She turned the lights low – for him. He kept the room warm – for her.
Their movements had the comfort of habit, the safety of ritual. Layer by layer, the motions had been added, the elements increased, until they had built an environment of their own – a world complete and isolated. His room was like the warm, dim burrow of some furry creature – safe and private.
“That was good,” said Lucia, handing the empty glass to Jack.
“Will you eat something now?”
“No, love, maybe later.”
Jack set the glass on the bedside table where the remaining drops of brandy glowed golden under the shrouded lamp. He adjusted the towel covering the shade to block out even more of the light. He rubbed his right temple to ease his headache, and then turned back to Lucia. She was so beautiful, just lying there, gazing up at him. But the hollows under her cheekbones looked even deeper than they had only a week ago and he felt that awful emptiness ahead of him, threatening to pull him in, to bury him. “Please, babe. How about just some toast?”
“No, I really can’t. What I would like is for you to read another chapter of the book with me.”
Reluctantly, he turned and crossed the small room and began to search among the books lined up on the shelf that ran under the single window. It was colder there; he pushed the rolled-up towel more firmly into the space at the base of the window and gazed out at the wet snow for a moment, willing it to stop. The chill and dampness increased her pain. Please stop, he thought.
It was hard to see in the deep shadows of the early winter evening, but he located the book she wanted. Some used book dealer in Rochester had mailed it down to Corning last week. The bastard should be shot for the price he had charged, but Lucia had been as pleased as if she had found buried treasure.
She winced when he sat down on the edge of the bed, reminding Jack that it was time for her medicine. He handed her two pink capsules and three aspirin. She swallowed them.
Jack took a tube of Ben-Gay from the drawer in the nightstand and helped her to remove her nightgown. First, he warmed the cold ointment between his hands, then rubbed it into her back. He could feel her ribs, like fence posts since she had lost so much weight. She seemed to be disappearing before his very eyes, and under his hands – shrinking like the woman he’d seen in some movie on TV the other night. While he applied the liniment, he tried desperately to come up with some food that she would eat. “How about I heat up some chicken rice soup?”
“Feels good, honey,” she said while he warmed more of the cream in his palms. She seemed not to have heard him ask about the soup – that scared him.