It was a miscalculation, nothing more. She expected something I was unwilling to give. Such is life.
We avoided the question for the first year, the good year. By the second, we were married, mostly through boredom, and the question arose more often.
I had, of course, known her feelings from the start. Her every motion suggested it. Her every thought touched upon it. She had no need to voice it, even in those moments after, when I was most suggestible.
Our third winter was the hardest. Snow piled around our small home like parcels around a rich child’s Christmas tree. There was no way out and nothing to do within. Lilith pressed me every hour until I conceded to her point of view.
We huddled together, illuminated by the light of a single black candle. Lilith smiled more in those few minutes than she had in the previous three years. And I remembered… And I recalled…
I was a doctor once. The thrill of saving lives outweighed the sorrow of losing them. Lilith was my most satisfying work. She’d stabbed herself with an onyx dagger, but she didn’t die, and I refused to let her not live. When she left the hospital, our dating began. Like I said, I was proud of what I did for her, even if she herself wasn’t.
Lilith withdrew the dagger I thought her to have lost. The thing glittered a terrible darkness and moaned like a lost puppy begging for food. “You first,” she said.
It was odd! We’d talked about it, pictured it so many times, but when push came to shove, I faltered. Lilith angered. We fought.
I buried my wife beneath a holly tree, when the snow melted enough to dig out the ground. A citrine spring light filtered down through the still empty branches overhead, casting angular, awkward shadows across her grave. That’s when I saw it, the inscription, one I had not made.
Here lies one who refused to give in to life.
I thought about that peculiar statement for many years until I, too, lay on my deathbed, teetering on the borders of forever. The female doctor bent over me as the breath faltered in my iron lungs, leaned in closer. She held a syringe in her hands, one of black glass, almost onyx, with a blade of stiletto thinness.
When you pass through the final curtain, your loved ones will gather around you like moths around a lantern. Their sadness shall wipe away your own. Unfortunately, I had but one lover, one to wait for me across the melancholy divide. She sneered and turned her back. I bowed my head in shame.
When I looked up, Lilith was gone. The gloom beyond the indigo curtain had also vanished, replaced by day. My hands bore no wrinkles. My knees no longer ached. I was alive to die again.
What had I saved in my youthful exuberance? Why did I care? Well, my friends and loyal readers, I didn’t. But she did. Her questions continued, though, in truth, it was only ever one. “Will you live, so I might die?”
Almost The End.
Thank you for reading
Richard M. Ankers
Author of the brand new steampunk extravaganza Britannia Unleashed.