Jonah Feinstein shuffled out of the Department of Motor Vehicles leaning heavily on his four pronged cane. He removed a handkerchief from his coat pocket, and dabbed at the unshed tears in the corner of his eyes. He walked through the biting cold towards his trusty old Buick le Saber with arthritic hands he placed his insurance and registration in the glove compartment. Jonah ran his hand lovingly across the dash board. A car horn honked and Jonah glanced in the rear view mirror at the yellow taxi waiting behind him. Jonah eased his bottom out of the car and closed and locked the door one last time.
Half an hour later the taxi cab parked at the curb in front of his home. Jonah sighed.
“That will be fifteen dollars sir.” The cabbie said.
Jonah handed the driver a fifty. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks ,” the cabbie said then got out of the car to assist his elderly passenger. He extended his arm to the older gentleman. It was the least he could do for such a big tipper. The cabbie waited and watched the old man slowly lift his leg up and out of the car and plant it on the ground.
“Do you need help getting to the door?” The cabbie asked the old man.
Jonah shoved the man’s unwanted hand away. “I can do it by myself. I am not helpless yet.”
The driver raised his hands in surrender. “Sure, whatever you say man.”
“Wait here until I return and there will be another fifty in it for you.” Jonah said. “I have to get my wife. We’re going to the park for a picnic. Don’t leave!” Jonah slammed the door behind him.
The cab driver nodded then sat back down in the driver’s seat. He cleared and restarted the meter again. “The meter’s running!” He yelled out the window and watched the old man shuffle up the front walk to a large brick colonial. The cabbie shook his head. “It must suck to get old.”
Jonah ascended the steps just as Lizbeth his wife opened the front door wide.
“Where’s our car?” she asked. “Were you in an accident?”
Jonah allowed himself a small glimmer of hope. Lizbeth had remembered they had a car. Maybe they could stay home after all. Jonah took his wife by the elbow and guided her to the living room. The large home was full of mementos from their seventy years as husband and wife. Jonah sat his wife on the sofa next to the fire place.
On the mantel over the fireplace were photographs of their wedding, their children and grandchildren. Jonah looked inside of the cold empty hearth. It had been many years since a fire burned inside of it and warmed their home. There had been so many more important things to do while caring for his wife he had neglected many others. A thick layer of dust covered the photographs and furnishing as a witness to this fact. Lizbeth sat quietly on the sofa and waited. Jonah took the photograph of their wedding day off the mantel and sat down with his wife.
“Do you remember this day?’ Jonah asked hopefully.
Lizbeth took the photograph from him and ran her fingers across them in their wedding regalia.
“Who is she?” Lizbeth said pointing to the lady in the photograph. “She is very pretty.”
Jonah signed. “That is you Lizbeth and me, don’t you remember?”
Lizbeth stared back at him blankly like a child waiting for something important to happen.
Jonah sat the picture down on the table and took his wife’s hands in his. “Look at me Lizbeth do you know who I am?”
Lizbeth searched his face for several moments then smiled. “You are the nice man who gives me my pills.” She answered proudly.
“I remember when we were first married. You were so beautiful.” He patted his wife’s frail hand. Her skin had become paper thin and cold to the touch but holding her hand warmed his heart.
“When did we get married?” Lizbeth asked.
“A long time ago.” Jonah kissed his bride on the cheek.
She smiled back at him. Her eyes were clear today. Her memory medication was working. Today at least she remembered who he was. Since she had been diagnosed with dementia several years ago she was forgetting the simplest things. She couldn’t tie her shoes or dress herself any longer.
Their children had suggested that he put her in a nursing home but he refused. Jonah and Lizbeth hadn’t been apart one day since they graduated from high school. They had run away together to get married and had been together ever since. Their life had not been easy with the wars, the recessions, and kids but they stayed together through it all.
Jonah hated that this day had come. Lizbeth knew it was going to happen and made him promise to never put her in a home. “I would rather die than live without you.” She had said when she had received confirmation from Dr. Sullivan that her mind was going. That was when they had made the pact.
While driving home from the doctor’s office that day Lizbeth sat quietly looking out the window at the passing scenery. Lizbeth turned to her husband. “If the day comes when I can no longer take care of myself I want you to let me go.”
“What do you mean let you go?” Jonah said driving down Woodland Avenue towards home.
“I want you to put me to sleep. I do not want to be a burden on you and the kids.”
The words startled him and he turned to look at his wife to be sure she was serious. Distracted he swerved nearly hitting a parked car. A horn sounded and he looked back to the road. Unable to concentrate he pulled over at the park near their home and got out of the car.
Jonah couldn’t believe what Lizbeth was suggesting. Sure the doctor said there was not cure but there was time, medications. He could hire a nurse. Lizbeth rejected all of his ideas. She had no idea what she was asking him to do. She may as well have asked him to kill himself.
Jonah and Lizbeth walked around the park and sat on their bench near the lake. That was the day she’d made the decision. When it was time for her to leave, they would leave together. For weeks they planned each detail. They drew up their wills, planned their funerals and bought plots and headstones. As they had been in life so they would be in death. Soon planning their deaths was more fun than living their lives, at least until Lizbeth started to forget.
