Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Write in the SCIENCE FICTION genre (05/10/07)
By John Barnts
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Christina rested her head on her husband’s chest and listened to him breathing in and out, in and out, like ocean swells. She realized that she was counting them, treasuring each one. He must have released billions of breaths in his lifetime, two-thirds of them with her. It was hard to believe that, very soon, he would breathe his last.
Christina reached down and gripped his warm, familiar hands. Despite his age, they were still strong, ready to come to life at the request of a song. She massaged his long fingers, imagining when they were in their prime. There were few ears in the world that had not been graced by her husband’s fine talent. But now they were alone—no crowds, no critics—and the fingers would spend their last minutes where they belonged, in hers.
The man stirred and Christina lifted her head. “How are you feeling?”
His heavy lids lifted, revealing eyes of frosted glass. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Christina forced a smile, but said nothing. Out of habit, she began to massage his palms.
“I’m not leaving,” he continued in a tone that matched his eyes. “I plan to stay.”
“I’ll leave this body, but I’ll stay here with you.”
Christiana nudged her husband playfully. “You’re going to haunt me, old man?”
A small spark shone through the frosted glass. “Something like that.”
“You feel warm,” Christina said, reverting to a role that was more comfortable. “Would you like me to take your socks off? I can bring a cold drink.”
The old man shook his head. “No more drinks.”
Christina felt the hot tears welling up and pressed her face against his shirt. She needed to see clearly. She needed to savor this moment.
Her husband turned his eyes to hers. “Kiss me, Chris.”
The tears spilled. She leaned forward and lightly kissed his forehead.
“Kiss me, Chris,” he repeated. “Really kiss me.”
Recognizing the moment for what it was, Christina leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth, embracing his final breath with all the intimacy she could afford.
When she leaned back, his eyes were dark. His chest was still. His hands were divorced from music forever.
Christina gently turned down his eyelids and placed his hands in his lap. Then she put her head in her hands and let the tears fall freely.
When there were no more tears, Christina looked up. The grand piano across the room gleamed in her blurred vision. It seemed to beckon her, as if a remnant of her husband continued to live in its black-lacquered body.
She stood and walked to the instrument. When she sat down, the bench seemed especially cold as if her husband’s second wife had sensed his passing. Christina stared down at the keyboard and was struck with a bizarre sensation. What had once been a black and white mystery seemed somewhat familiar.
Christina was not a musician. She knew one note, Middle C, and that was all. But this time, inexplicably, she recognized the other notes. Her eyes scanned the keys. This was an A. That was an A flat. Her fingers moved to form to a triad. A-flat major. Moving as if by instinct, her fingers shifted. D-flat major.
It was as if she was recovering from a lifetime of amnesia, suddenly recognizing strangers as old friends. The knowledge seemed to be stored in her fingertips. Soon she was running scales and arpeggios up and down the piano with a freedom she could never have imagined. Chords fit to her fingers with a comfortable rightness. Then came the songs—gorgeous nocturnes, ballades, preludes, sonatas—
She stopped. She had heard something.
"I plan to stay."
At first, the voice chilled her. It was inaudible, like an intrusive thought. But when the moment passed she was left with a thrilling realization. He was in her. His love. His knowledge. His wisdom. His abilities. He was in her.
And he would never leave her again.
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