Her laughter resonates with the happiness that stifles his tears and her hands around his feels like a thousand fireworks display. He closes his eyes then opens it and smiles up at her. She laughs again and falls back on the mattress. Then after a while, she looks at him with a kind of longing that makes his eyes flutter.
"I love you." She says with a twinkle in her eyes, the kind he is half used to."Not the kind of love that makes you want to burst out laughing. It's great to laugh of course but I love you with the fear of losing you. Is that a good thing?"
"It depends." He says to the fall of her pink hair. He glances back at the drip still on his arm and the numbness momentarily makes him gasp. She looks at him, then to his left arm and to the rash close to the drip but she doesn't say anything.
"It depends on what?" Later, she insists on knowing.
"Why are you so afraid? It's not like I'm going anywhere, right?"
She laughs until she starts to cry. The silence stays for a while, circling, waiting for one small move. She slips her warm hands into the coldness of his and nudges him gently.
"Don't love me with a fear of me leaving because I won't." He says.
"But the doctor..."
She stops. She says nothing else but he understands her unsaid words and so shreds it with a cough. She nods her head against his chest and closes her eyes.
"What if I die?" He voices his concern in the morning as she cooks breakfast. He smells the coffee, strong and black, as it wafts in the air. The sunshine has slipped in, the warmth feels so real, so genuine it starts to burn.
She turns to him, looks him in the eyes and shakes her head.
"Sheila, I don't know if I'm going to die. There are the fever and the ache and the numbness but I want to be strong for you and for our baby."
She turns back to the food cooking on the stove, saying nothing. Later he hears a low sob and knows that she is crying. Again.
"Sheila." He calls.
She shakes her head vigorously, does not turn back, does not answer his shaky call.
"Please." He whispers.
She turns to him just as he falls to the floor, hard. She leaves the food on the stove and runs to him. She kneels before him, breath coming short, hands pressed against his chest, begging him to stay. She whispers his name once, twice and then screams it on the third trial. He gasps wildly then opens his eyes and stares up at the ceiling. When he looks at her, he sees the small bump and the tears in her eyes.
"Babe." He speaks softly and tries to sit up. She lets him.
"Don't do that to me again." She says. But she knows he'll do it again and he knows it too, knows that he can not help the dizziness, but he nods his head as she helps him to his feet.
He sits on a couch and watches her walk back into the kitchen. When she serves his food, he looks at her again and smiles weakly.
She does not notice.
"How's your book coming along?" She asks him in the evening as they sit side by side on the kitchen floor. A dog is barking down the street but they don't seem to care. He looks better now.
"Good." He says. His voice is filled with excitement. She has always known the cure to his ill health is his book, the one he writes as the light dims in their small room. He continues dreamily, "I am almost done with it and when I'm through, you'll read it and tell me what you think."
"What's it about?" She asks.
He shakes his head while laughing and soon she joins him in wild abandon.
"Writers shouldn't tell the story until they are done."
"It won't get finished."
"Oh, that's a silly lie you made up I'm sure."
He chuckles. "I suppose telling you won't hurt."
She stays quiet, listening to his forceful gasps of air.
"It's about a man who loves a girl." He says nothing else.
"Come on, Raju. Tell me more."
But he says nothing more. She hears only his harsh gasps for air and holds his hands. Silence hovers all night, below the stars that shine like fireworks.
"I can't find it!" He announces in the morning.
"What are you looking for? Come down and let's have breakfast."
"I can't find it." He says again. He places his hands on his head where she can see the red rashes gnawing away at his hands. He pushes aside the pillows and pulls the sheets off the mattress. He empties his shirt drawers and screams at the empty photographs.
"What are you looking for, Raj?" She yells at him for the first time with her eyes all fragile and the baby bump noticeable.
"The writings. I can't find it anywhere." He says, half turning to her.
"When last did you see it?"
"Two days ago, I guess. I was going to finish it today and show you but now I can't find it."
"How's that possible? Was it at the house? I mean, you could have written it at the library down the street since you do that sometimes and perhaps you left it there."
"I am not so careless. Besides when I got home, I remember, I kept it right here...in the box underneath the bed. It was right here."
"How can you be sure?"
He hits the wall in frustration and starts to gasp for air.
"You are sick. Eat something and rest a while. We'll figure out something."
"No. You don't understand. It's..." He starts to cough. She moves towards him but as she does, he backs away until she stops and sighs.
He stops coughing now. He sits on the floor and starts to cry.
"Relax. We'll think of something."
"What if we don't find it?"
"You'll give yourself time and write again."
He looks at her then back to the floor. He kneads his hands in front of her and laughs into the collars of his shirt.
"I might not have another chance, Sheila." The subtle announcement makes her shiver. She runs out of the room, expecting him to run after her but noticing with utter disappointment, she was running alone with the bump on her stomach.
She walks to the library and stands before Martha.
"Nice day, right? My son was looking at the..."
