“It’s been a tough day,” Gemma said.
Dave looked at his wife as the sun set behind nearby hills. Thinning wisps of white crowned her head; spotted hands were folded across her lap. The sparkle that he had loved for fifty years had faded from her brown eyes. “I know,” he replied.
The kids had left for jobs in the city years ago and Dave often sat in the grass with Gemma after dinner, surrounded by cornstalks and trees, sharing her company. They liked to watch the stars come out.
But the stars seemed cold tonight. Dave looked past the “For Sale” sign at the end of their driveway and toward the cornfields cloaked in shadows. The farmhouse stood silent behind them, two floors of windows dark and the front porch empty. Even the crickets and tree frogs sounded somber and distant. Maybe they felt the sadness too.
“A long time ago you told me that we’d be together forever,” Gemma whispered.
Dave looked at her face silhouetted against the deepening night, her high cheekbones and narrow nose. For a heartbeat, he sat beside his bride. “I remember.”
She touched his hand, offering warmth against the chill night air. “I always hoped that forever meant here, in this house.”
Dave’s fingers intertwined hers. “Fifty years is long enough to stay in one place.”
A meteor streaked across the stars, just below Ursa Major. “How many shooting stars do you think we’ve seen over fifty years?” Gemma asked.
“Five thousand and ten,” Dave said after a moment’s pause.
Gemma shook her head. “You missed a couple during the sixties.”
They both chuckled until Gemma’s laughter turned to racking coughs. She doubled over in Dave’s arms and he held her tight. He could never get used to the coughing.
When her fit passed, Gemma slowly sat up. “Fifty years,” she said and let out a breath. “Forever’s barely begun.”
She patted his arm. “Time to move on. Help the old lady up.”
Arm in arm they walked toward the house. They took their time, but Dave didn’t mind. Every year the distance seemed farther and his knees protested more.
“Think the new family will take care of her?” Gemma asked.
Dave groped for an answer. He had built this house. He had worked this land his entire adult life. Now all he could do was hope; that’s all he had. “Of course they will.”
His hand brushed the wall as they walked past impatiens sleeping in hanging baskets, past the empty swing. Everything about the house felt right, smelled right; it was part of him. But moving to a smaller place was the right thing to do--closer to the city, closer to the hospital. Closer to the day Gemma would beat her cancer.
“Our last night here,” Gemma whispered.
Dave opened the screen door once more for his bride and kissed her as she passed. Just as she had fifty years ago, Gemma put her arms around his neck and let the kiss linger.
That night in bed, as Dave listened to the house’s familiar murmurs, he held Gemma close and knew the truth of her words. Forever had barely begun.