Here inside me deep and hollow
He died the day of the first snow that season.
I came home from work to find him sleeping peacefully. I'd wanted to ask him if he knew it snowed. There was no evidence of it now since it was so early in the season and it had melted on contact with the still warm ground.
He lay curled up on his side with his arm stretched out before him. It was a typical sight, a pose he normally took when sleeping. And I did what I normally did when I found him this way; I took his hand in mine and stoked my thumb across the back.
He rarely woke up when I did this, at least, not any more. He'd reflexively grasp my hand then relax again. Sometimes I'd stroke his arm from the shoulder down, wrap my hand around his wrist, and pull gently on his arm. It always shifted his muscles across his shoulders and trigger a reflexive, shivering stretch all down his back.
Today I took his hand, felt his answering grip, then leaned down to plant a kiss behind his ear. Then I went out to forage a snack for myself and whiled away the few remaining hours until bed time. He never woke up and joined me, but I thought nothing of it.
When I finally entered the bedroom the silence was profound. He lay as I'd left him, but he was different beyond belief. I knew the second I stepped into the room that he'd gone.
But I had to make sure. The investigator still inside me insisted on the facts. I stepped forward and placed my hand on his still ribs. He was already chilled; his muscles had already lost their pliancy. But his skin, oh God, his skin still felt like him. His hair still felt like silk under my fingers.
I backed away from him until I bumped the walls in the corner. I turned and crumbled to the floor, arms wrapped around my head, and heard myself wail.
I don't think I was out of my mind for long. The need to touch him again was uncontrollable. I was back at the bedside before I knew it, his wrist in my grip and my fingers in his hair.
Morbid thoughts assailed my mind. I couldn't bear to think I'd never touch this skin or this hair again. I was tempted to take a portion of him to keep forever. I could take his hair, I thought, and be able to feel this luxury for the rest of my life. I could take his skin, I thought, and wrap it around myself. Then I'd truly be inside him the way I'd craved to be for all the 12 years we'd been together.
Only 12 years. It wasn't enough time. I'd expected years more. How was I going to make it through the rest of my life without him?
I'll take him home, I thought then. But that had been my home, never his. It wouldn't mean anything to him to be taken there at the end. I could get away with it, a secret part of my mind whispered. He technically doesn't exist. He hasn't existed in any population demographic in all the years we've been together. I can take him home and bury him where only I will ever be able to visit him.
Reason prevailed and I called the necessary people. I decided it was probably best to have him taken away before my morbid urgings made me act in an inhuman way. I wanted my last tactile memories of him to be while he still felt like himself.
They came with their sympathetic faces and their hushed voices and took him away from me. And I let them. Then I sat on my couch while tears leaked from my eyes in an endless stream. And I remembered...
We'd been telling each other fairy tales, or folk tales, whichever you prefer. He'd told me how the real Rumplestilskin had won and taken the baby. I told him the Norwegian story of the enchanted polar bear prince who was held by his evil stepmother in the castle that was east of the sun and west of the moon.
He liked that - east of the sun and west of the moon. It struck his fancy, even though, in the story, it wasn't a pleasant place to be. It sounds like a description of where heaven would be, he mused.
Is that where you are now, my love? Are you there, trapped in a castle, and waiting for me to come for you on the four winds? I don't think I can do that, not unless I follow the same path you took. It's tempting, but I know it's not what you would want. I have to do this the hard way.
Author's Note: I never dreamed I'd write a character death. Normally I hate them and avoid reading them. But my cat died tonight. I was his chosen human and I depended on him for my peace of mind. After all these years with him sleeping by my side I find I cannot sleep tonight without him. This story is an attempt to comprehend my own devastation and the morbid desire to keep a piece of him forever.
The quote is from the song East of the Sun by a-ha. Yes, they did more than just Take On Me... a *lot* more.
The story East of the Sun and West of the Moon is a Norwegian folk tale. Here's a link to the story online: http://members.aol.com/haheiner/frytales/eastwest/index.htm