“Marcus-” The voice was a whisper. Barely a shade of what it had been.
“I’m here hon.”
“I’m so sorry.” She paused to catch her breath. “I wanted to go home for Christmas and I know you’ll be alone.”
Marcus didn’t say anything. He just closed his eyes and put his chin to his chest, just holding her hand in his.
“I’m so sorry to put all this on you.” She coughed.
“Shh, it’s okay, just rest.”
“Time enough for that soon enough Sergeant.”
Marcus nodded and stroked the back of her hand gently. The skin was slack and paper thin. That wasn’t right. Every time he closed his eyes, she was the same young girl he’d met when he came home for that furlough during the war. That had been stolen from him and for the first time in a long time, he was torn between sadness at impending loss and anger at the unfairness of the world.
“Marcus, I meant to outlive you after Jack died. I never wanted to put you through this pain and expense.”
“Honey, I don’t care about the money. Never have. We’ll just get through it the same way we always have, by doing what needs to be done.”
“Well, you’re going to have to do that without me. I can’t help you here, not anymore. And don’t try to tell me comforting lies. I’m going to my rest.” She caught her breath. “I have two things I need you to do for me.”
“Course, you do. What can I do, hon?”
“The first one is hard.”
“Tell me what it is.”
“Please don’t give up. I know that you made me and Jack your whole life. After he was stolen from us, you stopped seeing other people than me except when necessary. You didn’t write for years afterward. But in all that time, you never stopped doing the work that needed doing, or lending a hand where and when it was needed. Please don’t stop that on my account.”
“Eva…” he began
“Don’t interrupt me Sergeant, I’m dying so I get to make my last speech.”
“Yes doctor.” He said.
A weak smile appeared on Rose’s face. “I need to go to my rest, knowing you’re going to go on being you and that you won’t take it too hard. I know that’s a hard task, so I’m willing to be reasonable.”
“When I die, you can mourn for one year. But after that, you have to go on being you and writing and telling stories. And you have to be the Marcus who does what needs doing.”
“What’re you gonna do if I can’t do that?”
“Nothing. I’ll be dead. But I just don’t like the idea of losing me being the thing that pulls the legs out from under you.”
“Now, if you choose never to remarry and live as a withered old bachelor that’s alright with me. It’s a touching tribute.”
The smile on Marcus’s face was a sad one. “So that’s it? Keep telling stories and keep helping people? How long do I have to do it for?”
“As long as it takes.” She said. “I really am sorry to do this to you. It was my intention to outlive you so that you wouldn’t be put to the bother of the funeral and going on.”
“No bother.” He mumbled, though he wished he could be with her at any other time than now. Eva never talked like this, she must’ve gotten her 2-minute curtain call.
They sat in silence for a long while until, the nurse came in to tell him that visiting hours were over. Marcus looked up and nodded, patted the back of his wife’s hand and stood up. He leant over to kiss her forehead, whispered something in her ear and walked out.
If the nurse wondered at what Marcus had said, she didn’t ask. Marcus respected that. What he said to her was no one’s business but their own.