By Alex Scarelli
Abby told me she had Stage IV breast cancer. There would be no miracle cure, no last minute turnaround. She would die in six months, three if she declined evasive medication. Sitting across from one another in the kitchen of our apartment, still dressed in pajamas and sleep wearing off with sips of coffee, she told me to leave her.
“I’m 32; you’re 25,” she said. “You’re too young to understand.”
Tears swelled behind my eyes. “Seven years doesn’t make a difference in the way I love you.”
“It’s not about love. It’s what it will do to you. I don’t want you to see me die.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” I said.
“What’s the difference?” she reached across the table to comb my cowlick with her small, warm hand. “I’m leaving you.”
“People handle these things differently,” my friend Jason said over beers that afternoon. “I don’t know what to say.”
“I need to handle this, too. I need to be with her. How can she want me to go?”
Jason nodded, looked down at the lacquered oak of the bar top, and pushed the condensation ring of his beer around with his index finger.
“It’s not fair,” I said. “It’s not fair. Not to me.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
We sat in the bar for an hour, him tracing the grain of the wood, and me staring at the amber liquid in my glass until it, and the liquid in another three glasses, was gone.
I told her I’d stay with my parents until I found someplace else. She helped me pack. She emptied drawers alongside me, collected pots, pans and dishes. We barely spoke as we separated ourselves.
“If we were married?” I asked as we folded sweaters and packed them in cardboard boxes. “Would you tell me to leave if we were married? If we had kids?”
She moved from beside the box on the unmade bed to the dresser, her back against mine as she rearranged clothing in a drawer. “Maybe not.”
I came up beside her, circled my arms around her waist. “Don’t make me go,” I whispered.
“You have to.” She held my hands against her belly and stroked my forearm. She turned, kissed me.
“If I don’t see you die–”
“Enough,” she said, resting her head against my neck. “Remember me like this.”
The sky was clear and frost painted the windows of my car as she helped carry the last boxes out of the apartment. No words were spoken between us; just the stacking of cardboard upon cardboard.
She left me beside my car, rearranging things in the trunk. She gave me a kiss and walked back in the building. I stood there and looked in the window of our apartment. I waited for five minutes, my eyes set on our second-floor window. The curtains remained shut. I got in the car and drove away.
At my parents’ house, I started to take walks on the side of the street at night. I stared up at the moon, followed its light to the canopy of the giant maple trees lining the road in front of me. I went up streets I’d never been on before, lost myself in dirt roads and back country lanes, until I turned back to find familiar ground.
My mom called my phone as the blackness became blacker. I’d let it go to my voicemail, walk back to the house, and sit down beside her on the couch where she had fallen asleep waiting for me to return. I kissed her on her cheek and walked upstairs to my childhood bedroom. In the morning, she said nothing, just fed me and came behind me and held me against her as I brought our plates to the sink.
The doctors gave Abby six months to live, but it took only six weeks until the phone rang. My mom picked up the phone on the wall, listened, whispered words of thanks to the caller on the line, and returned to my father and me at the dinner table. My mom sat, looked down at her empty plate, then to my father. I knew. I left the table, walked up the stairs to my room, and sat on my bed in the dark.
My mom came in an hour later and relayed the details of the message. It had been Abby’s mom on the phone, saying how sorry she was, that she didn’t understand her own daughter’s wishes, but even still – I was not to come to the wake, the funeral or the burial. After, her mom said, after she’s gone, I can come and visit, when the headstone was in place.
I didn’t walk in, but at the services I sat in the driver’s seat of my car and watched from the parking lot as the casket emerged from the white church doors and was placed in the hearse. Jason sat in the seat beside me, holding my right hand as his eyes shifted from her to me, until the hearse was backed away and driven to the cemetery a few towns over.
Jason and I remained in the parking lot for an hour, long after the mourners left, long after Abby has been lowered, set in the ground, covered with freshly dug earth. Jason got out of the car, opened my door and took my arm. He guided me to the backseat, laid me down and covered my body with a blanket he took from the trunk.
“Thank you,” I said to him. He nodded, tucked my feet inside the door before closing it, and drove to my parents’ house.
Small blades of grass shot through the mound below the headstone. From rows and rows away, the sounds of sobs stifled by fistfuls of tissues was caught on the wind and carried to me as I knelt down on the fresh grass to trace letters carved in cold, black granite. I traced the A, the B, and stopped. My hand fell to the grass and I combed the strands with my fingers. I crossed my arms as the wind picked up, surveyed the grounds. There was a plot behind her and one to her left, but her right looked out onto a small expense of lush grass: earth awaiting occupation.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student