He watched her chest rise and fall as she breathed. Up … Down … Up … Down. He felt like he had spent years watching her breathe like this but in reality it had merely been weeks and only days since he had started watching for the last one.
Up … Down … Up … Down. Her continued breathing was something he had always taken for granted like so many other things like growing old together and starting a family. But not now. Not since the diagnosis when disease had taken over her body and was winning a battle that neither science nor will power could beat.
Up … Down … Up … Down. Ten weeks ago they had gotten married. It had seemed then as if they had a beautiful future ahead of them, an eternity to spend together. They had vowed to love each other in sickness and in health not realising how soon they would be called upon to prove those vows. They had been oblivious to the destruction of dreams which lay before them even though certain signs had started to rear their ugly heads. The headache that she couldn’t shake, the difficulty sleeping and concentrating were simply put down to the stress of planning a wedding. He was so grateful now for that oblivion.
But two weeks later they were in the hospital their honeymoon cut short by pain ravaging her mind with a migraine. Scans, tests, prodding and poking followed and less than a month after they had walked down the aisle she had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Not just any brain cancer either but the kind that had riddled her brain, lymph nodes and body to the point that all the medical miracles in the world couldn’t save her.
He still marvelled at how quickly your life can change. One moment they were discussing what they would name their children and where they would travel for their second honeymoon. The next they were discussing where she wanted to die. It still didn’t feel real. He felt he had gone to sleep and was in a nightmare he couldn’t wake up from.
The only thing that felt real to him was the touch of her hand in his and the sight of her chest rising and falling as she breathed. Up … Down … Up … Down
“Peter?” Her voice, normally so vibrant was now just a shadow of its former self.
“Yes my love. Are you thirsty?”
“No. But I’ve been thinking”
“We never got our wedding dance.”
The dance had been planned for after the cutting of the cake but by that time she had been tired and he had been reluctant from the start. He wasn’t much of a dancer, born as he was with two left feet, and the idea of standing in front of so many people and making a fool of himself was a tradition he had been happy to forgo.
“Probably a good thing. I would have broken your toes stepping on your feet.”
“No you wouldn’t.” She had always believed in him.
“Can we dance now?”
He looked at her – so fragile lying there on the couch. A bag of pain meds connected through a tube and needle point to a vein in her hand.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea Sarah. What about the bag?”
“Stuff the bag. Unplug it. I want to dance with my husband.”
“But Sarah I don’t know if you’re strong enough. You can barely walk let alone dance. You need to save your strength.”
“Save it for what? For dying? Dying doesn’t take energy”. She had always been stubborn and he heard a little of her usual brashness come back into her voice as she argued her point.
“Peter I am going to miss out on so many things. Things I always wanted to do. Missing out on those things is out of my control now. But dancing with you, dancing with the man I love, dancing with my husband is still within my control”.
He could feel his lips flicker with a smile as she used the word husband but still he hesitated.
“Would you deny your wife her last wish?”
She knew he couldn’t. He knew he wouldn’t.
“Ok. One dance. What do you want to dance to?”
“Don’t mind. Something slow”
He stood up, gently letting go of her hand and walked over to the stereo. He flicked through the CDs in the stand next it.
“Found just the song”.
He slipped the disc into the player. The notes of Michael Buble’s Come Fly With Me started playing through the speakers taking him back to the first night of their honeymoon when they had played this CD in the car on the way to the airport.
He walked back over to the couch and once again took her hand. He gently unplugged the tube from the needle in her hand.
He helped her rise slowly and took her in his arms. He almost couldn’t believe how light she was and how very fragile she felt in his arms. She had lost so much weight in the past few weeks and it felt like if he held her too hard she would shatter.
Slowly they began to sway in time to the music. Her head rested on his shoulder.
“I love you Peter”
“I love you Sarah”
They continued to sway together as the first song finished and the next one began. He held her in his arms, closed his eyes and imagined that this nightmare was all a dream. That the past 10 weeks hadn’t happened and this was their first instead of their last dance.