|......Ella had been dead for six months now. Nonetheless, she was still constantly in Edgar's thoughts. How could he forget the woman he had spent forty years of his life with?|
......He had always liked these times best. Winter evenings seated at either side of the fire in companionable silence; he in his comfortable old armchair, and Ella at the other side in hers, the rest of the world locked behind drawn curtains, the crackling fire and the ticking clock the only sounds to break the quiet. After so much time they had said all they needed to say to each other. Togetherness was what they had and all they needed. Togetherness and the contentment of two people who knew all there was to know about the other.
......Edgar settled back and gazed across at Ella's chair. He remembered the first day they had met as if it were yesterday. A mutual friend had introduced them in the old Riverside dance hall, long since demolished. They might well have been the only two people on the floor for all the notice they took of anyone else from that moment. Edgar had thought her the most beautiful woman in the world and had never changed his opinion since.
......How they had danced! Not the modern stuff they danced these days, but close, wrapped in each other's arms. They'd fitted together like gloves. The friend had left them to it, and they had remained glued together until the dance hall closed. He'd walked her home then, holding hands and both chatting animatedly about all their hopes and dreams. She lived with her parents then and he'd had to leave her at the doorstep, but not before he kissed her for the first time.
......The kiss lasted forever. So it seemed, anyway. But it must have ended at some time because he found himself halfway to his own home walking on a cloud. It was difficult to sleep much that night, thinking of her. Ella told him after it had been the same for her.
......Edgar leaned forward and prodded the fire with the poker, the flames sending dancing reflections across the walls reminding him again of that long-ago dance hall. He did not know if they fell in love that first night or the next, when they went dancing again, or the night after, when they just went walking. But he did know there had never been anyone else for him since.
......They had married quite quickly; some said too quickly, that it would never last. It had been a struggle at first - neither of them earned very much, so they always seemed to be scrimping - and the doubters nodded to each other. Somehow though they'd scraped through the first couple of years and proved the doubters wrong.
......The first big stumbling block came when they discovered they couldn't have children. Ella especially wanted a child; Edgar too, would have loved a son to carry his name, but it wasn't to be. Ella's depression upon learning the news that it was something inside her that precluded them from ever having offspring was deep and long lasting. She blamed herself and was sure Edgar must hate her, no matter how much he reassured her to the contrary.
......It was a difficult time and would have torn many other couples apart, but they came out the other side of it stronger and even more close together. From then it was just the two of them. If they had been inseparable before, now it would have taken a crowbar to split them.
......Edgar looked wistfully across at Ella's place, the fire warm on his face. Soon be time for bed, he thought, I'll just have a few more minutes. They had been such happy years. They had done everything together. The dancing had continued, and the walking and talking. Then, when they'd been able to afford it, they had bought the cottage and set about transforming it into their own little Eden.
......It had been what they had both always dreamed of: a place in the country with roses round the door. A cliché, he knew, but, still, it was what they wanted. The cottage had been rundown and neglected when they'd first moved in but they hadn't seen the disrepair; only its potential. It took much hard work, and much more scrimping and saving, but in a little over a year they had their dream.
......It had been so perfect. Long summer days spent pottering in the garden: he with his vegetable patch, Ella with her beloved flowers. Warm evenings sitting out until long after dark talking and laughing, the scents of the garden heavy in the air, night sounds the only disturbance. And of course wintertime, his favourite time, Ella's too. They were isolated where they were, and they seemed to have drifted away from their friends and relations anyway. It didn't matter. Sometimes they hardly saw another soul for months. They didn't care. It merely meant they could devote more time to each other.
......Snug by the fire, talking about the day just gone or others long gone, or just sitting quiet and happy, content. Somehow winter nights seemed to be the closest times. Perhaps it was because there were no distractions from other people or unfinished tasks that had to be completed.
......So the years went by. Happy years. What did it matter that they saw no one anymore? They had their cosy little nest and their never-lessening love for each other.
