The old man watched two cars pass by, one green and then blue. He looked over at the television where the nob had broken off. The remote was long ago lost somewhere in the house. The last time he lost the remote he found it in the freezer a month later. Lord knows what he did with it this time. He watched as a stormy grey cloud covered the sun, and glanced down at his withered hands. A hopelessness engulfed him and when a loose tear pricked his right eye, he knew what he needed to do.
He hobbled across the landing of his house and began his hike the up the staircase. He hadn't been up the stairs in long enough that his knees shook unsteadily like trees in an earthquake, his climb ever harder by the heaviness of his chest. It felt like a lead weight had been placed over his heart, a painful reminder whenever a ray of happiness would shine through. But the old man was determined now to get to the top. His grip had weakened with age on both his wooden cane and the railing. He thought of when he was a young child and how he had run up and down these same stairs, in fact, he had slid down this railing and even watched his nephews run up and down the stairs. Aches and pains flowed through his slightly hunched back, reminding him why he hadn't climbed the stairs in so long.
Halfway up the old man turned and looked down the staircase. It would be so easy to fall from up here, he thought, clutching harder to the railing. He wondered if he made it to the top, if he would be able to make it back down, but a clock chiming downstairs pressed him onward. His breath was heavy, each step a difficult hurdle for his sore legs. Just five left now, three, two...
When he reached the top his lungs were trying to pump oxygen into his blood like a pipe spitting water from an empty reservoir. It felt like the oxygen would never come. Those fifteen stairs stuck pins and needles in his gout-seized knees, and even now at the top, he shook in fear of falling. He turned and glanced at the chair by the landing and considered sitting, but if he sat down now, he didn't think he'd be able to stand again.
He shuffled into what had been their bedroom. Everything lay just as she left it, not a paintbrush nor a shirt out of place. He glanced around the room, took a deep breath and her perfume still clung to the dusty air. The sharp pain in his heart twisted, forcing him to hunch over and gasp for air. He felt he was drowning as waves of grief broke over him, one by one they pounded against him, suffocating him.
He grabbed the doorway for support and took two deep breaths, before he hobbled across the room to the closet and pulled out a disintegrating shoe box. A small smile escaped him as he remembered when he had first purchased the shoes that were sold in it: Black shiny loafers with laces. The ones he had worn to his wedding. He walked over to the window and opened it, allowing a slight breeze to enter the dust filled room. He slowly sat down at her vanity, checking out her glass figurines, when he noticed the nearly empty bottle of Chanel No5. Concern overshadowed his face like dark thunderclouds as he struggled to stand up, hobbled a few steps over to close the window, and then sprayed the perfume around him, not caring if it fell on him or if he smelled like her. He never wanted the smell to fade.
Placing the shoebox on the vanity, one of the figurines clinked against her mirror and its arm broke off. He picked up the arm, noticing the clean break in the glass that rendered the clear glass opaque. He set the arm back down and frowned at his clumsiness. He opened the shoebox and fingered through letters written on stationary in a variety of colors. He pushed aside old stained stationary, brown paper from birthday cards, pink valentines, red anniversaries, until he pulled one out that looked the least aged but the most worn. The fold had created a small rip in the page as it had been read over and over again.
The old man trembled as he gently opened the letter, careful not to rip the crease any further. He removed his reading glasses from his front pocket and placed them on the bridge of his nose.
"My Dearest Henry,
It will not be long now until I leave you behind. Not out of want, but out of necessity. My body is failing and I can't hold on much longer. The thought of being without you breaks my heart, but God is calling me, and he does not stop his call for anything. Not even a love as strong as ours. The thought of being apart leaves me gasping for breath, but my dearest love, while my body is giving up, my love for you grows ever stronger. I will always be with you, my angel, my heart. To me you are as immortal as time itself.
Our love persisted and grew through pain and joy. We got used to each other, we read each others minds and grew old together. We were the lucky ones. I will be waiting for you when it's your turn.
I can't imagine you grieving me, dearest. Please live on. Bring your family over for meals, fill this old house with people, and please take care of my sister, June will never be as strong as you.
My deepest love and devotion.
Henry wiped the tears from his eyes and rubbed his damp fingers on his pants. The curve of Sarah's handwriting and the scent of her perfume whisked him away to a time before she had died. He read the letter in her voice, it was the only way to remember it. He had tried so very hard to take her advice, but the happy moments after her passing were always met with equal suffering. How could he go on living happily without her? She was everything.
Henry put the box back in the closet, but not before retrieving a brown leather suitcase. He tossed it on the bed and inside he gently placed the nearly empty bottle of perfume in a side pocket with the last letter. Henry hobbled out to the landing before deciding to toss the suitcase over the ledge, where it landed on the wooden floor with a loud thud.
Henry began his rough trek down the godforsaken staircase, each step a painful reminder of age, and when he reached the bottom he used his handkerchief to wipe his brow. Looking back up at the second floor, Henry felt the melancholy of loneliness dissipate like a frost covered flower warmed by the sun on a spring morning.
He picked up the suitcase, and brought it into the living room where his clothes were piled high on the couch. He filled the suitcase and took one last look at the arm chair he had slept in the past six months. Lifting his hat off of the coat rack, Henry turned and looked around at his old house. Memories flooded his mind of all of his dogs growing up, his nephews as children running through the halls, and Sarah calling his name from the kitchen, announcing dinner was served.
Henry smiled at the memories, lost in thought before he picked up a blank envelope from the windowsill. He opened it and checked the boarding passes, confirming they set sail in a few hours. In a week they would be in Costa Rica.
Henry looked up at his home for the last time, climbed into his car, and drove across town. He turned down the windows and turned up the music in his car, allowing Vivaldi's "Spring" to escape from the speakers back into nature. He passed his coffee shop, his laundromat, the shop where he picked up his bagels and his favorite burger joint. The sign for the burger shop was peeling and water marked and had been in need of being replaced for many years, but they still made the best burger in town, and it was the only place Sarah would eat French fries. Henry thought of Sarah and smiled. Blue birds flew in the air, barely keeping pace with the car, but Henry envisioned they were trying to race him, and felt a distinct competitive annoyance that they didn't have to stop at stop signs.
When he finally pulled up to June's cheerful yellow house he beeped his horn twice, scaring the wits out of the neighbor's cat. June appeared in the doorway in a flowing blue dress, with an oversized sun hat covering her greying dandelion hair. Henry pryed himself out of the car to help June with her luggage before he bent over to kiss her cheek. June was bashful as she shuffled down to the car with the help of Henry's arm and sat down in the passenger side.
"Do you think we're ready?" June asked after Henry sat down, wringing her hands in her lap, she looked up at him nervously.
Henry clasped her hand in his, looked deep into her eyes and said, "Of course we are. It's the beginning of the rest of our lives."
Henry turned over the engine, looked over at June who smiled, and the pair took off down the highway with the freedom of teenagers on a summer's eve; no responsibility could ever catch them now.