Short Story: Life



I’ve always been sentimental about life. Even when I didn’t fully understand it.

You chided me for it, playfully, but I simply couldn’t help it. I cherished life – every gruesome bit of it – and in turn I cherished the existence of every living thing in the world. From us humans, with our complex thoughts and emotions, down to the tiniest microbe, who would never appreciate the beauty of its own existence. The thought of it all made my heart swell.

And because of that, I was afraid to die. And when you came into my life, my fear extended to you as well. Our lives were linked, and so the inevitable ending of either of them felt to me to be something profoundly sad. Obscene, even.

You never agreed. You told me death was natural, that it was beautiful. It seemed that you held death which much the same reverence that I held life. And I must confess to you, my love: I disagreed with you for a long time. Yes, death is natural, but did that make it acceptable? How could I look into the light of your eyes and stomach the thought that they might one day grow dark?

Well, as you’re well aware, fate forced me to think about it. As the universe so often does, it thrust me in front of my worst terrors and demanded I confront them. When the tests came back, and when we both knew you weren’t long for the world – that soon there would only be me and the little life we made together – you told me not to be afraid. You told me it would be okay.

And, as you well know, I disagreed. When they said blood might help you, I drained myself dry. When they said marrow might help you, I made myself hollow. I would have torn myself to pieces just to give you precious extra seconds. And you knew that. The day that you, weary, watery eyes, and only a cracked whisper left in your throat, begged me to stop… I think that was the day that broke both our hearts.

And so, for me, the beauty of life had been so cruelly ripped away. And I confess that that was how I thought about it. It’s selfish, I know, and yet after all we’d said to one another, it truly did feel as if I’d somehow lost more than even you, somehow. The fact that you probably would have agreed with me doesn’t make me feel any less ashamed about this.

For a long time I never considered that there could ever be beauty in your death, despite your insisting so. I couldn’t understand – or rather I was too selfish to try to understand – that the cessation of all your aches and pains was as much a miracle as the first gasping breaths of our child. During your service, I didn’t allow myself to cherish the memory of what had been. I wallowed instead over what would never be. I regret that to this day. I think I owed that to you, and I couldn’t deliver.

I spent several years in bleak monotone, forgetting everything that I’d once loved about life. I forgot the sun, and the moon, and the rivers and trees and the oceans and the skies. In fact, I came to resent it – all of it. How could life go on without you? What right had it? And that, I know now, was my great mistake. The thing you tried to make me understand, and the thing I never let you. Life is ephemeral. Life is only what it is because it is ephemeral. And yet, despite its temporary nature, it doesn’t really end. It only changes. And I, a self-proclaimed lover of life, had never acknowledged that, until today.

I’m sure you know – and I hope it didn’t hurt – the last cruel insult the world played upon us both. The fire that started in the woods and grew wildly out of control, sweeping across miles of land, including your plot. When I heard the news that our cemetery had been burned to the ground, I felt sick. And I didn’t want to see. How could I see that? It would have ruined what was left of me.

But today, I gathered up my courage and finally gave you what I owed you. We needed to talk; you needed to talk. There was so much I never let you say, because I was so caught up in my flawed convictions about deaths, so convinced that you had it wrong. I don’t know why I chose today of all days. I suppose shame finally outweighed fear. And so, with our daughter out at school, I took the trip. The fire is years old by now and yet I was still expecting to see a scorched wasteland; the image of it tormented me every minute of the journey here.

But of course, the destruction had long been cleared away, and in its place was… life. Grass, trees, birds, squirrels, even a hare darting through the bushes as I stepped through the gate. I held my breath as I walked the path towards your stone. What would it have become after years of my neglect? What mess awaited me, ready to admonish and accuse me, the man who stubbornly loved life too much to respect death?

But I should have given you more credit, my love. Always more gracious than I, how could I have thought for a second your death would ever make for such a malicious monument? Instead of the dreary scene in my mind’s eye, your overgrown tombstone was flush with life. Wild berries and creeper vines, reds and greens more vivid than I’d ever imagined. You are here, my darling. You are here, and gone. You are dead.

And alive.

My eyes immediately misted into tears when presented with the proof of everything you’d ever tried to tell me. Death was beautiful. I had always thought of it in hues of grey and black. Of sickly yellow and brown bile. But here you lay before me, ripened berries and blooming wildflowers; a bounty for the bees which prod at you gently. For the worms which make their home amidst your loving embrace.

You’re different now, but you never left. Even when the world conspired to burn you away from me, you lay firm. Now you are berries and vines and insects and birds. You are the hare. You are the tentatively budding leaves on the nearby tree.

You’ve convinced me at last, my love. Death is beautiful. Life is beautiful. They form two halves of a universe more wondrous than I can ever appreciate.

It’s all so beautiful, in fact that I can’t wait to share it with you. I can’t wait to talk to you again. I’ve given you my blood and bone before, but you rejected it then – and I understand why; really I do. Will you reject it still?

With a knife I don’t remember sliding into my jacket pocket, I open myself up to you. The warmth of me touches you once again, and your warmth touches me. My blood intermingles with the juices of your ripe, red berries. It feels so good to touch you again.

I’m so proud of everything you’ve done without me, my love. All these years I left you alone to build all this. I, the so-called lover of life, shut myself in shades of deadened sepia while you seeded a masterpiece; a mural so grand and wonderful that of course it could have only come from you.

That you had to do all this without me is the last shame I’ll ever feel. I’m on my knees now, falling closer to you. The reds, the greens, they’re growing stronger, and stronger.

I close my eyes.

My darling.

My love.

Let’s make a universe together.

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