Golden light slips through the leaves, piercing the trees’ cool shade. A warm breeze caresses his skin. Below the hill, the countryside falls away into a heat haze of green and yellow, with a horizon of azure sky. This is a restful peace Ronnie has not known for years, the sounds of insects replacing the bleeps and hum of medical machines. He turns to his wife, laid on her tartan blanket, propped up by embroidered cushions.
“This is grand, Maggie. A perfect day, don’t you think?”
A solitary chaffinch is his only reply, accompanied by the buzzing of bees tumbling through dandelions. The early afternoon heat casts a lazy magical spell.
“Let’s get our lunch out, Maggie. I’ll sort it.”
Opening a wicker picnic basket, he takes out plates, and a tin of sandwiches and a flask, from which he pours two cups of orange squash
“A feast fit for the Royals, luv.”
Ronnie gives a weepy smile, looking at his wife’s pale yellow face and sunken blue eyes. Tears form in those eyes, rolling down her shrunken cheeks.
“Let’s help you, luv. We haven’t got long. They’ll be here soon. Let’s enjoy this gorgeous day, like we used to, before…” He falls silent at the jabbing assault of memory.
Ronnie gently lifts her fragile head and brings the cup to her lips. She takes a few sips of the chilled orange squash before he lays her back on the cushions. He gives an anxious stare around the hillside, towards the stile at the bottom of the field near the road, where he’d parked their car. He’s still blessed with time. Pouring himself a drink, he loads sandwiches onto Maggie’s plate, placing it by her hand. She gives a barely perceptible shake of her head; her usual sign she cannot eat. He also finds he has no appetite without her participation in their last meal. Instead, he stares across the summer landscape, his hand holding hers in a gentle squeeze. The sun moves across its arc, shifting the shadows over the aged lovers.
“You were heavier than I thought, Maggie. It was hard to get you up here, wheelchair or no. That bloody basket were heavy too, but that’s nowt to what I had to do to get you out of that hospital, just so we could be in our place together.”
The sound of vehicles approaching catches his ear.
“I knew they’d find us, it’s their job after all. They don’t understand Maggie. They want to take you back to die in that bloody ward, away from this.”
Ronnie looks across at his beloved Maggie, her face now vacant; she’s already left him.
Uniformed people hurry towards the couples ‘parting place’. He sips the last of the orangeade, contemplating the sun balancing on the horizon’s edge, a darkness forming along the treeline. The cooling air reminds him of the end of their summer and a winter of his soul which has now descended.