Claudia was dying.
About six months the doctor had said. They could offer treatment, perhaps buy her a few more months on top of that but quality of life would be questionable given the side effects etc. They didn’t advise it.
In a little room with bare walls and one vase of daffodils sat on the windowsill, Claudia learned she wouldn’t have another Christmas, wouldn’t see her children graduate, wouldn’t ever be a grandma. She learned that time, which she had always felt to be as plentiful as sand grains on a beach, was actually a few flakes of gold panned from grit and soil.
She could hear Thomas, his hand trembling in hers, arguing with the doctor. Were they sure? The wonders of modern medicine, was there anything else they could try? What about these new wonder drugs they’re always going on about in the press? She squeezed his hand.
“No.” she whispered. They looked at her. She stood, smoothed her skirt and picked up her coat. She thanked the doctor, accepting his diagnosis with a firm shake of his hand, and pulled Thomas to his feet. They left the room.
And that was that.
The notes started appearing on the fridge almost straight away. Thomas read them as he went to get the milk for his tea. ‘Get plumber out to fix the leaky tap under the sink’, ‘sort out blocked drain’. The weeks passed and the collection grew. Sometimes they disappeared and Thomas, upon checking, realised that the little problem they were highlighting had been fixed. It was only when he read the little note that read “get Thomas some new slippers’ that it fully dawned on him exactly what Claudia was doing. The last time she had been like this was when she was heavily pregnant with Ben. ‘Nesting’ they had described it as in the baby books; having everything ready for the new baby’s arrival. Only this time, she was getting her nest ready to cope without her.
He sat on the kitchen floor and broke his heart.
Time became measured by the ebb and flow of little bits of paper stuck to a fridge door. Thomas helplessly watched as his house grew cleaner, newer and brighter and his wife faded by degrees. One night, he crept out of bed and went down to the kitchen. He gently removed each and every one of those notes and then, sitting for the rest of the night at the table, he wrote some of his own.
When Claudia woke the following morning, she went to read her fridge door as had become her habit. Instead of her lists of things to done, mended, cleaned, she was greeted with an invitation to watch the sun come up over the sea and the offer of a candle lit dinner for two in the garden. Tears slid down her cheeks as Thomas gently slipped his hand in hers and told her he didn’t want a house made perfect for her absence, he wanted memories.
And so it was.
Claudia did die. They managed seven months instead of the promised six but she did die.
By the time the end came, those little notes had been replaced with photographs, train ride tickets, wrappers from seaside sweets: flakes of gold snatched from murky waters. Every time Thomas went to get the milk for his tea, he would look at them; touch them with tender fingers.
Another little, tiny broken piece of him would mend.
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