My Last Day
This is the last day of my life.
Before I rise, I rub my hands over the soft sheets that cover my body, feel the warmth and weight of the blanket that protects me from this early December morning, and smile a bit at my wife’s gentle snore.
I rise carefully, so as not wake her. I pad into the bathroom and let the shower water get warm before I step in. What a blessing warm water is on a chilly morning! My wife buys some frilly scent for herself, but Old Spice for me, as it’s the scent I’ve worn since I was old enough to choose.
I dry off, rubbing the soft terrycloth on my old skin. It feels good, it feels … familiar. Comforting. And so it should.
I dress carefully, for I want to look my best today. Today of all days. I choose my clothes carefully. Everything must match or coordinate. No mismatched socks or scuffed shoes. No, today my ensemble must be flawless.
Downstairs, I take a flavored K-pod and put it in the Keurig. I don’t look at the flavor; I want to be surprised. It’s important to be surprised sometimes, even in small things. I place my favorite cup under the spout as the brown liquid pours out, and take a sniff.
Hazelnut. My favorite.
I take the cup out onto the back porch and sit for a while, enjoying the cool morning. I listen for the bobwhite’s whistle in the trees, and fancy I see a rabbit peering from under the bushes. The little bugger has been eating my radishes, but I don’t mind. All God’s creatures need to eat. And why should I care? If this is to be my last day, shouldn’t the little beast eat his fill?
I feel rather than hear my wife creep up behind me. She places her hands on my shoulders and gently kisses the top of my head.
“You’re up early,” she says.
I place my hands on top of hers and turn my head for a real kiss. “It’s a beautiful morning,” I say.
“You’ve dressed already,” she says. “Are you going out?”
“I am,” I answer. I groan just a little when I rise from the chair. “And you?” I ask. “What is your day like?”
“Oh, the usual,” she says. “Lunch with Margaret, I think, then a swing by the library. I see you’ve finished your book. Do you want anything?”
“No,” I say as I reach for my coat. “I have some in my stack yet to read.”
I kiss her gently before I leave the house. I place my hands on either side of her face, look into her eyes, and whisper, “I love you.”
She smiles and says the same.
I set out at what is, for me, a pretty good clip. I enjoy feeling my heart rate go up a little, my breath come a little faster, enjoy the feeling of life as it warms up my body and clears my mind.
The trees are especially lovely today. It is early December, and even though it is crisp out, we don’t get the changing colors of the leaves here, and that’s a shame. I’ve been in New England in the Fall and can appreciate the riot of color when the seasons change. But here in this coastal California town, we just get chilly mornings, and the leaves just turn brown and die.
But that’s all right. For a last day, it suits me fine. The trees are still beautiful, the sky overcast with a marine layer that will burn off by noon. I catch a whiff of someone’s wood burning in their fireplace. The salt tang of the sea fills me with joy.
I stop for a moment to catch my breath before I go into the restaurant. My friends are there: Bud and Tony, Rick and James, and old Harold, who never says much, but is as much a part of the group as the most vocal among us.
Marie comes by with coffee. She knows me well, as our little group has been coming here for years.
“The usual?” she asks, though she knows the answer. We are, after all, creatures of habit.
“No,” I answer, and her eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “I think I want eggs this morning. Fried eggs and bacon and hash browns. Maybe even biscuits and gravy.”
“My goodness!” Bud exclaims. “Your doctor is going to have a conniption fit if you keep eating like that!”
I just smile, because today is the last day of my life.
Of course, they don’t know that. Why should I distress them with such knowledge? They’ll find out soon enough.
We have a leisurely breakfast and talk politics and baseball and cars like we do every morning. Once more, it feels comforting and familiar. It is my life. My ordinary life.
After breakfast, and a walk down to the harbor where I watch the fishing boats for a while, I go back home, and lay down for a bit of a nap. My wife has gone out to meet her friends and go to the library. I’ll have some time alone, and in that time, I just want to savor the quiet of the house. I listen to its beating heart: the tick of the grandfather’s clock in the hall, the rumble of the refrigerator when the motor switches on, the heater when it kicks in. My house is more alive than I am, I think.
