We'll try to keep the endings separate. To make it easier.
[[Them]][[Five years ago]]
[[Four years ago]][[Seven years ago]]You show him some holiday photos. You haven't got the shortbread you'd bought him.
You wanted to bring it, even if only to show him you'd thought of him, in his absence.
He can't accept food.
You talk. Then you have to go.
[[Six years before]]
[[Two days later]]She's tired, she's barely awake.
Tell her who you are.
"That's a pretty name." She sinks back into sleep.
You know the agreement: she's forgotten you, so you won't return. Not now.
You hold her hand as long as you can.
[[Seven years before]]
[[A year later]]The textures of their living room surround you - stippled ceiling, ceramic ornaments, velvet cushions.
She's celebrating, all wild noise and excited laughter.
He's silent, smiling.
It's so good knowing that they're happy for you.
[[Five years before]]
[[Two and a half years later]]Leaving the pub, you watch him stride ahead. You make a decision.
You speed up, matching his step, taking his hand in yours.
You're with him for all of twenty seconds before reaching the car.
But it's worth it.
[[Seven years later]]
The old bathroom, with the cream tiles and huge mirror. Morning.
She comes in. She needs to tell you something.
3am. In his sleep.
Later, brushing your teeth, you avoid looking at yourself in the mirror. Somehow, you've yet to cry.
[[Two weeks later]]You follow your mum through the store, past the knitting supplies.
"She could teach you to knit. That'd be nice to do together"
She explains why.
Her. And him.
You collapse into a display, suffocating under wool.
[[Three years later]]
[[Four years later]]Seconds into the call, you know what you're about to be told.
10am this morning. In her sleep.
The party - chatter and laughter and clinking glasses - carries on regardless.
You sink to the ground. You fold inward.
Someone who you don't really know comes over, doesn't ask anything, and just holds you.
[[A week later]]The radio's playing something festive.
She's washing up, he's wearing his paper hat.
He takes her hands, still clutching tea-towels, and they dance.
You take a photo. You've no idea how much it will mean.
[[Ten years later]]
You enjoy the garden's fresh air. The home smells stale.
You hand her his birthday card to read.
You can hear how much he still loves her. Despite what's happening to her. Despite how difficult it is to even know when she's there.
[[Eleven years before]]
It's Wednesday. You know this because they're picking you up from school, like all Wednesdays.
You sit in the car that smells of dusty carpets, but tastes of humbugs from the glove compartment.
You like humbugs. You get that from him.
[[Fourteen years later]]At least you're near a hospital. No one will bother you here. You just need a couple of hours.
You're surprised you still feel this much. You haven't seen her for a year. And, even then, she was already gone.
[[Two years before]]
Boxes. Everywhere. Reels marked 'Cruise 1986', negatives labelled 'Nicola's wedding'.
It wasn't in his will, it was just somehow agreed you'd get all this.
Searching, you find a ha'penny. It never leaves your side.
[[Two years before]]You try to remain in control. You're nearly home.
But he's in pain, wincing in the passenger seat, his agony drawing your attention.
You've known for years how ill he is.
You've never seen it before.
[[Two years later]]Walking home, earbuds in, shopping in hand.
The song you hear has nothing to do with him. You don't know why it makes you miss him.
You feel the size of the space he's left. You walk through it, unable to reach the edges.
[[A year later]]
Five of you. Mother, father, brothers, you.
(Six, counting the reverend.)
And the curtain.
Red and coarse, drawing from left to right. Masking him from view.
One millimetre. One second. The difference between seeing, and not.
[[One and a half years later]]The curtain's still there. Red, synthetic, awful.
Still five of you. Mother, father, brothers, you.
(Still six, counting the reverend.)
(Still seven, counting...)
The motor starting a second time, you can't bear how easy it is, now, to separate you and her.
The curtain closes.
[[After everything]]Everyone's cockney and RP accents rattle through the house.
Photos of him are blu-tac'd to the walls. On the bathroom door he beams at the camera, a fancy-dress pharoah.
You smile back.
[[After everything]]Your friend falls. You watch them crush the box she'd left you.
You lie. You tell them it's absolutely fine.
[[After everything]]You don't worry about cancer for long.
Her cooking's getting worse. She's not tired, her hands aren't going. The recipes are just slipping away from her.
She still cooks, and everyone still eats what she cooks. Just in the knowledge it's getting worse, slowly.
[[Five years later]]You notice some things only exist as memories now.
He used to dance every time he said hello. Dance over to you and scoop you up in his arms.
He doesn't have the energy now.
[[Two years later]]You sit, dressed colourfully. Black is forbidden today.
A slideshow starts. Photographs of them. They were never really just one or the other. They were always both. And.
Her and him are gone now. But the 'and' there is some comfort.
[[After everything]]Three years since you were last here. It's quieter now.
Soft light, cool air, bluebells rising amongst the tall trees.
You're on the bench. *The* bench.
You eye where the nearest tree meets the ground, where it becomes soil and roots. And their ashes.
It's a relief to have this place. Somewhere to come.
To think of them sat here, together, both loving and loved. Always as they should be.