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Countdown

Four years, three months, eleven days, and sixteen hours.

That is how long she has left to live.
Of course, she doesn’t know that.

Two minutes, thirty-three seconds.
That is how long until she meets him.
She is sobbing into the folds of her dress.
It’s not fair. Everything was going right for a change. And now this.
She sniffles and stands up, straightening out her dress. She should have used these last
months to get herself used to the idea, but instead she clung to hope. Clung foolishly, stupidly,
to some nonexistent ray of hope...
“I’m sorry, Miss. Nothing could be done. Your brother is dead.”
He was so young...
She was twenty-seven years old. It should have been her on that bed, it should
have been her gasping for air and broken beyond repair. She had an extra seven years of
experience. A seven years he would never have.
Sitting in the hallway of this hospital isn’t doing her any good. She needs to get away,
she needs to leave and pretend that none of this ever happened...
She had gone some thirty hours without sleep. Maybe there would be coffee downstairs.
Step, step, step, step.
Beep, beep, beep, beep...
She can’t get the image out of her mind. Her brother, her baby brother, her little brother,
all alone on that bed, so quiet...
One minute and twelve seconds.
The cafe is empty, closed. She slumps down into an empty chair, defeated. She can’t
bear to be in that room any longer.
She takes a shuddering breath, trying to contain her tears. She’s sure she’s already
ruined the skirt of her dress-- her favorite dress, too, not that this matters to her anymore-- and
she refuses to let any more tears fall down her cheeks.
Fifty-eight seconds.
“Calm down,” she whispers to herself. “Calm down. You can’t go in like this.”
She starts to count backwards from one hundred, something her mother would always
do to calm her down. It’s something she hasn’t done in a long time, a very long time, but
sometimes, weeping like a child, she needed to be calmed down like a child.
She’s lost count somewhere around fifty when she hears his voice.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
Her head shoots up. She hadn’t realized that she was laying her face on the table until
she’s looking straight at him, cheek sticky from tears, eyes blotted from crying.
She doesn’t know what to say, so she doesn’t say anything, instead staring at him in a
dumbfounded shock.
“I said, are you okay?”
“N...” She can’t bring herself to say it. She can’t bring herself to say anything. She’s so
tired, God why can’t this be over, why can’t she wake up from this nightmare...
“N... No.”
And then he’s holding her hand, and she’s crying.

Four years, three months, eleven days, fourteen hours.

It’s two hours later. She returns from the hospital room, from her sobbing mother and
father, from her sister and her sister-in-law. She’s back in the silent cafe.
“I didn’t think I would still find you here,” he says.
“I didn’t either.”
He hands her a coffee in a styrofoam cup. It’s steaming hot.
“You look like you need it,” is all he says. He sits down beside her again.
“Why are you being so kind to me?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
She almost allows herself to smile.

Four years, one month, nine days, three hours.

It’s two months later. She returns home, truly happy for the first time in a very long while.
It was a date. A date. She can barely believe it.
She still tastes him on her lips. He is sweet. Kissing him is like kissing a cloud, kissing
cotton candy, kissing happiness and sweetness in their purest form. No amount of chocolate or
ice cream or drug-store-candies can match the sweetness of his lips, of his smile.
Of her happiness.

Three years, two months, seven days, four hours.

The music swells.
It fills the room, a living, breathing entity, something that surrounds her as if she were
underwater. It dances around her, it fills her.
It swells. It blossoms.
It echoes around the room.
It stops.
“Did you like it?” he asks, looking up from the piano.
She is too awestruck to answer, still captivated by the wonder of the notes and the
chords and the beauty.
He knows her silence well. He smiles, peering up at her from behind his glasses. “Listen
to this next. This one is a waltz. I think you’ll like it.”
And he starts to play again. The sound of the piano fills her and submerges her and
waltzes around her once more, and all she can do is listen.

Two years, one month, twenty-eight days, eight hours.

He kisses her.
Oh, he kisses her.
There are so many things she could focus on right now. Her dress. Her shoes. Her hair.
She had spent so many hours on those things. The flash of the photographers. She will have
this moment framed on the mantelpiece forever. The shouts of the crowd. It’s about time they
got married.
But instead she focuses on his lips. They are as sweet as ever, as soft as ever, as lovely
and musical and elegant and quiet and beautiful as they were the first time they kissed. She
hopes they will stay that way forever.
And he sweeps her off her feet, and the crowd cheers louder, and she knows they will.

One year, twelve hours.

He is playing another waltz.
She isn’t sure if he knows she’s in the room yet, as he hasn’t looked up from his fingers
as they gloss over the white keys. His head moves in time with the music, one two three, one
two three, one two three...
He does look up at her at one point, not stopping the song. He smiles, his sweet lips
turning upwards as he continues the piece. She smiles too, coming to sit beside him on the
bench and watch him play, watch the music come to life.
This is their favorite room in the house.
The music comes to a conclusion, and there is a deafening silence as the final echoes
die away.
She leans her head on his shoulder, startling him slightly.
“Dance with me.”
“What?”
“Dance with me.”
He smiles again. “I can’t play and dance at the same time.”
“We don’t need music to dance.”
And they stand up, and she sweeps him into a waltz, one two three, one two three, one
two three...
She hums the waltz, and the music begins to swell again. One lonely voice, one lovely
voice that echoes the music that resides within the very walls.
She hums, and the music lives.

