Third Anniversary
Tim Putnam

T he stench of death presses against the window.
The humidity of a hot Kansas City summer day presses back.
Time no longer ticks in the lover's apartment.
The man lay on the floor.
Spooning his wife.
Love holds him close to her.
This day is their third wedding anniversary.
Lovers since high school.
They almost never parted.
Almost never.

He lay there.
Whispering in her ear.
Sweet nothings of love and forever.
Too dehydrated for tears.
She lay motionless.
As if listening.
He is keeping his promise.
Urine puddles beneath him.
Feces collects in his trousers.
His arms tightly wrapped around her fragile waist.
Her hand, draped in a bloodless skin of a bluish-gray variety, clasps his with a death grip.
Once not long ago, he left her for the first time ever.
For a week on business.
He almost canceled.
He did not want to be without her.
She called him silly.
Months before they had been blessed with pregnancy.
She was six months along when he left for Pittsburgh.
They talked most every night on the phone.
One night, the last night, she was not there.
He was lost that night without her voice.
Anxious to return home to her eyes.
Hazel eyes.
With the green of God's forests in them.
He rushed home to find her gone.
He found her in the hospital.
He found her being eaten alive by cancer.
Shallow breaths filled with love met him upon his return.
He returned the love with a promise.
Never leave her again.
Never again.
The cancer was quick.
Her time limited.
The baby didn't survive the cancer.
Her uterus rotted.
Her lungs rotted.
Her stomach and liver rotted.
Her mind was strong to the end.
He took her home.
He was her nursemaid.
The short, last chapter of her life was filled with rich conversations with her husband.
He read her favorite stories.
Where heroes and heroines lived happily ever after
Lost in romance and fantasy.
With hollow gray eyes she admired his labor of love.
One day, two weeks ago, she wanted orange juice.
He lay sleeping beside her.
She collapsed walking to the fridge.
He sped to her crumpled body.
A tear washed her pain away.
She smiled.
Then she left.
He lay on the floor holding her and cried.
Now he only knows mourning.
He only knows her decaying body.
He only knows he will keep his promise.
He only moves to breath.
The only other life in the lover's apartment is the maggots.
Feeding on the corpse of his one true love.
Soon, they will feed on him too.

First published: November 2000