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The Broken Pieces Make Her Sparkle

The day she said "I do," I saw the shape of our lives. We'd be the kind of couple who kept Sundays for ourselves, did crossword puzzles in the evenings, and gave each other lingering kisses every morning. We'd raise two kids who would go on to make the future brighter. We'd retire early, eat key lime pie for dessert every night, and watch the sun set, our wrinkled hands entwined. And I'd look into her big green eyes and remember the full-bodied giddiness that enveloped me as I replied, "Me too."
The first thing to go is Sundays for ourselves. She picks up extra shifts in the cafe after opening the first bill for PA school. For a few months, I stare longingly at the cold space she'd forsaken hours earlier, but then I'd remember my research won't run itself and scurry off to the library for an extra skull session.
Besides, the brunch crowd tips well.
Our first child miscarries after four months. There's an empty space between us for another six, but we slowly fill it with work and unspoken conversations. On the anniversary, she locks herself in the bathroom, and I lock myself in the study. We grieve in silence then fuck away our sorrow.
After ten years of marriage and healthy twin toddlers, she's lost that dancer trimness that seduced me. All things considered, this last decade's been kind to us. The partners have been giving me bigger cases, and the hospital keeps her active, if exhausted. Time leaves harsh wounds.
"It's just getting older," I whisper into her hair while she glares at her lumpy, naked midriff. "You've seen old folks at the hospital. They either shrivel up or explode."
Her expression darkens and she hugs herself, hiding the view. "I never agreed to getting old."
I kiss her shoulder, her neck. "You'll always be beautiful to me."
The partners promote me six weeks later; the pay raise is enough I can give her the gift she's too proud to ask for. When she's discharged after her surgery, she stands naked in the bedroom mirror, touching the tender scars and marveling at her newfound flatness. We pack the kids off to my parents' house and spend the weekend reveling.
Our son, Tommy, gets arrested for hacking the security cameras at school. When the police bring their warrant by the house, they find hours of footage saved on Tommy's hard drive along with writable data discs. When we demand Tommy explain himself, he shrugs and says one of his friends had the idea to score some cash.
At his trial, the DA asks that Tommy be tried as an adult. He is indicted for intent to distribute child pornography. The last glimpse I catch of our son, he glowers in one of my old suits, unrepentant, unremorseful.
I vomit in the third-floor men's room to a chorus of bystanders commending the verdict.
We pick up extra shifts to pay off Tommy's legal fees. What's left of his college savings account gets repurposed into a long-term savings bond. Mimi won't talk about what happened to her brother, but she throws herself into her studies, into her volunteer work at the community center.
We make do. Our lifestyle is modest compared to my coworkers but still better than most. Our Sundays are gone, as are our slow morning kisses, and our crossword puzzles have been replaced by Scrabble with Mimi and procedural dramas. It's not much, but I still see that look in her eye from time to time, that quiet, ecstatic happiness she had when we wed. It's muted but still there.
Her knee goes out. Years spent on her feet in the hospital have wreaked havoc. Of all the things that can go wrong in the hospital.
We see a specialist. Supplements and physical therapy will take time and effort to yield results, but they are the tried and true method. Hard work and grit, two things she has in spades. But when the specialist mentions a cutting edge biometric replacement therapy, something behind my wife's eyes lights up.
"We don't have the money," I say as we lie awake that evening, each waiting for the other to speak.
"We don't have the money for anything," she says, her back turned to me. "PT and supplements might be cheap, but there's no guarantee I'll be able to work again for at least a year while the muscle rebuilds. If at all. The replacement is more up front, but I'll be able to walk."
I write a check for funds we don't have. As she recovers, eating bonbons and watching soap operas, I take on every available case the firm can spare. My assistant gives me the stink eye when she hands me my pay stub. But the partners like my work ethic and my drive. What more could I ask for?
It becomes a habit: replacing, repairing, chasing every new upgrade. Her moving parts steadily improve as her mind gives way. ExternaSkin resists wrinkles. EverStrong Implants keep her breasts firm and healthy. A stranger's refurbished heart beats steady in her chest.
She forgets she ever had a son. Or a daughter. Some days, she forgets she has a husband.
On our last night together, the night before she'll be admitted for long-term care, we cuddle close in our bed. She holds tight to my pajama shirt, her hands smoother and stronger than they were half a century ago. She peers at me through starburst cataracts, through welling tears. "I haven't seen you in so long. I wish I could see you."
"I'm sorry," I whisper into her hair.
She hesitates. "I overheard an ad. EverStrong has a new product. Eyes."
My jaw clenches. I'm not concerned about the money; my practice brings in more money than we can spend, even spoiling our grandchildren. But her eyes? They're the last real thing about her. The last thing I have of my blushing bride whose endless hope made me ache.
All our lives, I've indulged her. All our lives, she's been my world. So I hold her close and whisper promises she won't remember come morning.
I visit every day as she slips farther away, my half-remade woman. She looks up over the mess of yarn she calls crochet, her eyes milky, confused. "Can I help you?" she asks before glancing past me like I'm one of those old folks we used to joke about.
"Do you mind if I sit a spell?"
She nods to the open chair and goes back to her work.
I maneuver my old bones into the too-plush seat. Across the activity room, a pair of ladies play checkers, but if I unfocus my eyes, I can almost imagine a sunset ducking over the horizon, and the stale warm air softened by a summer wind, and in place of tangled yarn she holds my hand and sighs contentedly.
Even if none of it's real, I look into her eyes and feel the same giddy flutter I felt on our wedding day; I remember the dream, and it's enough.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 6th, 2017

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