I rose from the stage floor–I couldn’t remember why I’d fallen–and peered down at my husband. He came! It was my last show. I was really retiring, this time, I’d told him (truth was, I was more of a liability than an asset, at my age, so I was encouraged to take a final bow); but I refused to get my hopes up that he would come. And, then, there he was.
He looked as dapper as ever in his black suit. It was too dark to see its color as he took his seat, but I knew that suit. I recognized how it moved on him, and how he moved in it. I knew all his suits. He didn't eat much, these days, so it was looser than it had been, but his white hair shimmered, like it did when it was still jet-colored. His walk was a little stiff, but he sat straight and tall. The attendant that sat beside him looked like he could have been our son, if we’d had children. No one observing him would suspect he was anything but a loving husband, attractive in spite of his age, come to support his wife at her final performance. He’d looked like he knew exactly where he was and why he was there as they were seated–I’d done the forbidden and peeked at the audience after the attendant called to say they'd arrived.
He was dead center, two rows behind the orchestra, eyebrows drawn together, balancing an unconvincing smile. The smile faded as he stared up, toward the stage. When the confused lines on his forehead slid away taking all the color from his face with them, I knew something wasn’t right–was, in fact, very wrong. His eyes flashed and he began to tremble.
The rise and fall of his chest was forced, and people passed him, not even noticing. I couldn’t see where they went, although the house lights were coming up, the whole room brightening by degrees. Did someone else fall, too? Did I knock someone down with me? I couldn’t remember anyone else puddled on the stage floor. The thought passed through my mind quickly, chased out by a bigger concern: I didn’t see the attendant beside my husband anymore. All I could see was my husband–everything else blurred at the periphery.
His lips moved, but I was too far away to hear. Too far to hear him and too far to reach him. I’m sorry, I thought. You asked me not to let the world see you…deteriorate. But no one was looking at him; or, if they were, they weren’t coming to him. I couldn’t see anyone near him. None to gawk…or to help.
I didn’t feel myself move. For some reason, I couldn’t. He was still seated, yet he looked farther away, the space between us somehow changed. I tried to reach out to him, but I was numb–I might as well not have had arms.
His flickering eyes finally stilled, glistening, boring holes through me, and a tremor passed through his jaw. He hurt. Something was hurting him, and he needed help. He spoke, again, and I recognized the word, this time: it was my name. I still couldn’t hear him–I couldn’t hear anything–but I recognized the movement of his mouth. It opened wide and his neck strained; he’d tried to yell, but there was no sound.
I stared at him. It was bright, now, but I couldn’t see anything else, couldn’t see anyone else. No one else, but him.
He’d said my name. It’d been so long since he’d said my name, so long since he’d recognized me. By the time he started really “slipping,” I looked so different from when we'd met–more than forty years will do that–I’d wondered if he was still looking for the young lady with chestnut hair and more drive than a young lady really should've had. Maybe he remembered her. But as he progressed, he’d looked at me, more and more often, like he would a new nurse or gardener: blankly. Not rudely–an innate gentleman, through and through, he was never rude–but without any flicker of recognition.
“No!” he mouthed, and his head was bent further back. “Beth…don’t leave me!”
It was too bright. I could barely see him, light blurring his solid lines like mists at sunrise. I felt like nothing, numb, all senses–but sight–dissipated, and even that was failing in the ever-growing brightness.
I felt nothing on the outside, but when I saw him–his expression bleak, afraid, desperate, body trembling, one cheek marked with a wet line–something inside me broke. He does still know me!
No, I thought, don’t put that pressure on him! There’s no telling where he thinks he is, or who he thinks I am. It’s not fair to ask him to–to be who I remember, when I can’t be who he remembers...if he remembers me, at all.
“Don’t leave me,” I saw him say, as he pinned my torpefied form with his eyes. They were warm and lucid, and terrified. I saw his eyes and mouth, his face all I could make out of the mists, now.
But in that moment when my spirit broke, I could move, just barely.
“I love you.” It was soundless, too, but I managed to shape the words before I couldn’t move, again.
Then all was light. It wasn’t a color, but pure light–too brilliant for any specific hue. All was light, and I faded into it, became absorbed and mingled with it.
I was part of a thing much bigger than my limited body or mind. I didn’t know quite what, yet, and I felt there were much more important things that I should be thinking of than the former state of my little existence. But I couldn’t. Not yet. I’d loved that man for most of my life. I hadn't stayed with him out of habit or convenience–I loved him…and I wondered if he knew. I wondered if he’d recognized or had even seen what I’d said.
From somewhere amongst the light that I was now a part of, a voice of sorts–a knowledge that didn’t come from me, but someone greater–spoke without sound.
“He did. He always could see your soul.”