This is part of the character development process for my novel, “Sarah”.
He told me to rope and then chain his hands and feet to the bed posts before I sat next to him. The rope needed to interlaced with the chains for extra strength, he told me, so he didn’t easily break free when the moment came. He needed to be bound tighter than a submissive on Christmas. I didn’t want to at first; I wanted him to hold me in his arms and comfort me with his cold, wet skin because I was the one that couldn’t handle it, couldn’t handle watching him die. So, I just wrapped one arm around him, and pressed my ear to his chest, feeling and listening to his irregular heartbeat as I tried to cool his forehead with a cold rag. His breaths were shallow as he took them in, and they shuttered on their way out, like a child running a stick across a fence. Min…Min…his voice was a straggle of a whisper. I looked up at him and the tiniest smile locked into his face. He was laughing.
I moved my ear closer to hear him, to hear his laugh. What, I asked him. He said, Min…remember our first date to the zoo? At that moment, I didn’t…made me feel like shit.
“We went to the zoo on our first date?”
“Yes, I guess it technically wasn’t a date. I saw you in the walk-in bird cages…” his breath stilted, chest seizing before it relaxed.
The memory began to creep in, “The one where they give you a small plastic cup filled with that bird juice and you hold it in your hand and the birds land on your arm and drink it. I hated that cage…feathers flapping in my face, everywhere! Damn birds.”
“You were screaming, it’s gonna shit in my hair, it’s gonna shit in my hair…”
I laughed. It was strange; it came so naturally, but it made me feel so guilty. I just wanted him to stop talking in case talking was killing him faster, collapsing his lungs faster, beating his heart faster until it exploded. “You really need your rest.”
“You know it was funny. I saw you smile.”
He closed his eyes, and his arms relaxed in the ropes and chains. His body sank into the bed a little bit. “I’ve missed that, your smile. Gad I got to see it again.”
I hugged him. Not as tightly as I would have liked, but I didn’t want to break him. “Me too. I love you.”
Silence. His chest stopped moving, and I couldn’t hear any resounding thuds from inside his chest. He was dead, Right on schedule, just like they said. Don’t bother bringing him to the hospital, they said; better just to chain him up at home and get out of town before we got infected, they said. I wasn’t going to do that to my husband, even though he insisted I leave. We made a plan for that limbo time in between death and non-death, I was to, in his words, skewer him in the forehead with an ice pick before he became too reanimated.
So there I was, hugging a temporary motionless corpse, sobbing and thinking about having to kill him. I wiped the sweat away from his forehead with a nearby washcloth, kissed him and said, it’s okay, I know you love me too. Then I pulled myself away and into our vintage armchair in the corner. I curled up into it, my feet on the cushion, my knees to my chest. My hand grasped at the ice pick gleaming on the side table, and my fingers tightly curled around the worn leather handle.
Leave your loved ones in the city, they said. Get away from the infection, they said. But that’s the problem with this thing: you can’t get away from it.