The first icy tendrils of winter slithered through the distant gumtrees and across the battered farm, so Father clutched the woman he loved just a little closer. They sat together on the balcony, wrapped in a thick blanket, with a spectacular array of stars opening up before them. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.
Mother’s head was snatched back at an unnatural angle, her mouth hanging half open. Her eyes, which had once been the colour of the sky on a spring day, were now dark and clouded, and sunk deep into her skull. If Mother was still breathing, it was slow and shallow, and would soon cease altogether.
A stronger gust rattled in from the distance, over the fields that Father and Mother had tended to for so many years. It plucked the crimson leaves from the old liquedambar that had seemingly stood since the dawn of time, the one with their initials scraped into it, and they rattled across the grass where their children and grandchildren had played and grown. A field sown with generations of joy and heartbreak, Father thought.
He leant in and kissed his wife gently on the forehead. The skin was almost translucent there now, and the veins peered through the patchwork of wrinkles and blemishes. Mother was shrinking and dying right there on the balcony, but Father didn’t see it. He held onto the young woman with the long, blonde hair and striking eyes, who he’d fallen in love with an eternity ago.
Without letting go of his wife or taking his gaze of her, Father, scraped around for the old, chipped mug of rum that sat by the bench, and then held it close to his chest. Rum had been one of the few things they had argued about over the years; he drank too much of it, she none at all. But now, as the wind picked up, rum would keep them together forever.
Mother was slipping away, and so Father brought the old mug to his lips. He’d slipped a dozen painkiller tablets in there earlier that evening, when he finally accepted the inevitability of what he was about to lose. He didn’t know where they’d end up, or if there’d be anything beyond this moment. But it didn’t matter, because they would be going there together, on their own terms.
Father stared solemnly out at the night, watching the trees shudder against the carpet of stars, and without hesitation he drank. The rum warmed his body immediately, and father placed the cup back on the table and then snuggled in closer to his wife. He kissed her one last time on cracked lips that appeared pink and plump to him, and then rested his tired head on Mother’s chest.
With eyes closed and the world shutting down around him, Father heard his love’s heart beat once more, and then they slipped away into nothingness together. Below those ancient stars, the leaves kept tumbling across the fields.