his life’s work

His life’s work was vanishing. Or that’s what it felt like at least. Because what had he worked for all these years—it was dissolving before his eyes. Like vapour, like smoke.

The first day of his retirement he felt excited. Well, maybe that’s stretching things, but there was an anticipation to be sure. Of what would come next. Bill, who had retired a few years earlier had told him about The University of the Third Age. He had no intention of going back to University, of course, but he wanted to claim that name for himself. The third age. It felt like a new life blossoming before him. Possibilities like travel opened out and everything seemed new again. He was young still, there was a lot yet to happen to him.

Ah, there was a lot to come, he thought as he placed her hand back on the bed. He stroked the top of it, cool to the touch. Her skin was thin and papery like onion casing. It would probably slip off as easily too.

He stood up and walked over to the window. It was raining again, though she wouldn’t notice. She slept heavily, in the afternoons. It was nights that were the worst, they told him. She would thrash around in her bed, shouting. She had violent dreams. Most nights they calmed her with a pill, or a shot when things were bad. He knew it was true but couldn’t imagine it, seeing her now, laid out on the bed like a corpse. The merest rise and fall of her chest, an infrequent twitch of an eye were the only signs she was still alive.

Bill had been solicitous, at first. He had lost June years ago and he knew—he thought he knew—the score. June had had a sudden stroke. Deep and long, it had killed her right then on the kitchen floor, soap bubbles disintegrating in the sink. Bill had found her a few hours later. Cold. He had said. That was all he ever said about it, she was cold.

But this was different, the long slow decline, the faculties going one by one. It was like she was folding in on herself like a used map. There were places darkened by thumbprints. The creases never sat tight again. He had always had trouble folding maps. He could never get it right and the seams bunched and rolled. He thought of the maps in the bottom drawer of the kitchen. The trips they had been planning, their escape from the Third Age.

None of that would happen now of course. His life’s work. Not that office on Stanley Street. Not the people who came in with their numbers to be arranged in tight rows. Not his secretary Susan with glasses that pinched her nose.

They had never had children, not because of Susan, though that hadn’t helped things. They couldn’t, no one knew why. After a while, they both stopped asking. No, his life’s work lay here in this room. In this small, getting smaller room. His life’s work was laid out here on this bed. A map that was getting harder and harder to fold.

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