This story is by Rhianna Bonsall and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
He remembered the way she looked at him, even when he forgot her name. He remembered the way her soft blonde curls tumbled down her shoulders and her eyes twinkled. But most of all, he remembered those sweet words she uttered in that moment: “I do.”
Tears rimmed her calm blue eyes, falling beautifully. Her delicate hand on his, as she continued, “Till death do us part.”
A soft knock on the door, and Robert was back in the all too white hospital room. He couldn’t remember what brought him here, or when. But it was a peaceful place. He liked peace, he remembered now. A nurse followed her knock through the door.
“Robert, your wife is here to see you.”
“My wife…” Robert hesitated a moment, before recalling the treasured memory from its hiding place. A smile stretched across his face, as blissful as on his wedding day.
There she was, the angel from his vision. The very one who made his heart ache with yearning when he gifted her with his most valuable possession: his life’s love. It seemed like she had aged by years in just a day. He so hoped he had not caused her stress. Snow-white wisps now replaced blonde curls, and lines framed the blue eyes that were responsible for capturing his heart. His brow furrowed, and he reached for her hand. It was delicate, just as he remembered, but now delicate with frailty.
“My darling. My sweet, sweet angel. Are you well?”
And then… there it was. That smile. That wonderfully, gorgeous, heart-aching smile. “Of course I am, Robert darling. The better question is, are you?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” He replied, helplessly smiling at the question.
Suddenly, the light dimmed in her smile, and the light of the world seemed to dim with it. “Robert, when did we get married?”
“Yesterday. Why would you ask that?”
A single tear escaped a calm blue eye. Just like on their wedding day – yesterday, Robert reminded himself– the memory already fading, like daylight cut short on a winter’s day.
“Robert, we’ve been married for 58 years.”
“All I’m saying is I don’t understand why you can’t ask for more hours at the factory!”
Ruby remembered her anger that day. Their marriage, bumping over yet another hole in the road, seemed about ready to break down this time. All because of money troubles.
“I don’t want to spend all my life working at that God damn factory! Why would I ask for more hours when I hate it there?” Robert always was a ‘live for the moment’ type of person, and Ruby sometimes feared their marriage would make him forget that. But what else could she do? They needed money, a lot more than happiness. Ruby stood by speechlessly as he stormed out of the door.
With no sign of Robert for the rest of the night, Ruby was left with little to do besides imagine their money being swapped for a hearty pint or seven. Yet Robert spent the night with his mother, who imparted some wisdom he never forgot: “Make every decision in terms of how much happiness it will bring, to you and to Ruby. Only then will you feel fulfilled.”
The very next day, Robert quit his job and announced to Ruby he would be working in the local bakery. He loved to bake, and what better way to spend your life than doing something you love?
Ruby smiled at the memory, seeing Robert’s happiness as clear as summer sky. Their marriage had survived so many holes, even when it seemed as if the hole would be the last. But, she thought sadly, this was one that they would never get out of.
One. Two. Three. Robert counted the raindrops falling silently against his window. It passed the time, he found. With every raindrop, Robert tried to recall a detail about his wife, which proved harder than he would care to admit. Four. She likes… Lilies. Yes, that’s right, lilies! She chose them for our wedding day. Allowing himself a quiet moment of victory, Robert tried to ignore the niggling fact that he could not even remember her name, despite knowing her favourite flowers. Five… We have a son. Yes, a new baby boy. A baby boy… with no name.
The soft knock and the arrival of a nurse, just like every day. “Robert, you have visitors.”
Forgetting his revision, Robert turned expectantly from the window. And there she stood, the angel from his memory. But who were these other people? A man, a stranger, with the same dark hair, the same crooked nose and even the same furrow of his brows stared sadly back at him. And that girl, that girl he had never met, but possessed the very same dimples as his wife, the same sparkling blue magic in her eyes. Who were these people? Robert’s face filled with confusion, confusion that was rapidly changing to anger, hurt, sadness… and then it was gone. My boy.
Ruby watched, hardly daring to hope. He recognises them. He recognises his children. He rose from his chair, his lined and worn face lighting up like it did in the old days. Every step added an inch to her favourite smile. “My boy,” he whispered, approaching Ben.
But as he came closer, Ruby realised he wasn’t looking at Ben. He was looking at the tiny person in his arms.
“You brought him. You brought him! My boy, come to daddy.” Robert carefully lifted his grandson into his arms, oblivious to who the boy really was. He took him back to his corner of the room, to his little wooden chair, and bobbed his grandson on his knee. Up and down, up and down. Just as he had done with his own son. The son who, standing next to Ruby now, Robert never even glanced at. Never even remembered.
