BY DELILAH GREY
She pulled the knot through and snipped the thread loose with brass scissors. The last thread of the last stitch of the quilt. With tired, bandaged fingers, she released the quilt from the hoop that stretched it taut and spread it across her lap, smoothing out the creases.
A sigh came from the bed beside her, rattling through a hollow chest. If she didn’t look, she might be able to pretend that the past three years hadn’t happened. That he wasn’t lying next to her, struggling for each breath, frail, paper-thin skin stretched over a skeleton.
She began the quilt the day of his diagnosis, dragging her homely carpet bag to every chemotherapy appointment, sitting on the bus, in the chair beside him while they pumped him full of poison to kill what was killing him, on those long nights when he could not sleep for vomiting, in the hospital as he relapsed once again. Sewing and sewing until her fingers bled, the stitches straight and even like her grandmother had taught her.
Running her hands across the spiked circles of the quilt’s Dresden plate pattern, she felt the fabrics, pieced together from her scrap bin. There was the satin of his work ties, stripes, dots, a reminder of how long his days had been, each hour stolen from her by strangers. The kids’ camp shirts, summer days where their blonde heads smelled of sweat and sunshine. Ivory coloured lace from her wedding dress, the scraps that remained after she had sewn it into something more modern for her daughter’s wedding. The brown corduroys of that first day when she knew she loved him, the soft ridges holding a surprising gentle flame to a part of her that she no longer recognized.
Shaking out the quilt, she lay it over his frail, sleeping body. He was still there, the man she loved, in the way the light fell over him and smoothed out his bones, feeding the glow back into his sallow skin. She bent over and kissed his head where a few, wispy white hairs remained. His eyes flickered before settling once again, each inhale a struggle, filling lungs tired of breathing.
Painfully slow, she crawled into the bed over him, feeling his diminished, fragile body beneath her. A body she had loved, knew every freckle, every scar, how she fit perfectly in the crook of his arm. A body that was now a stranger to her.
Steeling herself, she pulled the quilt over his head and held it there until he stopped struggling.