Three months, six days, four hours.

She does not coo like others do.
He likes that about her. He has always been enchanted by her silence, by not her words
but by her eyes, by the way she speaks with lips but no voice. Even now, she is no different
than the day they met. She has so much to say and so many ways of saying it.
She sits at the piano bench, silent, eyes closed, listening as the piece goes. Instead
of watching the keys, he watches her face, how her expressions change with the mood of the
music, how her lips tremble and her eyelids flutter...
He knows what she is thinking.
One day, you’re going to be a great musician... You will have the amazing ability to
make me smile and cry and everything in between. You will bring crowds to tears. You will be
the best this world has ever seen, I know you will.
Just like your father.
It has been six months since she started carrying the baby, and everything was going as
well as they could hope. She had taken quite naturally to being a mother, he knew this already.
He seamlessly progressed to the second movement of the piece, slowing down, letting
the mood fall. He could see her face change, watched her shoulders move, adjusting herself to
the life of the music.
He had always thought the piano would be the only love of his life. And now, he finds
himself sitting, playing music because of her, sitting at the piano because he loves her smile
and her frown and her gestures and her silent thoughts. He finds that he has never loved music,
he has only loved through music.
And he’ll sit, submerged in the echoing sounds, and look at her face, and he’ll smile and
he’ll wonder how he managed to have somebody like this at his side every day.

Twelve hours, eighteen minutes.

He is pacing, and if she weren’t so preoccupied, she would laugh.
He seems to read that on her face, because he stops in his endless rounds and walks
up beside her.
“Are you okay?” he asks softly, holding her hand.
She nods, smiling. The whole scene plays out like it was from a movie. The ‘the baby’s
coming’ and the pacing father and the panting mother. He doesn’t seem to see the humor in the
situation, the storybook-perfect scenario, too fraught with worry she knows he shouldn’t have.
All of his what-if?s and his but-yous, as if, after the past picture-perfect nine months, something
sudden was going to change.
But she just takes his hand in wordless comfort. It will be okay. They both know that.

One hour, two minutes.

There is so much blood, he can’t handle it, he feels like he’s just about to snap...
They won’t let him in the room, and the baby is crying and he doesn’t want to see it,
doesn’t want to look at it, because she’s laying there, and she’s dying, and there’s ‘nothing we
can do, I’m sorry sir...’
And he sits by the door, wondering where everything went wrong.

Fifteen minutes.

She takes his hand and holds it weakly. She needs no words to show him how she feels,
she never has, and this moment is going to be no different.
He watches her in silence. She feels his tears on her skin, she can feel their sweetness
and their tenderness, like his lips when they kiss.
And she’s bleeding, and she’s breathing, but not for long, and they both know it.

Five minutes.

“I love you,” he says.
“I love you too.”
He never understood the phrase ‘a smile crept across her face.’ How could a smile
creep? A smile bloomed, a smile swelled, a smile came into being with all the intensity of a
Mozart piece, with all the beauty of a budding flower.
But a smile crept across his wife’s face. It started in one corner and worked its way
across her lips, crawling at the pace that it was comfortable with.
She is hiding her pain. She is holding his hand. She is crying and smiling, and just
seeing her face makes him want to kiss her, bury his face in her hair, whisper in her ear. He
wants to take it all back. He would have never married her if he had known...
But of course, he had no way of knowing.

Three minutes.

“I want to be buried next to my brother,” she whispers.
“You’re not going to die.” The lie is spoken with all the intensity he can manage, which
isn’t much.

“And tell our daughter that mommy loves her.”
“You’re not going to die.”
“I love you.”
And she presses his hand against her cheek, feeling the cool fingers against her feverish
skin, the slenderness and familiarity of the pianist’s fingers giving her the oddest sort of comfort.

Two minutes.

“One hundred...”
“What?”
“I’m counting backwards. Count with me. It will calm you down. Ninety-nine...”

One minute.

“Don’t name her after me.”
“W-why?”
“Because.” Her voice is barely there, but her breaths are so loud, so labored, God, why
did she have to suffer like this, she did nothing wrong...
“Every time you would say her name, you would think of me. I don’t want that. I want you
to move on.” She sighs, closing her eyes. “Please.”
“Of course... For you...”

Thirty seconds.

She lets go of his hand. She does not want him to have to feel her go limp.

Twenty.

“I love you,” he says.
She doesn’t speak much. She has never had to. He hears everything she has to say in
the tremble of her lips, the flutter of her eyes behind closed lids.

Fifteen.

“Wait for me on Heaven’s dance floor?”
A smile crawls across her lips. “I’ll be the one by the piano.”

Ten.

“Our child will never know her mother.”
But she just leans into him, as if to say, You’ll know what to do.

Five.

His kisses are sweet, like kissing cotton candy.

One.

“I love you.”

Zero.




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