“I told you, Sophie, see? I told you, I’m shrinkin’.” The old man squinted through his spectacles at the fresh tick mark etched into the door frame just half an inch below another measurement mark. Neglected pale-yellow paint chipped away from the walls over the years like the elasticity of his skin, reflecting his age back at him. He shuffled across the room back to his wife’s bedside. “There! Now the proof is on our walls.”
Sophie hardly had the energy to give her husband a full grin anymore. She was draped beneath her favorite quilt from her waist down, and a pair of pink lilies stood young and proud on the nearby table. “I believe you, now.”
White cotton curtains swayed in the open window as if to help the old man back into his creaky wooden chair with a heaving sigh. “I feel old.”
“I can see it in your eyes.”
“But not by my obvious elderliness?” He nearly choked on his own laugh, knowing more than well how skeletal his appearance had become over those last long years.
Sophie laughed with him, and then sunk further into her lace pillow. “I hardly noticed a wrinkle, Henry.”
“Then you’ve got a damn good and wild imagination, honey. Either that, or your mind has finally left you.”
She couldn’t resist a smile, and it stole a bit more of her energy, her voice barely above a whisper. “Do you want to know where else my imagination takes me?”
Sliding her fingers across the coverlets, she took Henry’s hand in hers, using her thumb to connect dots between his faded sunspots, grazing over his golden wedding band. “Our past lives.”
Henry paused. He’d never liked talking about those sorts of things–death, hope, and then death again. But it didn’t matter what Sophie wanted to talk about today. He just wanted to be there. “What kind of lives were they?”
Sophie looked up at him, her eyes a bit more alive than they’d been all afternoon. She tried to squeeze his hand and fill her lungs with fresh spring air. “Oh, I don’t know, Henry. Very different from this one, that much I’m sure of. I think we were tame in this life, and we played it safe. This time, we did little more than raise a few babies, and run a bait and tackle shop outside of this sunny beachside city.” Her smile widened some more, however weak. “But… I bet we had lived through the World Wars, like you were a pilot soaring over my French farmlands and I was just a speck on the earth beneath you. And the life before that… you were probably a westward bound cowboy kissing me goodbye in a dusty, pretty prairie dress as you set off on your first ride into the desert. And maybe sometime before that… we traversed a great wide ocean to find a New World together.
I think our souls grew tired of it all, though. Of adventure, of wars, of travel. I feel tired. I feel old, too, Henry.”
“Oh, my…” Henry brought her feeble fingers to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “Was this lifetime too dull for you, darling?”
Sophie’s milky brown eyes snapped up, concerned, meeting Henry’s gaze with seriousness. “Hardly. It’s been my favorite.” She leaned her head back against her sunken pillow as Henry wrapped a white ringlet behind her ear. “I… I liked this life of simple things. Making you shepherd’s pie for supper every week because it’s your favorite… sweeping the staircase one step at a time, and lacing up our first grandchild’s shoes even though he always kicks them right off.” She giggled and her tiredness tried to stifle it. “Even wiping the ring of residue from your coffee mug off the countertop every single morning when you’d leave for work.”
He caressed Sophie’s wrinkly face, each crease pressing smooth and soft beneath his rugged fingertips, his weathered hand hovering under her jawline. “Well… however many lives we’ve lived, however wild or tame they’ve been… I hope all of mine have been spent with you, my Sophie.”
They lingered there, breathing each other in. Henry knew he would soon have her sweet scent in only his memories, so he locked it in his lungs for as long as they’d hold it, and absorbed her voice, and soaked in all of her beauty while he still could.
“So…” said Sophie, “if we’ve been through a hundred lives together… What about our next one?”
Those words echoed in his nearly hollowed bones. Henry didn’t know if he wanted to do this again—as if he had any say in it. But another life meant another death to follow along with it, another time he’d have to lose his darling Sophie.
He bit his bottom lip as his eyes filled with heat and water, and he glanced up for any help from above. But Henry felt nothing. Only the warmth of Sophie’s cheek in his firm palm. Cupping her face, he gently buried his other hand in her thin, curly white locks, instinctively, slowly leaning towards her. “It will be… made just for us. Far from noise, and war, and death. Maybe on a mountain somewhere beside a quiet wood.”
Sophie closed her heavy eyes to see it in her mind and she sighed with delight as she opened them once more. “Will you tell me more about it?”
Henry swallowed hard, blinking the tears down his sullen cheeks to clear his blurring vision. He didn’t want to miss a moment of her brown eyes and tender smile. “Well… if it were up to me… We’d meet in childhood, so I could have as many years as possible with you. And we would be neighbors, friends. As children, you would chase me down on my bike just to steal a kiss on my cheek and I would ride away, pretending to be afraid of your cooties. Then I would dream about you later.
But as woman and man, we’d marry on a bright summer day in the middle of August. I would carry you through the threshold of the little house we’d buy as a wedding gift to ourselves. We would garden there, and fish in the stream, and bake, sit on the porch, and make love many, many times…”
“...and?” she whispered, her eyes glistening like his as he leaned nearer.
“We, uh… we wouldn’t be rich nor would we be poor. We would have the sun and the rain, the forest and the morning fog… music, books. The chickens in the coop and the wild berry bushes.” Henry’s voice trembled beyond his control, still trying to fight the tears, though it was too late. “And we would have children again–daughters, of course. Maybe a boy. Oh, you would be so proud, because they would grow up to be strong and wise and lovely! And the house… will never be silent…”
“And then…” A sob ripped through his old lungs. He was so close to her peaceful face his tears splashed on her dull skin. “We will slowly wither, turn gray and white together. And I will hold you close as we wait for death… without fear… because, my love… we know we will soon be with each other again.”
“Oh, Henry…” Sophie caressed his wet cheek and wiped it dry as she kissed the tip of his long nose, and her own tears mingled with her hairline. “I can’t wait.”