"Raj has lost his writings." Sheila starts quickly, "Did you by any chance see it?"
Martha studies her and the fear in her eyes and sees pain and happiness spread out before her.
"People forget a lot of things here and I go through them and keep it until they come for it. There's even a seashell. Who the hell forgets that?"
"Okay." Martha leads her past books and books of silent masters, past rolls of torn papers and up a couple of staircases. "This is where we keep lost things. Search through them if you must."
"Thanks. I owe you one."
"How's Raj? The fever's down, I suppose?"
"He's a lot better. But I fear he'll break down if he doesn't find it."
Martha helps her check out all of the abandoned things. Sheila, while going through the stack of old books, sees a peculiar seashell and touches the smooth back.
"That is the one someone forgot," Martha says from behind, hands still picking through the paper planes.
"How long ago?"
"Three weeks maybe. Don't think anyone's going to come back for it."
While Martha is bent, Sheila puts the seashell in her pockets and cleans the tears in her eyes.
"There is nothing here," Martha mutters strengthening up.
Sheila nods, thanks her and walks away. When she gets home, she sees the food in the dining room table untouched. She runs to their room and finds him still seated on the floor.
"Where did you go to?" He asks. He does not look up at her, does not notice the seashell she holds in her palms.
"Martha doesn't have it." She says.
"I've lost it." He whispers.
"Think it through. Maybe you left it somewhere else. It's not lost, just missing."
He looks at her now. She sees the panic and resignation in those eyes that had held her and loved her and carried her through the years until the raging fever.
"It's not gone." She tells him, almost yelling, almost crying.
"It was here." He cries.
"I'll find it." She stops believing as she says this and somehow, he sees it in her eyes.
"It was about a girl who loved a boy so hard she started to hate herself. Because she cared too much and loved too deeply." His words are soft, weak, hidden behind fitful coughs.
"How?" She asks as she sits on the floor. They are opposite each other on the floor when he nods his head and looks away at the scattered clothes and sheets on the floor.
"She leaves him to find herself, miles away from home. In a new town with a new identity, she learns about the pain that could heal her. She goes to war with herself and her new life, hoping for..."
Sheila doesn't cry.
"When she eventually comes back home, she sees something that even a thousand years can't fix. And she must learn life in the hardest way possible."
He stops talking, overcome by another cough.
"But he waited right? If he loved her, he'd wait."
He doesn't say anything. His eyes are red from all the coughs and his hands have started to shake.
"He loved her right?"
"Sometimes if you love a person, you ache until you stop aching. The sun still shines, the leaves still fall, the birds still sing."
"He didn't love her enough." Sheila presses the seashell to her heart as she says this.
"I write the dedication last...For Love and Sunshine. For you and I."
"How do you write the dedication last when you haven't finished the book?"
"There's one thing missing. Now that the whole book is gone, I don't think I even know what I was going to write."
"I'll find your book."
He smiles sadly. Then, without warning, he says, "Fireworks don't tell the truth."
She looks away. The seashell drops from her hands and rolls across the floor. He sees it but doesn't ask her about it.
"Why do you say so?" She asks sadly.
"Talk to me, Raj." She insists, gently picking up the seashell.
"Fireworks always fade out. They shine so brightly at first that you think it's going to last but then it leaves and you are left with the darkness. It doesn't tell you that after all its glitters, it would leave you to the silence of your heart."
"What has that got to do with us? What has that got to do with your book that's gone missing?" Her voice has risen. She has stopped crying, only the dried tears like two jagged lines are there. But she doesn't clean them up. She holds her seashell too close, too near.
"Everything, Sheila. That's the name of my last book."
"Please. If we don't find it, you'll write again. We'll help you." She touches the small bump on her stomach, watching for his reactions.
"I love you. But what's gone is gone."
An hour later when she stands up on her feet and notices the soreness of it, she smiles dryly. Then she calls him and he doesn't respond. She leans over and touches him. He is as cold as stone, unmoving, dead.
And just as suddenly, the words mount itself on the tip of her lips. The words are cold, drained of all life: Fireworks don't tell the truth.
The doorbell starts to ring. Sheila walks out of the room and goes to the front door. When she pulls it open, Martha is standing there with a shy smile and a book tucked underneath her hands.
"I found this right after you left. It must be what you were looking for."
She hands it over. Sheila opens it and sees the writing, beautiful and sleek, and knows it is his book long before she sees the title.
"Where did you see it? I checked." She has started to choke.
"It was over at the place where I left the seashell. I found it just right there." Martha says then thoughtfully, adds, "and now I can't find the damn thing. It must have fallen as we searched."
"Yeah, I guess. Thanks."
Sheila doesn't tell her that the seashell is with her or that Raj is dead. She doesn't tell her that fireworks are liars or that she hates herself for loving too deeply. She closes the door and goes to the dedication.
For sunshine and love. For you and I. Sheila.