Jonah turned back to face the love of his life. “It’s time to go to the park Lizbeth.”
“To the park I do so love the park can I feed the ducks?” she asked.
Jonah nodded. “Yes and we shall have one last picnic and wine we mustn’t forget the wine.” Jonah shuffled to the kitchen and retrieved the picnic basket. Everything they would need for this adventure had been prepared by Lizbeth years ago. Jonah sat the basket by the opened door. Removing Lizbeths coat from the coat rack in the foyer he took one last look around his home.
“At least I can give my children this.” Jonah opened the basket and removed a manila envelope addressed to his children. He placed it on the hall table and patted it lovingly.
“Lizbeth it is time to go the taxi is waiting.” Jonah leaned his cane against the door. Holding onto the wall for support he walked over to the sofa where his wife sat. She looked up at him like a puzzled child.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“We are going on a picnic Lizbeth, put on your coat so you don’t catch cold.”
The irony of that statement made him chuckle. Catch a cold indeed. Soon they would have no pain, nor sorrow, cold, nor warmth no more. Soon it would all be over. It all was over way too soon.
Jonah silently cursed his life. He cursed doctors and old age and retirement, he cursed his feeble legs that made standing for long periods of time nearly impossible. Jonah buttoned up Lizbeths overcoat and placed her favorite hat and sunglasses on her face. Jonah took his car and house keys out of his pocket and placed them on top of the letter to his children.
The ride to the park was a short but pleasant one. Lizbeth was excited to be leaving the house. The park one of their favorite places, it had been where they raised their three children. The taught them to ride bikes, and play baseball in this park. Many years of their lives had been spent here taking long walks together, sitting on the bench watching the world, it was only fitting that they also die there together.
Jonah led his bride on a slow walk around the lake. He pointed out the baseball diamond where Thomas their eldest son had hit his first home run, and the playground were Jonah Jr. had learned to ride a bike.
Lizbeth looked at these places as a curious but shy child might, peeking around the body of her husband, with no sign of recognition. If she remembered any of these things they were shut up tight in her decaying mind revealed only to her in dreams, if she still had dreams. Jonah hoped that Lizbeth had pleasant dreams. After walking for half an hour Jonah’s legs grew weary. He stopped at the hot dog stand and purchased two dogs with the works. His favorite.
“Hasn’t your doctor warned you about eating crap like this Mr. Feinstein” Cabot the hot dog vendor asked with a grin.
“Screw the doctors, I eat what I want . Right now I want one last hot dog.” Jonah said firmly. Taking the two proffered hot dogs slathered with onions, relish, mustard and cheese.
The last words fell upon deaf ears as Cabot turned to help the next person in the line. It would be days later before the vendor realized the significance of those words.
Jonah hooked his cane over his right arm and guided his wife to their favorite bench with his left. Jonah called it their bench. He had carved their initials into the worn wooden slats decades ago so deeply that even with multiple coats of paint it could still be located. Jonah ran his arthritic fingers over the L and J forever inscribed there.
“I guess it’s time to eat.” Jonah opened the basket and removed two napkins cups and two thermoses labeled with their names. Lizbeth had purchased a purple one for her and a green on for him. She made him promise not to mix them up. She even went so far as to write their names on it in permanent marker. Lizbeth had said it was due to their differences in size that the dosages had to be adjusted.
Jonah passed her a hot dog and waited until they had both finished eating to pour the last cup of wine. If they hadn’t been Jewish the scene would have reminded him of Jesus’ last supper.
Lizbeth ate half of her meal then sat quietly looking at the ducks swimming on the lake. She placed the uneaten meat on her napkin and pinched off pieces of the bun and tossed it to the birds eagerly awaiting a free meal .
“Are you ready for something to drink?” Jonah asked.
Lizbeth did not respond but turned to look at him with blank eyes. Jonah was unsure of what lay ahead for them but they would do it together. He tossed the remainder of his food to the birds as well and stared at the lake. The evening sun glittered of the water like millions of sparkling diamonds. Jonah took hold of Lizbeths hand.
“I’m sorry Lizbeth.” He said, “I just wanted to take good care of you and I failed. I love you so much but you made me promise… “
Jonahs voice trailed off as unshed tears closed off his throat, the few words that escaped were barely a whisper. “I promised you that when I couldn’t take care of you any longer I’d let you go.” Jonah bent forward his hands covering his face he wept.
Lizbeth placed a hand on her husband’s back. “It’s okay Jonah, I am ready to go.” She said.
Jonah sat up and looked at his bride she was a beautiful to him today as on their wedding day. He took Lizbet into his arms and whispered into her ear.
“I love you Lizbeth I will always love you. He kissed her one last time on her lips and thought he felt her kiss him back. He sat up and stared into her vacant eyes. For a split second she recognized him again.
“I love you as well Jonah.” She then pointed to the cups seated next to him. Jonah picked up their cups and then tapped his to hers. “To us, forever”
“To love” Lizbeth said and then the curtain into her mind descended once more. Lizbeth put the cup to her lips. Jonah grabbed her wrist.
