Animarum

By

Lois Cloarec Hart

 

I never noticed how thin her hair has grown. When we first met, it was fine, but also as soft and enticing as a rose petal. I nearly scandalized our neighbours in the next box at a long ago concert because I could not stop my fingers from an instinctive caress. She, always more conscious of my position than I, subtly eased away from my touch. For that night at least our secret was kept.

 

My gaze drifts from her bowed head to the thin, wrinkled hand wrapped tightly around mine. In the semi-twilight of this room, it's hard to know where her hand ends and mine begins. How fitting. From the beginning we have completed each other, though it took me a long time to convince her of that. She was certain that she was beneath me. In truth, the depth of her love and loyalty, consideration and kindness, left me breathless in her wake. My education, my profession, and my social standing were nothing in comparison. She laughed when I insisted that it was so. She said legal scholars would debate my rulings in court and classroom for a century, but none would even recall her name. I assured her that her name was already etched in the Book of Ages in recognition of the grace with which she lived her life.

 

At least I think I told her that. It's sometimes hard to know what words I have uttered and what words remain trapped in the prison of my brain. I hope I said it. I hope that even without words I still told her how much I love her, how much I appreciated the way she stood by me, and how deeply it touched my soul to see her advocate on my behalf.

 

A thousand lifetimes from now I will still remember how my shy, reserved partner took Laurel Woods Manor to court and fought for the right to be by my side-literally. She had researched our final residence so carefully, searched for a place that would accommodate our needs and allow us to be together. Thinking she had found it, we gave up our home of 42 years. But with all her care, she could not have anticipated an administrator who hated us, and did everything possible to keep us apart.

 

I wonder how this woman came to be so filled with bile. What had twisted her heart and mind into ugly, angry knots? Would she have fought so hard to separate us if we had entered the facility merely as friends wanting to share a room for financial reasons? I unwittingly aided her nasty quest. I did not react well when my beloved was kept from my side. I may not have known my own name by then, but I always knew my partner's loving touch. And when that touch was gone for so-called medical reasons, I grew agitated and troublesome. The administrator used that behaviour as an excuse to commit me to the locked ward where my wife could not be with me.

 

So my sweet and gentle warrior went into battle in the arena I once ruled. She was fortunate that the times and culture changed radically from when we first met, and the judge who heard the case had clerked for me decades earlier. He gave my love a fair hearing. But I think her success was also due to the ferocity with which she pleaded our plight. This time I aided our cause. I resisted the orderly who brought me into the courtroom, and kicked at him feebly in an effort to get away. As soon as my love's voice called over the spectators' heads, I ceased my struggle and turned toward her. She led me to a chair, and settled me next to her. Later that night, she whispered that I had sealed the deal when I immediately rested my head on her shoulder and closed my eyes peacefully.

 

Now her name, too, would be written in law books as the plaintiff who won the decision that required nursing homes to not only accommodate same sex couples, but to provide double beds for all residents who desired them. It was only a lower court ruling, but it was an immeasurable gift to those who cherish their loved one's touch. No longer did they have to lose that small joy due to age and infirmity. My lady in shining armour had paved the way for many others. And the administrator who made our lives hell? She could not bear the thought of us slumbering peacefully in each others' arms. The Manor's residents gave us three lusty cheers when we entered the dining room the day that miserable woman quit in disgust.

 

Someone is coming into view behind my wife's shoulder. Ah…her mother. How that woman hated me. She was utterly convinced that I had seduced her daughter and set her on the path to perdition. Every year, she made a maternal visit to our city. And somehow every year her visit coincided with legal conferences I had to attend, or a huge stack of paper work which entailed extended hours at the office. It wasn't until after her mother passed on that my love told me how much it hurt when I abandoned her so. I had never considered her side. I assumed, as I had done so often, that because she didn't complain, she had no complaints. It was foolish and unkind, and though I couldn't do anything about my earlier lack of support, I did try to improve. Whether I succeeded or not, is not for me to say. That is for my wife to judge.

 

It must have shocked my reluctant mother-in-law that her sweet, pliable daughter resisted every tirade, every sob, and every enticement that her mother wielded in order to wrench us asunder. When my mother-in-law finally and melodramatically insisted that her daughter make a choice-her or me-my love calmly opened our door and ushered her out. Then she began to cry, and although at the time I considered the noxious woman a small loss, I knew her mother's rejection wounded my wife deeply. Still, she never wavered, not even when we attended her father's funeral. That was the day her mother refused to permit us to sit with the family. My wife and I sat at the back of the church, listening in silence while others eulogized the father she had once adored.

 

My beloved grieved her losses for such a long time. With each tear she shed, my loathing for her mother grew. But as I lost my memory…and myself, I also lost my hatred. Perhaps that was a silver lining, though for a long time I could think of no others. There was a time when I regretted not killing myself, thus sparing my love the agony of my decline. I came to know better. I have seen the strength she'd always hidden come roaring to the fore. I know that our trials polished the facets of her soul, and I glory in her brilliance.

 

Now her mother stands opposite me with an apologetic expression on her face. I nod and she turns her gaze on her daughter. I look down and notice the silver cord that has held me this past week is frayed. I regard it with curiosity, and then understanding. I look up and smile in compassionate concert with the woman who was my unwilling mother-in-law. My beloved's head droops, and she slumps wearily in her chair. Then with a great effort, she pulls herself erect and wrestles momentarily with the bed railing. She lowers it and slides in next to me. It is close quarters, but that's the way we've always preferred it. She rests her head against my shoulder and her hand finds its usual spot on my chest.

 

Her mother watches us both with an expression of profound love. She's come a long way in the years since her passing. A soft knock at the door sounds and one of the hospice nurses slips in. They've been kind to us here. I am deeply grateful for the consideration they have shown me and my wife. The nurse smiles at the sight of us snuggled together and quietly drapes a nearby afghan around our peaceful forms. Without disturbing my beloved, the nurse leaves as silently as she came in and closes the door after her. She knows we have arrived at a time for serenity, not intervention.

 

I hear something-a soft, familiar voice. Not many would term it melodic, but it is the sweetest sound in the world to me. Her head next to mine, my wife sings quietly in my ear, an old tune we danced to many times. Her mother and I listen as she catches her breath before beginning another verse. Then, as my beloved's voice breaks and falters, her mother smiles. She bows her head to me, and begins to fade. I gratefully comprehend her gift. We will meet again soon, but this time is mine.

 

The silver cord is only a single, thin strand now, and I feel a great surge of joy throughout my essence. The wait is almost over. On our pillow, my love has grown silent, but her hand slides slowly up my body until it cups my cheek. There was a time that her slightest touch would wake me, but it's been many days since I opened my eyes even for her. A tiny part of me wishes I could still feel the softness of her fingers as they caress me and slide over my eyelids. But the greater part of me has already left that world behind and awaits our future with eager anticipation.

 

As her hand stills, the last silver strand parts. I look across the two old bodies entwined and I am thrilled to see my wife standing opposite me with a dazzling smile on her face. Her hair is lustrous and her eyes sparkle with delight. She grins and extends her hand. I take it and together we whirl away, dancing once again and forever to our hearts' music.

 

 

© Lois Cloarec Hart