This is a story I submitted to a writing contest. The writing prompt was “Fall” and “Love”. I’m pretty sure I nailed the theme.
By Michael Hotchkiss
It was a perfect clock: unreliable, inaccurate. You could only see the numbers up close but didn’t know if they were right. From afar, you couldn’t see the numbers at all. I didn’t want to know the time right now. It was a perfect clock.
It sat on my wife’s bedside table and didn’t make noise or it would cease to be perfect. It allowed me to hear the sounds of the breeze rustling the autumn leaves beyond the open window. The fresh air had an aroma unique to the month of October in Vermont. Pamela and I loved the fall, loved Vermont and had made it a routine to spend time every autumn embedded in the enchantment of both. I bought her a gold encrusted maple leaf necklace on our first trip together, before we married. It came from one of the General Stores you find along Rte. 100 that most leaf-peepers become familiar with. She had recently told me it was her most prized possession. Best fifty dollars I ever spent.
The rise in her chest as she breathed reminded me of the countless times of love making that ended with an arch of her back, eyes rolling, pursed lips holding back the ecstatic exhalation that, when released, sent her crashing back to earth with a glorious thud. The climax of two intertwined bodies powered by mutual lust.
A warm glow enveloped me as I thought about this, but my daydream was rudely interrupted by the tone from my phone indicating the arrival of a text message. I usually had alerts muted, but under the circumstances, I had to be available to friends and family.
The message simply said, “any change?”
I thumbed back with, “status quo. she looks peaceful.”
I checked to verify my assessment. I.V. lines were draped over the top sheet invading Pamela’s arm and a morbid, corrugated breathing tube was sloppily taped to a mouth piece, hiding her supple lips. The different colored graphs that tracked her “signs of life” changed ever so slightly with each scan. Assuredly, not peaceful.
I added to my reply, “i’ll let you know when…”
I took Pamela’s hand. It was time to let her know again how I felt by telling one of the stories of our special bond. I closed my eyes.
“Babe, remember the time we went to the Zen Garden in Hubbardton last October? I thought it didn’t exist. Seriously? A Japanese garden in some remote town in central Vermont only known as the site of a Revolutionary War battle? You had convinced me it was a noble quest and enticed me with the allure of a good hike to find out. You had insisted I include sushi, sake and chop sticks in my day pack. I thought ‘really’, but you gave a Geisha-like smile, fanned yourself and cooed, ‘Zen gardens can be very romantic.’
My knees buckled every time you got flirty with me.”
It was a Vermont Postcard day. High puffy clouds bespeckled the deep blue sky only clean mountain air can produce. Foliage was peaking along with all five senses. The ochre blend of red, orange, yellow and colors-undefined carpeted the narrow trail. The bark of White Birches framed the magnificent autumn scene. It smelled like woods and streams and the coming snow. The trees echoed with a nearby brook succumbing to gravity over pebbles and boulders, neither offering the courtesy to get out of the way for fear the babble would go silent.
I paused, took a deep breath and gazed ruefully at the only real love I had ever known. Why? Why must you go? There are so many things I want to tell you. All I want are the things we have yet to do. I’m not ready to have only reminiscence as a partner and my singular voice as a conversation. My solace and pain is in knowing that we had something incomparable. As unique as a snowflake, as extraordinary as the Northern Lights. I will never sort out how a lightning strike burst from the skies on our favorite golf course and snuffed your life like pinching a match with moist fingers. The flame was extinguished, yet emitting a wispy trail of smoke. An ember that cannot be rekindled.
I shook my head violently to expel these thoughts. I had all the imperfect time left on the clock to grieve. I brought myself back to our quest of a year ago:
We crested a ridge and headed down. I explained to Pamela that the worst part about going down a tricky trail was you could not enjoy the view above. I could, however, watch my wife effortlessly descend. Pamela was athletic yet graceful. The hiking boots, cargo shorts and a day pack she wore was the uniform of an angel meant only for me. She was a confident mountain lion leading her charge to a safe place.
