"Brigid?" Colm's voice rasped over chords dry as dust.
"Yes, my love?" Brigid leaned over and took Colm's hand. His eyes fluttered.
"Be a dear, would you, and open the shutters. Sunshine." He blinked slow.
"Of course, love." Her heart lurched at the sight of his bluest blues, flecked with gold and storm. She stood, letting his hand slip slowly from hers, the cool dryness electric against her fingers. She crossed a room full of tone and shade, a room that seemed to her in perpetual autumn twilight since the rude awakening of his diagnosis. Fitting, she thought, that Colm ever loved the fall. She opened the stained wood shutters. Worn, nacreous walnut under decades of varnish and beeswax. Built by Colm's own hands when he wore a younger man's coat.
Pure ingots of white gold light poured themselves over the floor and Colm's bed. He managed a smile at the sight, running a hand slowly through his stubbly salt-and-pepper hair. He insisted it be short, his patience had run out with maintaining the long locks from months ago. Too much work, not enough energy. The low embers that smoldered in his head and heart were just enough to get himself out of bed, some days. But not much else.
Brigid smoothed out her skirt, the wool scratchy and reassuring under her hands. She turned to look at Colm. She thought perhaps he might be up for some time on the patio listening to his favorite birds. She smiled back. "Window open too, my sweet?" She could see finches flitting amongst the trees along the back hedgerow. Yes, he would enjoy a sit-down on the terrace.
"Yes. I'm wanting to hear the songs."
She opened the window. The scent of lilacs zephyred into the room. Colm breathed deep, a gravelly sigh that loosened his chest. "Ah, lovely" he murmured. He pulled himself up into a sitting position, resting back against a walnut headboard carved in an array of stylized Irish elk and triskelions. The headboard was one of Colm's favorite pieces, and one of his earliest. His head sagged. A few dizzy seconds passed. Brigid thought he might be on the verge of fainting, but he raised his gaze to hers. She let out a breath she had not known she was holding. He smiled again.
"You okay, love? You look worried," he said.
"I'm tired, but okay. Worried about you," that worry tightening her voice.
"Ah, don't trouble yourself in such a way. Not much to be done at the moment."
The sun streamed through the window. A cozy heat rose from the stones of the floor. Colm struggled to the edge of the bed, Brigid quickly steadying him when he threatened to overbalance. His feet he placed on the stones, luxuriating in the warmth radiating up through his soles. Brigid wrapped her arms around his head and shoulders, drawing him to her. He breathed deep of her, a mixture of the sea and dewy roses that thrilled his heart with a burst of vigor. He looked up into her eyes, the emeralds that brought him home.
"To the terrace, love? With me?"
"Of course. No resistance from me, pulse of my heart. Here, take my hands and I'll help you up."
He did as she bade him, the journey a slow one as if he were struggling out of sand. Resting his head on her shoulder, he let her guide him to the glassy door that led out to the terrace. His usual scent of peat laced with wood shavings had changed since he had fallen ill. It was now tinged with wet clay and other things she could not name. She found the combination to be simultaneously reassuring and unsettling.
They shuffled together, slow in the lowering sunlight, and sat down in oak chairs facing the slope down to the hedgerow. Colm huffed and sputtered a bit, catching his breath. Brigid moved her chair closer to Colm's, sat down, and took his hand. Silently they listened to the birds chorusing amongst themselves. Songs such as they sang made Colm feel that perhaps this storm would not end badly, that he and Brigid would sail through and get back to life.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" he asked Brigid.
"Yes, my love. It is. I like watching your face when you hear the birds. It makes you happy, I can tell."
"Aye, it does, it does."
He held her hand and breathed in the lilacs and the grass, the sea and the roses. The world spun a few times more while they soaked up the waning sun.
"Brigid? Starting tomorrow, I should like a cup of tea every afternoon at this time." Brigid jumped a tiny bit.
"Certainly, dear. I'll have to get some, though, there's none in the cupboard."
"I'd like the one we used to drink when we first moved here. The one with golden in it's name. What was that, golden, golden..." his voice trailing off into a wheeze. He seemed genuinely upset that he could not recall the name.
"Golden monkey?" She laughed, and he could not help but chuckle.
"Yes, that's it. That's the one. Get some tomorrow?"
She leaned over and kissed his forehead. "That I will."
They both leaned back. He did not let go of her hand. She looked over, watching him watch the birds and clouds. Two rabbits frisked amongst the grass halfway up the hill.
"I'm thirsty, my love. And I'm scared." Colm did not look at her.
"Scared of what?" she asked.
"The treatment will be nasty, I think. All sorts of bad things could happen. I want to remember the taste of tea in case the drugs take away my tongue. I want to remember the taste of you." He turned his head, lit up yellow gold in the late afternoon light. She squeezed his hand and managed a small smile.
"I want you to remember that, too, my love. And you will." She kissed his hand. The rabbits scampered off to home. The light fell on the couple. Tomorrow they would have tea, storms be damned.