Until Death Do Us Part

Her hand was soft in mine, delicate and smooth as the day I met her. Not a trace of the spots beginning to darken and form on my own hands. I prayed that she did not look down and notice them. She hadn’t last time, but they were more noticeable now. When she gazed upon the fine lines around my eyes, I noticed a hint of confusion. My makeup no longer hid them, but rather settled into the creases and cracked with every smile.

I tried not to smile, but how could I? Today I was marrying the woman I loved. It was the happiest day of our lives and I need it to be perfect.

The words of the ceremony were like crumbling paper in my mouth. Once the vows and promises held meaning. Now they were a rote recitation without passion or inflection.

Her frown deepened and I could feel her begin to withdraw. I squeezed her fingers and made a harsh, fierce whisper of my love for her. Her smile was soft and hesitant and she searched my face for the woman she’d fallen in love with. I wondered if she saw a stranger.

After the ceremony came the photos. I longed to be at the cocktail hour rather than forcing a smile to my lips and posing as part of a happy couple. Today everything felt false and wrong. This was not the memory of our wedding that I wanted to hold onto forever. I could barely smile in the photos and I knew it would not matter. Tomorrow, today, I would try again.

At the end of the night, I kissed her and feigned a drunken stupor. We slept together, but apart. She did not gravitate toward me in her sleep the way she had the first nights. Why would she? This was not the body she knew.

***

“There’s something different about you.”

“Its bad luck to see the bride before the wedding,” I teased to cover my inward panic. My hair was beginning to go gray. Did I have time to slip out and recolor it before the ceremony? I pulled the robe tighter about my body, hiding all of the places it had gone soft.

“You know I don’t care for tradition.” She perched on the edge of my bed. “Do you ever wake up with the feeling of déjà vu?”

Every morning, but I could not tell her that. “Sometimes, I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, though.”

“You’d tell me if there was something going on, right?”

“Of course,” I lied. “I imagine you had a familiar dream. You should go to breakfast with your family.”

Her parting kiss was soft and sweet and I nearly caved and told her I’d lived this day over eight thousand times. Instead, I let her go with a smile, wondering how much longer I could convince her that I was still the twenty-two-year-old woman she’d fallen in love with.

***

I waited for her at the end of the aisle, veil down to hide my sagging skin. When she lifted it back, she screamed and professed me a stranger. Tears streamed down my cheeks and when I reached out to take her hand she flinched away.

“Who are you?”

“I’m your love. Your wife.”

“Is it… cancer?” I didn’t know of any cancer that could age you thirty-five years overnight. Still, it warmed my heart that she thought of cancer rather than the other thoughts she’d come up with over our past hundreds of imperfect weddings.

“Can we talk? Alone?”

“You’re dying.”

“We’re all dying.”

“Whatever it is, you can tell me here.”

I looked out at the congregation, a mixture of our friends and family. My parents who were now younger than me. And I lied.

***

I could scarcely see when I woke up, my vision had rapidly declined over the years without proper eye care. I’d skipped out on our wedding a few times when I’d caught a cold to visit a walk-in-clinic and those were the days that hurt me the most, seeing the woman I loved more than anything standing alone at the altar, her bride never coming to her. But I could not make it for routine exams that had to be scheduled months in advance and who I could never provide an explanation to even if I went.

I wrapped a robe about me and pulled the hood low over my face before shuffling out into the hallway. Each step caused a flare-up of arthritic pain in my hips. Luckily she was only across the hall and was able to let me into her room. I’d passed her door so many times over the years that I didn’t need sight to know where she stayed.

“I thought it was bad luck?” Her melodic voice was soft and teasing.

“I can’t see you,” I rasped back at her.

Her concern was immediate as she asked if I had a cold and grabbed me a glass of water. I sat down on the armchair whose shape I could scarcely make out.

“I have a confession.” I didn’t know where to start so I looked in what I hoped was her general direction and lowered the hood.

Her gasp was sudden and sharp. “What…?”

“I wanted today to be perfect. It never was. You had a bridesmaid who tripped, a groomsman who drank too much, my father’s speech was inappropriate, they sent the wrong flowers, every time, there was something wrong.”

“Every… time? How… how many times?” Though I knew she was already doing the math in her head based on my appearance. I did not give her an answer.

“It was easier at first, just one more time and it will be perfect and we can live our lives happily together. What’s an extra few attempts to get it right? To make it perfect.”

“Marrying you would have been enough. Becoming your wife.”

“I spent my whole life with you. Today.”

“That’s not fair,” her voice caught in her throat. “You got to spend your life with me, but I didn’t get to spend mine with you.”

I bowed my head. “I was selfish.”

“You were.” There was a soft rustle and whisper of cloth and then her hands were on mine. “Will I remember this conversation tomorrow?”

“I don’t know.”

“My parents won’t understand.”

“Tell them…” I trailed off. “I don’t have that right. Tell them whatever you wish.” I pulled my hands away from hers.

“What will you do now?”

“I don’t know.” I left her, alone in the hotel room with a broken heart.

I could fix it.

For today.

Make her forget.

Restart tomorrow as today.

I could live the rest of my years trapped in this one day.

Outside the birds shrieked their greeting. Today was my wedding day.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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