"Without Me"

The morning my wife died was warm and sunny. I awoke very suddenly at 4 a.m. and knew that the day had come, that there was no more time. However, at waking, it was still dark. The darkness seemed more appropriate. How could my life unravel on a beautiful day with a crystal clear sky and fluffy white clouds? It was simply wrong.

Gray, I willed to the sky as I rose from my bed, wearing the same clothes as yesterday, and glanced down at my wife, still sleeping peacefully, though as I watched her mouth creased into a frown as a tremor of pain wracked her resting form. It needs to rain. The heavens should be in roaring in tears and pain on a day like today.

But this was selfish thinking, I knew. Grace liked days such as that the best, where the sun was out and shining and everything was peaceful and very warm but shaded by the occasional cloud. My wife of four years, she'd been battling the terrible illness for the last three with pains that came and went.

For a long time I simply leaned against the wall near our bedroom's one window and gazed at her as she slumbered, attempting helplessly to shield her, willing her to have no more pain as she dreamed her last dreams.

Finally as the first rays of the morning sun began to stretch their fingers across the room and turn the blackness to gray I stumbled into the bathroom. My mouth tasted of cotton, dry and bare as a desert. I'd been forgetting more and more often lately to take care of myself, caught up in the growing knowledge that my wife's time was fast approaching.

I brushed my teeth quietly and filled a cup with lukewarm tap water. For a moment I just stood there, watching my own reflection gulping at the clear liquid. Then after inhaling deeply I hurled the glass with all my strength, shattering my own visage instantly. Slivers of glass tore into my skin, but I didn't notice, my thoughts so filled with rage and despair.

My life is one long, unanswered prayer, I thought. How could you do this to me? Where's your omnipotence? Where's your omnibenevolence? Don't you care about us?

A picture suddenly filled my head as I stood there in bathroom. I saw massive fissures opening up in the earth in some barren field, swallowing up dead trees. As I watched, a crack appeared beneath my feet and widened with shocking speed to devour me, too.

Confused, I began to wonder if I was breaking under the pressure. Surely stress is making me see things, I thought worriedly.

"…Jon?" I snapped back to my usual serene manner as my wife's voice rasped from the other room, pushing aside with great effort the anger and the strange image. Calmly I returned to the bedroom, rubbing the blood from my face as I went.

Without speaking I laid down on the bed next to her. She leaned over and draped an arm over my stomach. "Today's…"

"I know." I whispered, barely able to speak. I turned to face her and caught a glint of eyes that still burned like tiny blue fires.

"Take me to the park," she said before drifting back into unconsciousness.

---

There was a hill. A tall hill draped in a coat of soft green grass. It sat in the middle of a small park at the edge of the city, a little emerald full of trees settled against the sea of pavement that was our home. It was on that hill, four years ago, that I had proposed to Grace. And on that hill she would soon pass, and take a part of me with her. A gentle wind flitted through the air as we walked, hand in hand. She'd awoken long enough to get dressed, only to fall asleep in the cab.

And soon she would fade for the last time. Her hand fluttered weakly as we walked towards the hill at a snail's pace. It wasn't long before she had to lean on me to stay up.

I had countless memories attached to this place. We'd come here more times than I could count, and so it seemed an appropriate place for the end to at last come

Grace died so suddenly, I didn't have time to say goodbye. It was shocking how someone could be there, with you, maybe part of you, one moment, and then simply gone the next. We'd sat down after climbing to the top and held each other as the sun climbed higher, illuminating that lovely day I'd been dreading, and then she was still.

I was blinded by tears for some time until anger and helplessness took hold. "This is your fault!" I screamed, shaking my fist at the sky, at God. "You did nothing! Without you, she might still be alive!"

I blinked my eyes, and in an instant, everything had changed. A dark sky tinged with a dirty red like a dying fire was home to towering purple thunderheads that vibrated with lightning and screamed with thunder. The grass had long vanished, leaving me standing on barren ground. Scattered trees reached up like withered hands, stretched desperately for the rain the sky withheld.

The earth at my feet groaned like a man on his deathbed and fissures large and small erupted all around me. I ran, but there was no way for me to escape this. The ground turned to dust beneath my feet and I was soon falling through a canyon that stretched miles above my head and widened even as I fell. I tried to scream then, but there was no way to voice such terror as this at seeing the very foundations of the world come unraveling before me, and all noise died on my lips.

Before me soon appeared a red scar at the depth of the rift, the heart of this sundered Earth. The lava flowed up fast like a fountain to meet me, but as I watched turned black as it hardened, and brushed me as a feathery powder when it reached near.

That planet I'd known so dearly was soon behind me, and I floated before the undamaged Moon. A hellish aura reflected from it, glaring at me like a furious eye, burning through my wasting body and into my dying heart. I turned and saw the shriveled hull of my world being absorbed into the blazing furnace that the sun, now red and swollen, had become.

Suddenly I was cast into darkness as the sun went out like a candle at the mercy of the wind. I was left only with the cold light of the stars, and soon even those faded away. My own frail body could never hope to outlive the universe, and I passed into a void no man has ever truly experienced. And then into the oblivion came the words, and they were everything, for all else that had been was gone.

Without me, there is nothing.

The words filled me, inflated me, and my own being returned. I was very suddenly back on that familiar hill. The blue sky with its welcoming clouds, the trees with their choirs of birds, the wind embracing me, I put my head into the grass and wept, for it was the most beautiful sight to ever grace my eyes.