Reading in Bed by Digby Beaumont

My wife died propped up in bed reading a book. That's how I found her. An hour before she'd blown me a kiss and left me lying on the sofa, watching the late-night TV news.

"See you soon," she'd said.

I called out her name. I squeezed her shoulder. Two of her fingers were still resting inside the book, keeping her place, as if she'd be back any second and say, "Now, where was I?"

I didn't know what to do. I lay down next to her. I closed my eyes, and a picture came into my mind of a time when she didn't read alone in bed at night wearing brushed cotton pyjamas, of a time when we would leap into bed, naked and hungry for each other, then wake in the morning with our arms and legs still entwined.

I slipped the book from her hands. I could have sworn her grip tightened. "Hey, you, not so fast. I'm reading that." I bookmarked her place for her. It seemed like the only thing I could do.

For weeks afterwards I wondered if she'd called out my name that night, and if l could have saved her. Should I have said, "No, don't go to bed without me. Not tonight. Stay and watch the news on TV. And whatever you do, don't touch that book. It'll be the death of you."

Sometimes I would forget for a moment. At work, I'd think of something I couldn't wait to tell her. Or I'd catch myself arriving home in the evening with that old bounce in my step, as if l expected to find her sprawled in her favourite chair, eyes closed, Bach or Keith Jarrett on the stereo.

But mostly I would remember.

Then one night, unable to sleep, I thought about the book again. I got out of bed and took it down from the shelf, where I'd left it. "Two couples on a Greek-island holiday discover it isn't too late to save the rest of their lives," said the back-cover blurb. I opened it at the bookmark and pressed my nose inside. But I could find nothing of her there.

It was her heart, they'd told me. So, what had triggered it? Was it something she'd read? I examined those bookmarked pages, forensically, like a detective at a murder scene. What was the last sentence she read? The final word? "Evidence inconclusive," I had to tell myself in the end.

"She never knew how the story ends."

I said it out loud, repeating it until the breath caught in my throat.

Later, I would wipe my eyes. I'd get back into bed, tum to the beginning and start to read. Not long after, I'd sense someone's breath warm against my cheek. I'd tum. And there we would be-the two of us.


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