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art by Steven R. Stewart

Deathbed

Caroline M. Yoachim is a Nebula-award-nominated writer and photographer living in Seattle, Washington. She is a Clarion West graduate, and her fiction has appeared in Asimov's, Fantasy Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among other places. For more about Caroline, check out her website at: carolineyoachim.com. This is her second story in Daily Science Fiction.
"I remember dying," my husband tells me. "Everyone I know comes to visit my deathbed."
"It will be nice to see everyone," I say, forcing a smile. I don't bother to remind him that what he remembers hasn't happened yet, at least not for me. We only have a few weeks left, and I don't want to spend that time on explanations. Instead we take a long walk in the rain, huddled together under one umbrella, and then we come back home and huddle even closer to get warm.
"My body is old enough that I won't mind dying," he says, "but I wish I'd had children."
Our daughter is nearly fifty now, with children of her own. She refuses to visit because my husband doesn't remember her. He doesn't remember her because she isn't in his future. I invited her to his deathbed, but she refuses to come.
"I know there isn't much time left," he says, "but will you marry me?"
"Of course." I say. We're already married, but I still say yes every time he asks.
A week before my husband dies, he is strangely quiet, almost shy. We are in the kitchen, and I am making butternut squash soup. It is his favorite soup. He likes the soup because it's loaded with spices to cut through the sweetness of the squash.
"This is delicious," he says when he tastes it. "I don't usually like squash, but it really works in this soup. You'll have to make it for me again some time."
It hits me then, that this is the last time that I will ever make him soup. Otherwise he'd remember it. Coming up with the recipe had been tricky. Will you make me that soup I like so much? he'd asked, a few weeks after we'd met. I'd asked him lots of questions about what was in the soup, and even then it took a few tries to get it right. I could save my past self some trouble if I told him the ingredients, but I cherish those early memories of failed soup, and I worry that giving him the recipe would change the past.
"I remember dying," he says, his voice almost a whisper. For the first time, he seems anxious.
It had been such a good plan, inviting everyone to my husband's deathbed. It ensured that he would remember them when they came to visit, and it gave him a happy memory to hold onto until the end. It was a good plan, but doomed to failure, and I should have seen it last week, when he stopped talking about his memories.
My husband is in a hospital bed, dying, and the room is full of strangers. I explain the situation, and they leave--a few with protests, but most with sighs of relief. I stay. He doesn't know me anymore, but I hold his hand and do my best to comfort him.
"I remember dying," he says, "and there is a beautiful stranger who is there to hold my hand. I wish there was time to get to know you better."
He closes his eyes, and before the hour changes he is gone.
For the first time, I remember my husband dying. I am alone at his deathbed, our last moment together and the moment we first met. I remember our life together, filled with long walks in the rain and countless pots of soup. It would make a wonderful future.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 18th, 2011

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