art by Melissa Mead
by Pam L. Wallace
Sara sat on the floor, surrounded by boxes of shiny-grained wood, one ear attuned, as always, to Darrell's breathing, holding her own breath each time his stuttered--waiting, waiting for his next breath so she, too could breathe again. He lay on the bed, curled into a near-fetal position.
All that was left of the man she'd married all those years ago was an empty husk, his essence lost in the plaques and tangles miring his brain. He'd been her backbone and her cheerleader; given her strength and inspiration. Now she had one last gift for him. She tucked a strand of gray hair behind her ear and straightened her posture.
It was time to let him go. She did him no favors by clinging. He'd made her promise to remember their joy and not dwell on the sorrow. They'd made more than enough memories to last her until they were together again.
The wood had been culled from their small home orchard, cut into planks that were hand-planed by Darrell. Together, they'd lovingly crafted each box, the joints meticulously dovetailed. The smallest was barely as big as her thumb; the largest an eight-inch cube.
The box of apple wood was first, the odor of the wood sweet but tart. A smile was carved into the lid. She cradled the box against her chest. Finally, with a sigh, she opened it, freeing the memory they'd so tenderly placed within. A ball of sparkling motes floated from the box to circle her head, and the memory burst into a vision. Teens at summer camp, they'd giggled as they ran down the dusty path to the lake and splashed into the clear chill water. It was a comfortable day that only turned awkward when he moved to kiss her, neither one knowing quite what to do and bumping noses in the process.
The memory left her and floated over to Darrell, where it settled on his chest. His breath stuttered, then he inhaled a deep, clear breath.