“So lucky,” I reminded myself aloud.
“What’s that Babe?” Pamela looked back.
“I said, you’re slow.
”She tossed her head back and laughed as only she could then returned her attention to the terrain. The trail leveled out as the trees opened to a meadow. The field was bathed in sunshine and the lea grass was waving to us. We emerged and saw it. A garden. A Zen Garden.
I grabbed her hand. She used it to draw me in. We hugged and had a playful smooch. She pulled me closer and the little kiss became a deep and passionate probe of each other. What spell that made me transform from playful to wanton with a slight gesture was magic only Pamela had. We winked at each other acknowledging her earlier Japanese premonition.
The acre size garden was nestled on one side of a much larger field, bathed in the mid-morning sun. There were purposeful rocks with waterfalls, arched bridges over manicured streams and mini Pagoda’s marking the center of flower beds. The valley was surrounded by the variety of Beech, Aspen, Red Oak and Maple trees. Nature’s canvas painted with hues that made Vermont famous for such moments. There was no one else visible as if the proprietor’s had hung the “Do Not Disturb Sign” on our discovery.
We sat on the bank of a Koi pond with lily pads perfectly staged. Dancing, black-mottled gold fish were blurred by the ripples made by our infringing toes. We ate sushi, drank sake and talked about all things Pamela & Me. We had been together for twelve years, yet there were still things we hadn’t discovered about each other, or, more aptly, hadn’t revealed to anyone before; the stuff of true love escalating; achievable by two ordinary people that are consummate as one.
An impish grin unfurled on Pamela that meant only one thing. We grabbed a fleece blanket and bounded off, giddy with lustful anticipation. We strode behind the boulder with a ribbon thin waterfall cascading into the Koi pool, then darted into the multi-colored tree curtain behind the rock, only a few paces into the woods. Before the blanket had been spread, our sweat soaked tee shirts and cargo shorts hit the leafy ground. Pamela’s bare body still mesmerized me. Her milky-white skin was like the nearby Green Mountains in winter; a majestic panorama blanketed in fresh snow. A purely awesome sight that I would never tire of. Pamela’s golden leaf necklace glinted as we immersed ourselves into each other. Our love had evolved to having passionate sex in semi-public places and become a favorite activity of ours. We had discovered this game together, so it felt as if it was ours alone. It was unbounded sensuality, daring and erotic.
The alert on my phone shattered my reminiscence. This time it was a calendar reminder. I looked at the perfect clock. It was too far away to be read. Time mattered more than any other time in my life. I referred to my phone. I had an hour. The Zen moment popped like an unsuspecting balloon falling on a bramble. My heart plummeted into a part of my stomach that wasn’t there before. It was time to summon the family. I accessed the contact group I had prepared on my phone a month ago. The time we agreed as a family to not extend Pamela’s suffering. I typed, “It’s time” and hit send.
Soon after, Pamela’s family arrived. We gathered around the bed. I didn’t have to think of anything to say because there was nothing to be said. We stood silently around her: a somber halo made of family love encircling her.
Two nurses came in and touched my arm with a nod. I can’t imagine anything like this ever becoming routine no matter how many times it had been done before. They disconnected the I.V. and the breathing tube along with all the other gizmos part and parcel of life support. Despite the instruments being muted, the silence grew tenfold. The rustling leaves became the soundtrack of saying goodbye. Pamela would have liked that I thought.
For the first time since the accident, I gazed at her face, unobstructed, save for my welling eyes. It took my breath away as she was about to be relieved of hers in a very different way. Freshly bathed, she had been dressed in a green “I Love VT” tee shirt, khaki cargo shorts and hiking boots. She was at peace and I would be too…some day.
I was told I had no more than five minutes. I checked the perfect clock to see if it offered more time. It didn’t. I removed the gold maple leaf necklace from my pocket and put it around her neck. A fallen tear splashed on the gold surface. I brushed her hair back and kissed her forehead.
Good bye my love.
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