Life and Death and the Mountain

                She always loved this weather.

                He sees her face in the clouds, hears her staccato laugh in the crunching leaves. In the snowcapped peak he ascends echoes a fair facsimile of her bosom. In the chill, chattering him to the bones, is a reflection of the sorrow he still feels at her loss. This was their mountain. This was where they fell in love.

                Darkness falls as he hikes, the sun having long left him behind for an overcast sky. Yet surefooted he remains. This was more home to them than any four walls and roof had been. Here they came to mourn their losses, to weep where no one could hear. Here they hiked to celebrate their successes, to crow at the wild, to feel invincible.

                Here they came, one fall morning just three years prior. When she stopped at a brook, tears rushing from her lids to match its current. When she turned to him, put his hand to her chest and said the words that would forever alter their lives. “Cancer… Bill, it’s cancer.”

                He tried to be strong, for her, for the memory of their son who just the year before her diagnosis had himself succumbed to illness (meningitis, in a week he went from hale to grave). He marched, wore the pink ribbons, gave to the right causes, squeezed her hand in the doctor’s office, held her as she wept, wept as she held him. But they were always each other’s pillars. As she eroded, slowly, then all at once, he too felt his own spirit ebb. When she entered the hospital for the final time, he felt shorn in two. When he got that dreaded call, the apex of his building grief, he faded as well. A painful memory that his friends and her family were unsure how to touch, and so he drifted apart from and into isolation.

                And so he comes to this mountain, again and again. To feel close to her and the people they once were.

                He stands on its peak, from here looking down on the clouds, down into the icy chasms and crevasses, down onto the trees that looked like green and brown dots. Even though it was dark, and the view was blocked by shadow and by fog, he knew the landscape like his own hand. Or, more aptly, like he knew the peaks of her smile, the valleys of her dimple cheeks. He closes her eyes, and for a second, she is there with him, squeezing his hand. For a second, he imagines jumping, hoping in the fall and impact and injury and probable death, he might feel something once more. Hoping he might return to her.

                A voice whispers. Not yet, Bill, not yet. I’ll be here, waiting for you when your time has come.

                “But Sue,” He sobs, in response to the fading memory.

                I need to let you live. And you need to let me go.

                “I love you, I love you,” He tells their mountain.

                And I… I love you. I always will.

                Her hand leaves his. The night swallows her presence. The man is once again alone. Though he sighs, though the tears freeze to his cheeks, for the first time in months a ghost’s smile haunts his lips.

                Small weight lifted, he descends.