As Gwyn sat on the very end of the hospital bed, she took his hand in hers. She knew with her head that he didn’t know she was there. The morphine made sure of that. But her heart told her to stay and hold his hand anyway, just in case. She felt the tears well up again. Her mother, who had come with her, took her other hand.
“You know dear,” her mother said, “if you hadn’t married him, you wouldn’t be responsible for his medical bills.”
Gwyn choked down a sob. “And I wouldn’t have had the five wonderful years I’ve had with him either,” she replied. She could have said a lot more. Years of dealing with her mother had taught her that it wasn’t worth the energy.
Evan had a tumor in his brain. Inoperable. He was only thirty. She had loved him from the moment she saw him that day in college crossing the quad. He had curly dark brown hair that somehow always seemed like it needed to be cut, and he had blue eyes that could light a darkened room whenever he was excited. He made her laugh, and they still sometimes stayed up past two in the morning just talking, but he was usually quiet, even shy, and a little on the bookish side, traits of which her mother did not approve. She had wanted Gwyn to marry a schmoozer, someone who knew how to press the flesh.
“That’s how you get ahead in life,” her mother had told her, to which she responded by saying that her mother would be happier if she married a fraternity brother from Sigma Epsilon Chi. “Well, at least then he’d be fun,” her mother had said.
After leaving the hospital, Gwyn went home. Their house seemed cavernous now. Without him there it was so empty. She climbed the stairs to their bedroom. After she shut the door, she slipped out of her clothes. She then lit eight candles and placed them around the room.
In the flickering light, it was apparent that about half of the wallspace was covered in writing, but nothing recognizable to anyone else. It was the old alphabet of the Celts, used before the Norsemen brought their runes, before the Christian missionaries brought their Latin letters. Her Welsh father had taught it to her, along with the language that went with it. She had received her gift from him, and he had taught her how to use it. He taught her that words–spoken and written–have power, but only by knowing the complex symbolism, the meaning behind the meaning of the words, could one access that power. She knew the sacred alphabet of the trees, as well as that of the flowers and of the birds. She knew all the old strories of the heroes and the gods and the hidden codes that they contained as well. What she was writing was both a poem and a magic spell, with layer upon layer of interconnected imagery. It was the most complicated magic she had ever performed, all in a desperate attempt to save her husband.
It didn’t work. By December, Evan’s conditioned had worsened. The doctors said they couldn’t do anything else, and they sent him home to wait for the inevitable. Evan’s parents had come from out of town and were staying in the guest room. They were in the way a lot. It was a strain on Gwyn for them to be there, but she understood that they needed to. Her mother did not.
“I can’t believe I’m expected to entertain these people now,” she said to Gwyn on the phone one day, “It’s December 21, and haven’t even finished all of my Christmas shopping yet. I don’t have time to be a babysitter.”
Gwyn was busying herself with the dishes. “No one asked you to, Mother, and you haven’t been babysitting them.”
“I took them shopping last week.”
“That doesn’t count. You got to go shopping, too.”
“Well, I can’t believe they’re intruding on Christmas dinner. My Christmas is just ruined.”
Gwyn let the glass she was holding slip out of her hands. It shattered on the floor. “Your Christmas? Do you think Evan developed terminal cancer just to spite you? We’re all upset here. I don’t think this Christmas is going on anyone’s top ten favorite list.”
Gwyn didn’t even wait for her mother to chastise her for yelling. She hung up the phone and ran upstairs. She didn’t bother lighting the candles. She just picked up her pencil and began to write. Maybe it was her anger at her mother, or the fact that it was the Winter Solstice, but the words just came to her, faster and faster. She wrote all night. By the time the sun was rising, all of the walls were covered, and she finally collapsed.
After the first of the year, Evan began to get better. An MRI revealed that the tumor was shrinking, and by April, there was no sign that it had ever been there. Everyone said that it was a miracle. By June, he was working again. One Saturday afternoon, Gwyn’s mother stopped by their house. Evan left. He didn’t even make any pretense of liking her anymore.
“Life is too short to put up with people like her,” he would tell Gwyn.
“I just wanted you to know that your cousin Emily is expecting another baby,” Gwyn’s mother told her.
“Really? How many does that make? Six or seven?” Gwyn asked.
Her mother frowned. “Four,” she answered, “Why do you have to be so negative? I just think that it’s wonderful that she’s able to stay home with them and that her husband’s able to support them. I guess you’ll always have to work. You never know when Evan is going to get sick again.”
“Mother, Emily, her husband, and their brood live in a rented two-bedroom apartment in an area of town I won’t go to during the day. We own a nice house in a nice neighborhood because I work. Besides, I like my job.”
“Well, you’ll just never be completely secure.”
“No one is ever completely secure, Mother. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. You could have a house fall out of the sky and land on you.”
“What is that suppose to mean?”
Her mother kept talking, but Gwyn wasn’t paying attention anymore. She was busy thinking up a poem in her head.