By R. M. Janoe
“Take me for a drive,” she murmured, “I’m tired of these walls.”
Our bedroom walls and window had been her only view for weeks, and the window did little to help her restlessness. It was small and, from our bed, it framed the azalea we planted when we moved in, years ago, with the neighbor’s peeling stucco beyond. Weeks without her loving care left the bush withered in the desert heat.
I lifted her from the bed and carried her to our cerulean Chevy Bel Air. She was as light as lace, now. Even sitting up had become too much for her, so she sprawled across the back seat, propped on pillows, her head resting on the partially open window. She was quiet, breathing deeply of the pure desert air, cooled by the dimming of the sun.
As we drove, tawny fingers of her hair fluttered in the soft desert breeze, caressing her pale cheeks and forehead. I drove us out of town the same way I had done so many times before but, this time, my silent tears blurred the road lines—and the line between memory and reality.
I watched her, in my periphery, the way I did in the truck stop where she worked, the summer after our senior year. Back then, like now, I was afraid my full-on gaze would give away my feelings. But I’m sure, despite her being lost in the nebulousness between asleep and awake, she already knew—just like she did back then.
Cloudless skies cycled through star-choked nights and smoldering days. Our only stops were for gas and coffee, and her favorite English muffins spread with peanut butter. There was nothing I could do but drive—I couldn’t face her going on without me.
On the third evening, she smiled softly in the gloaming; the sunset rays painted her in moody pink and orange shadows. Cactus-covered desert passed before her glossy eyes. “I love you,” words from her dreams that are balm for mine, drifted on her breath. Her life faded with the sunset; face shrouded in twilight gray. Covered in moonlight, she glowed like an angel in the rearview mirror, and followed me through the night.
Thirty-eight years ended today, with her lying in our plot on the hill overlooking the Sedona Desert. Our kids, grandkids, and I wept…and wept.
I lie in our bed, now, in solitary darkness. Her memory’s ephemeral embrace carries me into sleep, where she rides beside me in dreams—cool desert wind streaming through her hair as the rising sun, again, colors her pale cheeks.