Read To Me, My Dear Beren

Submitted into Contest #142 in response to: Write a story that includes one character reading aloud to another.... view prompt

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Sad Romance American

This story contains sensitive content

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: This story features death and dying. One of the characters is a terminally ill cancer patient.

Jane Barnett requested to be discharged. She was in the final stages of pancreatic cancer and she did not want to die in a hospital, surrounded by doctors, nurses, and strangers the next bed over. She wanted to die at home with her beloved Jake and their growing family. She wanted to die in the arms of the man she loved—in their own bed, not in some hospital bed attached to machines that prolonged not only her life but her agony as well. She wanted her sisters and parents to visit her at home. She wanted her twin daughters Rachel and Leah, and her son John Ronald, to remember her as she once was, not as she was now. Her silky dark brown locks were long gone by now, having fallen victim to round after round of intense radiation and chemotherapy, which didn’t even really work. Sometimes she wondered why they even bothered. Jake, in his love for her, made a wig that looked just like her old hair—just for her. Now, she was lying in bed comfortably in pajamas and not a hospital gown, her handsome Jake beside her (or as she fondly called him, her handsome Beren).

“Read to me, my dear Beren,” Jane said with some difficulty, looking into Jake’s loving eyes. “Read to me again. I want your voice to be the last thing I hear.”

“What story do you want to hear?” Jake said with a broken voice and tears in his eyes.

“Read me my favorite poem,” Jane said with a pained smile. “The Song of Beren & Luthien.”

Jake reached over, grabbing the book on the nightstand on his side of the bed. He cracked it open and flipped through some pages, sometimes licking his fingers, until he found what he was looking for. He cleared his snot-filled throat and began to read.

“The leaves were long, the grass was green. The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,” Jake read aloud. “And in the glade a light was seen. Of stars in shadow shimmering.”

Jane smiled and closed her eyes with a sigh, trying to imagine the scene that Tolkien so beautifully described.

“Tinúviel was dancing there to music of a pipe unseen,” Jake continued. “And light of stars was in her hair, and in her raiment glimmering.”

Jane could see the Elven maiden dancing enchantingly there in that glade.

“There Beren came from mountains cold, and lost he wandered under leaves,” Jake read, his voice breaking. But he had to be brave. He had to be strong for his Luthien. “And where the Elven-river rolled. He walked alone and sorrowing. He peered between the hemlock-leaves and saw in wonder flowers of gold. Upon her mantle and her sleeves, and her hair like shadow following.”

“Her hair like shadow following,” Jane repeated softly. “Now I know why you called me Luthien. Sorry, keep going.”

“Enchantment healed his weary feet that over hills were doomed to roam; and forth he hastened, strong and fleet, and grasped at moonbeams glistening,” Jake carried on. Sometimes his voice wavered like he was about to cry, at other times, it was solid and steady. “Through woven woods in Elvenhome she lightly fled on dancing feet, and left him lonely still to roam in the silent forest listening.”

“He heard there oft the flying sound of feet as light as linden-leaves,” Jane recited by heart, following along as Jake read to her. “Or music welling underground, in hidden hollows quavering.”

Jake stopped awhile to kiss Jane’s bony delicate hands before continuing on with his reading.

“I love you,” Jake said, swallowing hard. “For time and all eternity.”

“For time and all eternity,” Jane said with a smile and a sigh, kissing Jake’s lips softly.

“Now withered lay the hemlock-sheaves, and one by one with sighing sound whispering fell the beechen leaves in the wintry woodland wavering,” Jake read on. “He sought her ever, wandering far where leaves of years were thickly strewn, by light of moon and ray of star in frosty heavens shivering.”

“Her mantle glinted in the moon, as on a hill-top high and far she danced, and at her feet was strewn a mist of silver quivering,” Jane whispered softly to herself.

“When winter passed, she came again, and her song released the sudden spring, like rising lark, and falling rain, and melting water bubbling,” Jake said as he kept on reading. “He saw the elven-flowers spring about her feet, and healed again he longed by her to dance and sing upon the grass untroubling.”

“The next part is my favorite part,” Jane interjected.

“Mine too,” Jake said with a fond smile. “He called her by her elvish name. You can tell he was really lovestruck.”

“Go on,” Jane said. “I can’t wait to hear you read that next part.”

“Again she fled, but swift he came. Tinúviel! Tinúviel! He called her by her elvish name; and there she halted listening,” Jake read. “One moment stood she, and a spell his voice laid on her: Beren came, and doom fell on Tinúviel that in his arms lay glistening.”

“As Beren looked into her eyes within the shadows of her hair, the trembling starlight of the skies he saw there mirrored shimmering,” Jane quoted weakly. She was fading now but still desperately tried to hold on to whatever feeble strand of life and strength she had left.

“Tinúviel the elven-fair, immortal maiden elven-wise, about him cast her shadowy hair and arms like silver glimmering,” Jake continued. “Long was the way that fate them bore, o’er stony mountains cold and grey, through halls of iron and darkling door, and woods of nightshade morrowless.”

Suddenly, a sob racked Jake’s body and he had to stop reading to gather his thoughts and his remaining composure.

“Ssssshhhh…” Jane said comfortingly, wiping Jake’s tears away. “Ssssshhhh… Ssssshhh… Don’t cry. You know how much I hate seeing you cry.”

“I know,” Jake said with a nod and another sob.

“I’ll wait for you in the Undying Lands,” Jane whispered. “I promise. But while you’re still here, live. Live for yourself. Live for our kids. They’re going to need you.”

“I will,” Jake said. “I promise.”

“Now, read the rest of the poem,” Jane demanded.

“Yes, ma’am,” Jake said with a smile. “The Sundering Seas between them lay, and yet at last they met once more, and long ago they passed away in the forest singing sorrowless.”

And with that, Jane closed her eyes one last time and slipped into unconsciousness and the deep, dark, dreamless sleep of death. Before she passed, however, she managed to mumble her last words.

“Jake, I hear elves singing,” she said. “Or are those angels?”

April 17, 2022 05:03

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