......The fire was getting low, too late to stoke it up now. Another prod with the poker put some life back into it; he really ought to be making a move though, it was almost midnight.
......It was hard to say when it started; Ella had always been frail. That was one of the things he loved about her: her daintiness. But the poor dear had always been susceptible to any stray bug that was going round. The slightest chill could so easily turn into flu and she would be laid up for weeks. That was why he preferred they avoid other people and their germs.
......The onset was slow and gradual, hardly perceptible at first. The odd breakage was put down to a sudden clumsiness, the occasional shiver to an unseasonable drop in temperature. Ella was naturally pale, so her loss of colour was unnoticeable to begin with. Even the steady drop in weight wasn't too obvious at first, Ella being so slim and petite.
......Over time though and, looking back, Edgar realised it must have been several months, the decline in his wife's health became all too apparent. The fact that the weight was falling off her at an alarming rate was no longer possible to ignore. She trembled constantly and had no strength, to simply move from one place to another exhausted her. She was tired all the time and slept the day away. Edgar didn't know what to do.
......He supposed he should have seen a doctor. At first he'd thought it passing thing, one of those unaccountable illnesses that came and went. She'd get up one morning and be her old chirpy self again. As the days, then the weeks went by and she slowly became worse it was clear that wasn't going to be the case. Something terrible was wrong with Ella. It broke his heart to see her so ill.
......Ella had always shared Edgar's dislike and distrust of doctors - one of the many things they had in common. They poked and prodded you, filled you up with pills and potions but didn't really know what they were doing. Whenever Ella had been ill, sadly all too frequently, he had always nursed her. He had promised on their wedding day to always take care of her, and he always had. She had got better before - surely she would again?
......But Ella continued to get worse.
......Before too long she was bedridden for most of the day. When she wanted to sit in her favourite chair by the fire Edgar had to carry her there. It was all she could do to give him one of her beautiful little smiles. Yes, he should have seen a doctor. But by then he knew that if he had they would have put her in hospital and, once there, he was terrified she would never come back home. He couldn't let them take her away from him. Besides, Ella hated hospitals.
......No, he would take care of her. Just as he had promised.
......Edgar did everything for her. Washed her, fed her what little she could eat, took her to the toilet. She became so light and wasted that, even though he wasn't as young as he used to be, he could easily pick her up and carry her everywhere. He loved looking after her, so it was no hardship. No hospital could possibly have treated her better.
The fire had died to a few softly glowing embers, only the small lamp on the table dimly lit the room. It was so quiet. Edgar looked fondly to Ella's chair, now shrouded in shadow.
......The end, when it came, was peaceful, almost beautiful. One morning he had gone to the bedroom to take her some soup, all she could manage to keep down by then. She looked at him and her eyes had some of their old sparkle for the first time in months. Weakly raising her hand as he bent over her she rested it at the back of his head to bring him nearer to her. In words he could barely hear she said, "I love you, Edgar."
......Then she was gone.
......At the corners of her mouth was a little smile.
......All those years together. They couldn't end just like that. Could they? What would he do without his Ella? How could he go on with no one to take care of?
......He would have to see someone now; get a doctor. Then there would be coroners and undertakers, all sorts of people invading their quiet little home. They would want to take his Ella away from him.
......No! He couldn't - wouldn't - allow it.
......Besides, hadn't he promised to always look after her?
......The fire had died out completely now and the room was growing chilly. No point in sitting here any longer.
......Edgar rose stiffly from his chair, his old bones creaking, crossed to Ella's chair and reached down. "Come on old girl, time for bed," he said softly.
......She was hardly any weight at all now; he could lift her easily; not that she'd ever been a burden. Gently and carefully he carried Ella's body to the bedroom. There, he placed her in her side of the bed and tucked the blankets around her.
......After undressing and putting on his pyjamas, heedful not to disturb her, he got into bed beside his wife. Reaching for the switch, he turned to Ella and said, "Good night darling, see you in the morning," and turned off the light.
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