She couldn’t help but laugh. A rare thing these days. But moment’s like these, however painful, simply rekindled the light from the life they shared together.
“You are breath-taking. Beautiful girl, say you’ll run away with me. We can be married within the week!” Robert, on one knee, armed with lilies, proposed the same way a lot these days. The white-washed walls of the hospital room didn’t make for such a romantic setting, but the look in Robert’s eyes made Ruby swoon, just like the old days. Just like the days she couldn’t bear to forget.
With a smile, Ruby gave her answer. “Robert, you romantic fool. We’re already married.”
With those magic words, his face filled with happiness, love, contentment. It was painful, beyond painful, that he didn’t remember something as special as their wedding day. But he never once forgot his love for her. Never once.
And he never would, till death do them part.
With a gentle swish and a final flick, Ruby added the finishing touches to her hair. He may not remember who I am, she thought, but she always liked to look pretty for her Bobby. Stepping out of the ladies’ room and slowly, almost hesitantly, making her way to her husband’s room, she began to wonder which Robert she would see today. Would it be sad and confused Robert? Or falling-over-his-feet in love Robert? Or, as she hoped most of all, would it be her husband?
When she pushed open his door, Robert’s face turned from the window and considered her for a moment. Please Bobby. Please. Remember me.
And then… there it was. That smile. His familiar, toothy smile. The one she remembered.
“Hello. I don’t believe we’ve met?”
And Ruby’s heart, which had so quickly soared, just as swiftly crashed, sending tremors resounding through her body.
It’s all too easy to forget the good days when life falls down a hole. Too hard to remember moments once bringing cherished happiness when it seems you’ll never climb out again. But Ruby forced herself to. She had to, for herself and for Robert.
The Monday evenings, when Robert returned home from the bakery, and danced her and their daughter Janine around the kitchen, Ben trying to hide his amusement toward his family.
Saturday nights. Gathered in front of the fire place in their homely little living room. Playing a board game Janine no doubt picked out, that Ben detested vocally. Robert would always bake something a little extra at the bakery that day, just for those nights. Buns, cakes, banana bread (a favourite of Ruby’s, which Robert always remembered). They ate, laughed, and obliviously created life-long memories.
The fights, the outrageous fights, always over something ridiculous. The slamming doors and the raised voices. The hugs and the make ups. No matter how many times they fought, they never forgot their love. Not once did they go to sleep with the bitter taste of conflict on their tongue.
23rd April 1982. For the first time, the doors of Bobby’s Bakery opened. Customers poured in like the batter into the tin that made the cakes they bought, Robert’s smile never faulting as he personally thanked every one of them for their custom. Ruby never forgot just how much her heart swelled with pride. He’d really done it. He’d made every decision in terms of how much happiness it would bring to their lives. That night, the little family feasted like kings on leftover cakes, celebrating Robert’s success.
Their wedding day. Their first dance, to music that was long forgotten to Robert’s ears, but clear as the day she heard it to Ruby. Robert had stroked her hair, and rested his forehead against hers, before he whispered in her ear: “I love you. Forever and always. Until death do us part.”
With one last sweeping glance at the empty shelves once piled with sweet bakery, the deserted little building that housed a life time of memories for one small and happy family, Ruby shut the door of Bobby’s Bakery, and fixed the red For Sale sign in place in the window, boxing the memory away.
Her heart broke to walk away from a huge part of Robert’s life. But the shop was nothing without him there. Lord knew, the little bakery was the man. No way could it continue without him there. She slowly, sadly, but surely walked away, to the little rusted gate across the street. Both body and bones aching with each step, Ruby reflected how much age had gained on her in the last two years. But nothing more than her heart suffered the worst of it.
Meeting her and Robert’s children at the gate, along with their little grandson, the little family made a slow procession down the path of the graveyard, a member short. Ruby couldn’t bear to look at anything but the worn gravel path, and let her children lead the way. Yet all too soon, they were there, and Ruby made herself look.
Her husband, the love of her life, was there. Under the dirt and with only a headstone to mark his life, his wonderful happy little life. That’s when the tears came, falling beautifully. The same tears of heartbreak in the same heartbroken eyes, Janine kissed her mother on the cheek and gave her a smile through the sadness, an act Ruby knew too well must have required enormous effort. Janine took Ben’s arm, and they walked away, leaving Ruby alone with her husband one more time.
Reaching into her handbag, she drew out an old and battered bakery book, opening it to page 23 to reveal a flower. A lily. Pressed and preserved from the day Robert proposed. Ruby took it out and laid it where she knew Roberts heart lay, deep under the ground. Choking back the tears, and smiling for the love her husband gave her for six long and happy decades, she whispered, “I love you. Forever and always. Till death do us part.”