Damask curtains at the top of the stairs have been tied back. The candle will burn for hours on the windowsill while I sleep. A dream told me he would come, but I need to let him know where to find me. Three weeks have passed and no one has appeared; but I can’t give up. Not yet. Not while I’m still having the same dream each night.
A red taper stands tall in the old fashioned brass chamberstick. In this modern world of electric lighting it’s not meant to literally light the way. It’s a beacon, a symbol that I’m ready. It didn’t have to be a taper, it could have been a votive or even a tea light, but this is my interpretation.
My friend Ruth brought the candles with my weekly groceries. She said the color was festive. I wonder what she’d think if I told her what they’re for. She’s the only one that comes anymore. The rest have run out of ways to say they’re sorry for what I’m going through. I don’t blame them. They’re busy looking forward, while I spend too much time looking back.
I never married. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it just never happened. Either our puzzle pieces couldn’t connect at all, or appeared to fit, but there were gaps wide enough for one of us to slip through. I had work, the tennis club, concerts and art galleries. Time drifted, something shifted, and now it’s just memories. At least I have those.
Lighting the wick signals the start of my bedtime ritual. Once it’s safely in place, I shuffle off to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. It takes a while for the warm water to reach the upper rooms, and although I hate the waste, I can’t bear a cold assault on my face. Pressing the thick, soft towel firmly onto my cheeks and forehead, I wait for the shudder to pass. The toothpaste tastes like dust as I swirl the brush over my teeth. Come to think of it, most things taste like dust, anymore. Cavities are the least of my worries, I think, as I spit the gritty residue into the sink.
My left hand shakes as I reach for the bottle in the center of the counter. It will stop the trembling, at least temporarily, and blot out the pain that has been growing steadily since the last dose. White for pain and yellow to help me sleep. I’m up to six of the white ones a day – the pain worsening with each setting of the sun. My eyes squeeze shut and one hand grips the countertop as the oblong pills slip awkwardly down my throat. If only he would come soon.
After undressing, muscles protesting each movement, I slip the silky nightgown over my head. It’s one of my remaining indulgences; I never could abide flannel. Then I totter over to the commode. ‘Almost there; wash your hands and the bed is yours,’ I coax myself as I finish the last of the routine.
A soft mattress cradles my body as I push and pull the pillows into a comfortable position. The drugs will kick in soon, providing blissful relief, however short-lived. Glancing once more through the doorway to the window and candle, I close my eyes and wait for release.
The dream starts the same as it has for weeks. A voice in the mist telling me to light a candle each night and soon he will come to take away the pain. It follows the normal progression until the mist starts to lift – something that had never happened before.
Slowly, the disappearing fog reveals shiny black oxfords. Dark grey pinstripe trousers just brush the top of the laces as the mist continues to rise. A double set of pewter buttons hold the suit coat securely in place. His hands are at his sides, relaxed and well groomed. I admire his sturdy build as his face comes into focus. There is no beard, his head is covered in wavy black hair; but it’s his smile and shining hazel eyes that make me hold my breath. More handsome than I expected. Warmth I haven’t felt in years forms in my cheeks as my lips curve to smile shyly back.
“It’s time,” he says, still smiling. His right arm has risen and is held out towards me.
Throwing back the covers, I swing my feet over the edge of the bed then push myself into a standing position, shivering as my feet land on cold oak floorboards.
I hesitate. This isn’t exactly what I’d been expecting. Was I still in my dream or was this real? Leaning to glance past his shoulder, I notice the candle still burns in the window, though half its original size.
“It’s all right,” he says, his voice calm and reassuring. “I’ve come to take care of you; just as promised. Take my hand and the pain will be gone forever.”
“Forever?” I hear myself echo.
“No more pain and suffering, Amelia, I promise.”
“Who are you?” Did it really matter? A twinge in my arm when I pushed myself out of bed accompanied the dull ache in my abdomen. It never fully went away anymore. Cancer is a terrible disease – eating its way through the body, devouring each healthy cell from the inside out. I was tired of the pain, so very tired of the pain. “No more suffering?”
“No more suffering,” he replies, deep compassion flows from his eyes, wrapping me in a cloak of warmth in the chilly room. He takes a step forward, as I place a hand on the bed to steady myself while a wave of torment rattles through my weakened body.
“It’s time,” I decide.
“It’s time,” he assures me.
As I reach out, ready, now, to grasp his still outstretched hand, the light from the candle intensifies, filling the outer room with a warm, soft glow. As my fingers brush his, the pain vanishes. I’d forgotten what it felt like to not be in constant discomfort. No more abdominal pain, no more aches in my back, arms, or legs – gone as if they had never been there. Tears blur my vision at the overwhelming relief.
I glance up with childlike wonder and his own smile grows as his hand closes around mine. The candle flickers bright one more time; then goes out.
Marie Dolores is the pen name I created to spare people the challenge of pronouncing my given name, Dawn Wisniewski. I’m a US born writer currently living in Ireland. I’ve been writing since my teens as an outlet for the highs, lows, and middle earth moments of my life. Despite a lengthy career in the logical world of information technology I’ve been able to maintain a tunnel into the creative side of my brain.
I have developed a portfolio of poetry, short stories, a series of fantasy novels in various stages of completion, as well as a historical fiction novel, also in progress.
I’ve been long and short listed for a number of contests and publications. My poetry publications include Skylight 47, Orbis, and the Hysteria 6 anthology. In 2020 I also won first prize in the Dancing Poetry contest.