I chose this song for my second prompt because it’s a beautiful one. Although a lot of people believe it was written about Freddie’s battle with AIDS, it was actually written for the film ‘Highlander.’ Although, I’m sure Freddie’s illness must have had some influence, at least, on how it was performed, if not the lyrics themselves. In addition, Brian May wrote most of it, and he had lost his father not long ago. So, I don’t think it was written about one single thing.
WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER?
Forty years felt like no time at all. Maggie watched her husband’s chest rise and fall. The movement barely nudged the fresh purple sheets she had placed on the bed that morning. Not for the first time, she wondered whether their trip would be a good idea.
Jack squeezed her hand as she climbed into bed next to him. “Have you been stood there, watching me sleep, again?” He turned to look at her, smiling, and said, “I’m not going anywhere just yet, you know.”
“Don’t joke about it, Jack. It’s not funny.” She snatched her hand away and pulled the covers over her. Facing away from him, she swallowed an army of sobs.
The touch of his hand on the small of her back sent familiar shockwaves reverberating through her body, and she rolled over to face him. His pale blue eyes had become yellowed over the last few months, giving them the look of old, ink-dotted parchment paper. She wondered if he saw in sepia as well.
“Sorry. I know it’s your way of dealing with this—” Her voice trailed off as she tried to collect her thoughts. “I mean, humour’s a good thing, right? That’s what they say. Only, I’m failing to see the funny side of . . . of, oh, shit. I can’t even say it.”
His hands engulfed hers. She had always loved the way their hands fit perfectly into each other’s; as though they were designed to be joined together.
“Cancer, Maggie. That’s the word.” He pulled his thin, cracked lips into a smile, and a flash of light animated his face. “But it is just a word.”
Tears slipped over her cheeks, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. “But it’s not just a word, is it? It’s a . . . ” She gazed into his face, committing every line to memory. The words death sentence hovered just inside her mouth.
Throwing back the covers, she jumped out of bed. “I need a hot, milky drink. Do you want one?”
When he smiled, it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Okay. Hot chocolate would be good. I’ll come with you.”
“No, you don’t need to. You stay he—”
“I’m not dead yet. Help me stand.”
Lifting his legs from the bed, she grabbed his tartan slippers from the floor and slipped them onto his feet. The weight with which he rested on her when he first stood seemed to be greater every day. Once upright, he shooed her in front of him. “Enough of your fussing. I can do this on my own.”
She walked slowly across the landing. The ‘Wings of Love’ painting Jack had bought ten years ago and hung—despite all of her protestations—at the top of the stairs caught her eye. In that second, she envied the young lovers and hated the painting all the more because of it. Even so, she knew she would leave it hanging always, even after . . .
The stair lift chugged its way to the bottom step, delivering her precious cargo at the bottom. Jack managed to stand on his own this time, and her heart tripped over itself with hope. This had become her daily life. One moment, she was filled with despair, waiting for Jack to be taken without suffering too much pain and humiliation. The next moment, he seemed stronger. Little signs—like rising from the stair lift on his own—gave her hope. Maybe he would be the one who received a miraculous cure at the last minute. Of course, she knew deep down that miracles didn’t happen.
In the kitchen, she glanced at the wall clock: nine-fifteen. They were in their early sixties, and yet bedtime was nine o’clock. People they went to school with were travelling and enjoying life without their children. That was how their lives should have been. They saved their wages; never bought anything they didn’t need. This should have been their time to explore the world. She balled her hand into a fist and slammed it on the counter top.
“Hey, it’s okay.” Jack wrapped his arms around her waist, and she felt herself melt. He spun her around and kissed the top of her head. “Come over here and sit down. Come on.” Taking her hands, he guided her to a chair at the pinewood dining table.
“It’s not okay, Jack. There’s no time for us. It’s not fair. What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us? What is it? I mean, is it all decided for us, right from the moment we are born? Or do we get penalised for wrong turns we take along the way? I don’t understand. It doesn’t make sense.” She stopped speaking, so she could took several deep breaths.
“Oh, my love. I don’t think there is a reason. Bad things just happen to good people, and all that jazz.”
A laugh escaped her mouth before she could stop it. “Maybe you’re right,” she agreed.
He didn’t speak for the longest time; just stared at her, like if he waited to speak, time would do the same. Finally, after tracing his tongue around the outline of his lips, he said, “Who wants to live forever, eh? I don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be.” Averting his eyes, he rubbed at a spot on the table. For the first time since they married, Maggie saw uncertainty in her husband. A spiral of fear twisted in her stomach.
“What I mean is, we have our trip to the coast next week. Who’s to say that trip won’t be forever? Forever will be our today. We can live a thousand days in that trip, or in today or tomorrow. Do you see? We have forever because we have now and we have each other.”
Maggie watched her husband’s eyebrows dance as he spoke. Memories of excited pitches for publishing accounts and enthusiastic chatter about promising, new writers flooded her mind. And in that moment, she realised he was still there. This physically frail man who was wasting away before her still was Jack. The weight she had been carrying on her shoulders lifted.
“You’re right. As always.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed. “From now on, we make the most of every moment. Who lives forever, anyway?”