Standing, she cradled the curtain back with one hand and looked out the window into the falling snow. She sipped fresh-brewed coffee from a fine cup and allowed herself to consider what an unmitigated delight it all was – this quiet winter evening, this beautiful coat of snow that covered the world like new grace and yes, even this sensate, almost pulsing pleasure from the coffee, dark and rich. She felt neither frightened nor alone.
And she allowed herself to admit and feel, even relish in the relief she now knew. It was all put away, now. John’s soul committed to the Father’s mansions that had been prepared for him and to the hope of the resurrection and his body to the dust. All put away. She knew that so many were worried about this moment for her. The time when all the friends and family would be gone and she would be left alone with her thoughts and memories and her loss, her aloneness.
But she felt nothing of that. Nothing of those things that her friends worried about or that the experts spoke so certainly of. In fact, this quiet evening, this quiet moment, was her first real peace, her first real living breath since she had heard of John’s collapse at the office. From that moment on – till now – her consciousness was full of buzzing, cascading words from doctors, nurses, friends and relatives – assurance, then consolation. A counselor had tried to tell her how she would feel, but she did not feel that way. Not now. And she was certain that she never would.
In this moment, she was free to feel in a way that might have upset or even scared those who said that they had only her interest at heart. After all, John’s death could not be called tragic. He was sixty-one – nine years younger than the biblical standard, but no one could say that he had been cheated out of his life – his death was unlike those of twenty-year-old boys, whose bodies have strewn battlefields in every generation; and unlike that of a thirty-five-year-old father of three who is killed by a drunk driver. He had not suffered; he had gone from abnormally good health to death in only an instant. And it was far better that, of the two of them, he had gone first. He would never have recovered from losing her; she knew that.
They had never had children and had never taken steps to find out why. She had wondered, of course, but knew that the tests would show one of them to be the problem and then where does it go?
What she had had with John was good. It was better, by far, from almost every other situation that she knew of through her friends. John worked. He brought his paycheck home. He helped with the housework. He was never violent or vicious. He never shamed or blamed her and the idea of another woman was ridiculous.
She closed the curtain and went to the burning hearth and took a poker and tapped the flaming logs at one end and then the other. Red embers dropped to the fireplace floor. She took a piece of split beech from the box by the heart h– a piece that John had split – and fit it onto the fire.
What she had had with John was good. It was good enough. But she had sometimes wondered what else life might hold, if things had worked out differently. She had no preconceived notions about it. No real idea of what she would do differently, no long-lost high-school or college boyfriend. She would never have taken that step – away from what had been obviously ordained for her, from that place in life where so many depended on her and loved her. She had known women who had. Those women would have never admitted to mistake, but any objective measure of their new lives showed misery not only for them, but for all concerned.
But now this change was forced upon her. Now she could in perfectly good conscience contemplate the other. What else was there? Was there more?
Then the phone. She looked at the screen and answered.