This story is by Janine K. Bryant and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
LOVE NEVER FAILS.
He tentatively carried her broken body, wrapped in the red tartan picnic blanket, trying to hide the mess that her body had become. All that was left of her vivacious size twelve body was a skeleton held together with paper thin skin. Chris looked around him checking there were no twitching curtains.
“I never expected to spend our ten year anniversary like this,” he muttered under his breath.
“Neither did I!” Zoe mumbled from under the blanket.
“I still think this is a stupid idea!” Chris carefully stepped onto the soft, golden sand and manoeuvred himself and his wife towards the rocks. She leaned in, to eliminate any space between them.
“I’ll find a small, cosy, cove for us to hide in,” he changed his attitude from annoyance to compassion as he considered the enormity of the situation. The sun was going down. He knew that time was short.
“Let’s just stay here.” Zoe had endured enough of being bundled about. Each step was painful. Her husband carefully lowered her on to the sand and spread out the blanket, making supports with the millions of golden particles.
“That OK?” he enquired of her hairless face, her bald head sporting the black Nike ‘Just do it’ beanie hat.
“Yes, thank you.” She winced.
Chris again checked the area for spies. The beach was empty.
“I am so grateful!” Zoe’s words were beginning to slur, she was struggling to speak. “I just wanted to see my favourite place and the stars one more time.” Zoe was high on morphine, but low on life.
“I know.” Chris was still not convinced this was a good idea. They knew they had not got long together.
“Do you think heaven is as beautiful as this?” She wanted to make the most of every minute here on earth.
“I think it will be astronomically, eternally, infinitely much more stunningly beautiful.” He spoke through his tears, the words passing over his broken heart.
“You will take good care of the children and keep me alive in their lives, won’t you, and tell them how much I love them?” she pleaded.
“You don’t even have to ask.” Chris had to keep reassuring her. She glanced down at her brand new, platinum eternity ring and rotated it on her finger. It was much too big for her bony digit. She kept her fingers bent so it would not fall off. The diamonds glistened in the star light.
“I love you, Christopher Jennings.”
“I know you do Zoe Theodore Jennings. I love you much more, cosmically more than the stars in the sky.” She smiled, then immediately grimaced with pain. He looked at her lovingly, remembering this day, ten years ago. She had flounced down the aisle, trying to slow herself down. Her beautiful blonde hair had been highlighted and loosely curled. It framed her petite features naturally, enhancing her already angelic appearance. Her Dad had tried to make her walk slower. She was so full of excitement and hope for the future. Now all that was left were her green eyes that perfectly matched her emerald engagement ring. The chemotherapy and the cancer had both had an adverse effect on the quality of her skin. She looked much older than her thirty- three years. The battle had been hard and relentless, but now defeat had to be recognised.
“Do you remember who you really are Zoe?” Chris tried to swerve his thoughts to something more positive.
“I am a child of The Most, High God. I am forgiven and chosen. I am accepted into His family. He sent Jesus to die for me. He loves me so much, who else would die in my place? He has gone ahead of me and prepared a mansion for me, with many rooms. I just hope I don’t have to clean them all.” They laughed weakly. Chris held his wife close to try to keep her warm. They looked up at the stars.
“I love the anniversary plaque you bought for us Chris.” Zoe was referring to the glass 10 year, commemorative shield, engraved with how many days, months, minutes and seconds they had been together.
Chris was trying to be strong, and he fought the tears as best as he could, they were an unwelcome guest. He had so much he wanted to say, but the words just seemed futile.
“Thank you for ten happy years, and the children. You have been such a good mum and wife. Except for the time when you told me you didn’t love me anymore and left us for Cooper!”
“I just knew you would have to bring that up,” Zoe distorted her face in disapproval.
“It was only when I saw the bruises that he had left on your body that I decided to take you back.”
“I know and I am still grateful. Thank you that you did forgive me.” Her voice was beginning to fade.
“Somebody told me that if I didn’t forgive you, it would be like administering poison to myself and you would not even be aware of it. I had no choice but to forgive you.” Chris explained.
“Also in the bible it says, ‘Love prospers when a fault is forgiven,” he added.
“Do you think these are the same stars from creation times?” she was really struggling to eject the words on to the sound waves.
“Do stars die? I really don’t know. We’ll have to google it.” Chris fell silent. In the grand scale of things, what did it really matter?
Zoe travelled in and out of consciousness. Chris considered their lives together. They were both stubborn and vied for position, like two slim sumo wrestlers. Pointless, he thought to himself. We wasted so much time arguing. He pulled out his phone from his jacket pocket and found his favourite song on Spotify. The words echoed across the flat beach,
Surrounded by Your glory,
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You Jesus?
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence?
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah,
Or will be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine…
The music echoed around the cove. Piercing the silence. The sea was too far out to be heard. Zoe’s breathing suddenly became loud and labouring, they were very irregular and unsatisfying breaths. Chris reached down for her hand which was very cold and clammy. He remembered the day Zoe’s dad had given Chris her hand at the beginning of the marriage service. He was so proud of her. Derek had previously stressed what a sacrifice it would be for him to hand his beautiful daughter over to him. He had also threatened Chris that if he ever broke her heart, he would break his. This had been the happiest day of his life, except for when the children were born.
Out of the corner of his eye, Chris saw flashing blue lights. He turned the music off and held his breath as he pulled Zoe even closer to himself. He was not sure if this was even legal. He heard the sound of heavy boots approaching. The torch light illuminated his very sad situation.
“We have had a report of a man carrying a body,” the young policeman stood expecting an explanation.
“It’s our anniversary and my wife wanted to come to Red Rocks for the last time. It’s her favourite place.” Chris tried to explain. The law keeper shone his torch on Zoe’s dishevelled face.
“We are not breaking the law, are we?” he queried.
“Well…I guess not. Do you need a hand with anything?” the young man’s attitude softened.
“No we are fine.” Was all Chris could think to say.
“Well carry on then.” PC Willard concluded and left the scene.
Chris sighed with relief. Zoe was hardly breathing at all. He wept as he remembered her saying goodbye to the children this morning. He had to leave the room. He could not hide his brokenness. They knew Mummy was going to go to heaven to get better. Nana Jan was going to look after them, for now.
Chris decided they should leave. He wrapped her body in the blanket and lifted her up. She seemed to weigh heavier than she had before. He carried her to the car and lay her across the back seats. As he got into the driver’s seat, he realised somebody was sitting in the passenger’s seat.
“Derek!” he exclaimed.
“It is time Chris. I have come for my daughter. I will take care of her now.” Derek smiled and left, taking the spirit of Zoe with him.
The tears ran down Chris’s face as he drove home with the body of his wife on the back seat. Zoe had left with her Dad.