I drift off and dream of oceans and mountains, of the children when they were small, and of my wife whom I love with all my heart.
I awaken to the sound of my wife puttering about in the kitchen. It is late afternoon, and the shadows have lengthened across the dresser. I rise and go to her, eager to see her face, her sweet, old face, and revel in listening to her tell of her day with her friends. She shows me the new books she got at the library. Something by Jodi Picoult, and the latest novel by Alexander McCall Smith. She has her favorites and I have … had … mine.
I tell her of my breakfast choice and she shakes a spoon dripping with some sauce or other in my face. “Now, you know better than that. The doctor will have your hide if your cholesterol goes up anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, and I am. I do not want to distress her. “I’ll be good from now on,” I promise. “Really.”
I cannot bear to make her unhappy on this day of all days. I want her to remember me with love, not that we argued when we were last together. We don’t argue, as a rule. Oh, we’ve had our disagreements in our earlier years, of course. What couple hasn’t? But we’ve long since run out of things to argue about. It makes for a much more peaceful existence. I live to make her happy, and she lives to make me happy, and so … we ARE happy. I guess maybe that’s the secret formula.
After she puts the roast in the oven, we go for a walk together. We walk hand-in-hand like we did when we were courting. Such an old-fashioned word – courting. But that’s what we did, back in the dark ages. We courted. And today, it almost seems as if we are courting again. We hold hands, and when we think no one is looking, we sneak a kiss under the oak tree down the block.
I sit in the rocking chair in my living room, with a quilt my wife made over my knees, and read for a while in the afternoon. I look around occasionally and simply appreciate the quiet and gentleness of my home. I know how lucky I am. I am blessed indeed. I’ll miss it.
The roast is exceptional, and I tell her so. The mashed potatoes are creamy and the green beans still just a little crisp. She’s made a pie for dessert.
Apple. My favorite.
We wash the dishes together. No automatic dishwasher for us, thank you. She washes, and I dry and put away. That’s the way we’ve done it for years. I see no reason why tonight should be any different.
In the evening, this last evening of my life, we turn on the telly. We don’t watch the news anymore. It’s too distressing. But we watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, murder mysteries on PBS, The Zoo on Animal Planet, and learn something new whenever we watch the Discovery channel.
I find myself nodding off in the chair when my wife pokes me gently. “You might as well go to bed,” she says.
“All right,” I agree. “Are you coming?”
“I’ll be along in a minute. I’ll just make sure everything is settled down here.”
I go upstairs, take off my clothes and fold them neatly on the chair. She’ll put them in the hamper later. I go into the bathroom. I brush my teeth and wash my face.
I take my evening pills.
I’m already in bed when she comes in. I watch her undress, and I appreciate seeing her body, her old, wrinkled, stretch-marked body as she shucks her clothes. She lays them on top of mine on the chair.
“So,” she says, “how was your last day?”
“It was beautiful,” I reply. “It was everything a last day should be.”
“How long has it been, now,” she asks, “since the doctor told you that you only had six months to live?
I think back to that day in the doctor’s office when he told me I had a ticking time bomb in my chest. “Oh gosh,” I answer. “It must be six or seven years ago.”
“So the doctor was wrong,” she says as she slips her flannel nightgown over her head and slides into bed beside me.
“I guess he was,” I reply. “But one day, he will have been right, and on that day, I want my last day to have been perfect.”
We turn towards each other and smile.
“And tomorrow?” she asks.
“If I’m fortunate enough to wake up, I expect to have another splendid last day,” I answer, as I reach up and turn out the light.
She turns over and spoons up against me and as I hold her old familiar and comforting body, warm with flannel and smelling slightly of toothpaste and cold cream, I appreciate once again what a very lucky man I am.
I wrap my arms around her and whisper, “I love you,” and she says the same.