dates with Brian. Even though they couldn’t afford to, they did things together. He sold off his things, to make money for her. They slept on a bare bed, or sometimes even the floor. But they made Anne’s time on earth worthwhile. She visited people, travelled the surrounding countryside, drank wine with Brian.
The same night, she told him “I want to write down my memories in a diary”.
He asked her to go ahead with it and brought her a beautiful notebook. She opened the first blank page, kept it on her side and slept off. Brian put his head on the bed and stared at her. He held her hand the whole night. He kissed her hand and cried into it. He stayed up the whole night, looked at every part, every nook and cranny, of her body. Whispered I love you into her ears. Then, he got down to painting her. This time as the person she was. He drew her as the flawless human she was.
Anne passed away peacefully. Brian knew this as the hand he held at night, turned cold like ice. He never got to know if she was still in pain, but he did everything he could in his power to make her comfortable.
While he got ready to call his friends and family about her death, he saw pen markings on her palm. Upon looking closely, he saw the word “POCKET” written on her palm. He checked her pocket and found a folded letter.
“My darling husband Brian,
I have a feeling today could be the last day of us. So, I’m gathering all my energy, while I’m sitting on the bathroom floor and writing this to you. I wanted to just let you know that you are the most wonderful human being I have ever met in my life. You are what made me. I was merely existing before I met you. This short span of time I had the honor of spending as your wife, made me realize how important family is. I am very sorry to have burdened you with this whole business of my death but I am so glad that I will die with you beside me. I am sorry I can’t do the same for you. I will haunt you to make sure you’re always happy, don’t worry I will not disturb you. I wish we had more time, but what we had was amazing. I know you paint me and hide those in that box under our bed. I am sorry again, but I sold those paintings away to the best art gallery in the city and they paid a lot. Each of the paintings fetched a lot. Here, with this letter, I am attaching the cheques. This is just a small way of me repaying all that you have done for me. I have also, in this time, filed for the adoption of a baby girl through a friend. She is an orphan and in desperate need of a daddy. Please be a good father. I told your mother about it and she promised to take care of the child. I am again sorry for the absence of my presence.
I would like you to remarry but I won’t force it upon you. After all, you’re mine. I don’t feel too good, I think the morphine is wearing off little by little. So let me take whatever time I have to tell you, that the notebook you bought for me is actually for you. Write about us in it, tell them how we fell in love. I have put our names in my handwriting but that was the most I could do. I’m so sorry for leaving you so early, but I have spent my whole life with you. I love you, forever
Brian broke down and cried for a couple of hours straight. He lost the one person he loved with all his heart. She was no more. But he got up, made a few calls. Took care of the ceremony.
He looked at the woman lying peacefully on the bare bed, went to her and took her dead hands in his. He kissed the hand, kissed her forehead, “I love you, my beautiful wife” he said, and picked her up and laid her into the coffin.