“Wait what if we get more medication? “He said sitting his cup down at his side. But it was too late by the time he turned back to her Lizbeth had tilted her head back and her cup was soon empty.
Jonah looked at the dark red liquid in his cup and was afraid. He wasn’t afraid of dying; he had faced his demons long ago. No he was afraid of living without the love of his life. Jonah picked up the cup and drained it. He placed his arm around his wife’s small shoulders.
“Are you warm enough?” he asked.
“Yes Jonah I am fine.” Lizbeth laid her head against her husband’s shoulder and closed her eyes.
Jonah found himself slowly drifting off as well. “So this is what death feels like, he said settling back in his seat. “Dying is just like going to sleep.” He said kissing the top of his wife’s grey head. His eyes lost focus and his lids became heavier and harder to reopen each time he blinked so that he gave up the battle and closed them one final time. He could feel Lizbeths breathing slow and become more shallow he allowed his brain to focus on the rhythm and depth of her breathing so that his matched hers, until it became so far between each breath and they eventually stopped.
From the depths of his subconscious Jonah heard hushed tones of someone speaking, of someone, people sobbing. Was this his funeral? Was he being given one last glimpse of his loved ones before he entered the great beyond? The darkness began to fade from black to grey to a brilliant white.
Jonah heard a familiar rhythmic beeping a sound he had heard before but couldn’t place. His senses were being over whelmed. He smelled lilac, Lizbeth often wore a lilac scented perfume and that is when he realized he was not dead. His eyes so recently closed, opened and he saw the brilliant light was not God but a florescent fixture over head.
“Lizbeth?” he called. His voice was dry his throat sore from disuse he supposed. “Where is Lizbeth?” There was a scraping of chair legs on linoleum flooring. His son came into focus. His red rimmed eyes full of tears spilled like an over filled cup onto Jonahs face. His son forced a smile. “Hi dad,” Thomas said, grasping his father hand into his own. “How are you feeling?”
“Where is Lizbeth?”
Thomas sniffed and absently wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve. “Mom is gone dad,” Thomas said. “She died.”
“Why am I here?” Jonah said. The beeping on the monitor increased in staccato causing the heart monitor alarms to sound when his heart rate reached a dangerous level.
“Dad, calm down! “Thomas said placing a hand on his father’s shoulder as the man began to get out of bed.
“I have to go to her!” Jonah said. “We are supposed to be together!”
“You can’t be with her dad,” Thomas cried. “Mom is dead!”
“I know she is dead, I am supposed to be dead! “ Jonah screamed at his son. Jonah lay back on his pillow and sobbed. Why would she leave without me? She made me promise…”
Thomas reached into his shirt pocket removing a small envelope. The lilac scent Jonah had smelled returned. He looked up at his son. “Mom wrote you a letter. I found it in the envelope you left for us at the house.”
Jonah ripped the letter from his sons hand and looked at the delicate script on the page.
My dearest Jonah when you read this I will be gone. I know we promised that we would to everything together including death. I have never broken a promise I made until now. I am not capable of letting you go. I love you and always have with my entire being. You have been my rock, and my savior. I am a coward. I could not be responsible for killing the only man that I have ever loved. I also could not continue to burden you with taking care of me any longer. I beg of you to forgive me, and go on with your life without me. You have so much to live for. Tell my children and grandchildren how much I loved them and it hurt me so much to forget them. I never forgot them or you in my dreams. I have made arrangements in my will for you to be taken care of as you took such good care of me. My love always, Lizbeth
The funeral went as they had planned except there was only one plot and one casket, one set of flowers. It was such a waste. Didn’t anyone understand they had planned this for them? Now his children would have to endure a second funeral in the future, his. As they lowered his beloved lizbeth casket into the ground he read the headstone Here lies the beloved mother and father of Thomas, Jonah Jr. and Seth. Under that inscription their names Lizbeth and Jonah Feinstein and the birth and death dates. Under Jonahs name the death date was blank. Jonah leaned on his cane more heavily than before it seemed that with Lizbeths death went his strength and will to live. His sons stood on each side of him holding onto his coat as if afraid he would leap into the crypt with his wife. The thought had crossed his mind.
As the funeral cars drove away from the cemetery Jonah reached into the pocket of his overcoat removing the crumpled letter Lizbeth had written him.
“Tell me about the plan your mother put in place for me. What she do hire a house keeper?” Jonah asked with a slight smirk.
“No.” Thomas said. “Be patience we will be there soon.”
They drove in silence until they arrived at Westlybrook Assisted living facility.
“Why are we stopping here?”
“This is what mom wanted for you.” Thomas said getting out of the car and holding the door open for his father. The park like setting was full of old people in wheelchairs, or walking with walkers. An attendant with a wheelchair approached the car and waited.
“I’m not staying here.” Jonah said.
“Dad you have to stay here. Mom had the house put up for sale. Everything was moved here while you were in the hospital. It is what mom wanted. She made me promise to follow her wishes after her death. I couldn’t break a promise. “
“No you can’t break a promise to your mother.” Jonah said placing the letter into his pocket he stepped out of the car and sat in the wheelchair. A week later Jonah Feinstein had a death date on his tombstone. He and the love of his life were together once more.