3/52

Prompt: What do you believe happens after you die?

“Claire, I’m begging you… Wait one more night. Think about this.”

“Gerald, I’ve been thinking about this since the day I said, ‘I do’. I’m done thinking about it.”

Gerald, a 43-year-old man wearing a bright red holiday sweater and a pair of reindeer antlers, begins to cry. Claire watches him, her face stoic and unflinching. She, too, wears a pair of felt reindeer ears, though her holiday sweater is pine green. She is not crying, but is instead perched on an old ratty lounge chair, her knees tucked beneath her chin, her arms wrapped around her legs, her toes and fingers fidgeting as she tells her husband of thirteen years that she has booked a flight to South Africa that is leaving tomorrow.

“You’ve always known who I am,” She presses, hoping for some sort of acceptance by the night’s end. “I’ve never been one to settle down, to stay still.”

“I know,” Gerald says. “I just thought – I mean, you have your job, you travel all the time – I guess I just thought that could be enough.”

“I thought so too.” Her voice breaks for the first time, she presses her lips firmly together in an effort to keep back the tears.

It isn’t fair, she knows it. She has made promises that she knew she would break one day. She had just thought that when that day eventually came, Gerald would feel the same way. Of course, that was a stupid thing to think. Gerald, sweet, loyal Gerald, would never feel any differently about her. She could never decide whether that was his greatest quality or his biggest weakness. Perhaps a little of both.

“I know there’s nothing I can say to make you stay,” Gerald says. “What time do you need me to drive you to the airport tomorrow?”

“Gerald, I can take a taxi, I don’t want you to do that.”

“Fuck, Claire! After thirteen years, how is it that I still can’t tell want you want?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have spent thirteen years thinking about what I want, maybe you should have been thinking about what you want.”

“That’s cruel, Claire. You know that all I want is you.”

“Bullshit. You want the me that you’ve imagined. You don’t want the real me.”

“Claire, what do you think happens when we die?”

She is taken aback by this question, a memory comes to her from so many years ago.

They were twenty-two and newly in love. It was autumn and they were driving home from a pumpkin patch. They’d spent the entire day there, eating donuts and choosing their perfect pumpkins, getting lost in the maze and kissing behind bales of hay. Then Gerald had asked her a question amid the yellow-and-orange ride home through the curving hills of country roads.

“Claire, what do you think happens when we die?”

“That’s quite the question for a girl who just unbuttoned her pants to make room for the six donuts she ate.”

Gerald laughed and looked sideways at her, his eyes flickering between her sunlit face and the empty road.

“I know I’m in love with you,” He said, returning his attention to his driving.

Claire said nothing, but smiled and took his hand.

“I could see myself falling in love with you, too,” She had said.

Once, they were young and twenty-two but now they are sad and forty-three. Gerald asks the question again.

“What do you think happens when we die?”

“I – I don’t know, how could I know?”

“I didn’t ask what you know, I asked what you think.”

“I think we fucking die and then there’s nothing else.”

“I asked you that before.”

“I remember.”

“And you didn’t answer.”

“I remember.”

“But I looked at you and I realized that what I thought about life and death didn’t matter because I knew that I loved you.”

“I don’t know what to say, Gerald.”

“You could say it back.”

“No,” She says. “I can’t. I’m through with lying. I have to pack, I have an early flight tomorrow.”

She uncrosses her legs and goes upstairs to the bedroom. Gerald sits in their living room and looks around at the vestiges of thirteen years of marriage that surrounds him: A Christmas tree with a decade of shared decoration, two framed pictures of their wedding day hang on the wall, a small pile of presents lay under the tree, the TV is recording the SNL Christmas Special.

He gets up and follows his wife upstairs to the bedroom.

 

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