By Henri Colt
Julie stretches across the spacious king-size bed to open the book on her nightstand. Tarnished petals of a dried carnation mark the inside cover. Pencil scrapings huddle like ants on pages where her husband underlined sentences and made undecipherable scratches.
“I left an envelope with all my papers on the desk,” he said when he called from the airport. “If anything happens, there is life insurance.”
As usual, she scoffed at his fear of flying. “Nothing is going to happen.”
“The car is in the parking structure. I sent you the receipt.”
“The miracles of modern technology.” She squelched a laugh.
“I’m glad we paid off the house, and with my pension, you’ll have enough for the rest of your life.”
“Darling, I’m not worried about the rest of my life.” She didn’t say it had been the same refrain on every business trip.
Julie remembers his sweat-soaked palms the night they were married. He was nervous, he said, but someday they would go on a honeymoon. After the ceremony, they strolled hand-in-hand from City Hall to the bus-stop. They stopped at a bar to escape the rain. It was happy hour. They had two beers for the price of one and food was on the house.
The book is about keeping a marriage alive.
“It’s a good read,” he said before leaving. “We’ll talk when I get back.”
She slipped his favorite necktie into his suitcase. Dinner conversation was politely warm.
He climbed into the taxi.
She was surprised when he called again at 4 am. An ominous purple glow seeped between the bedroom’s curtains.
“I’m sorry to wake you, but I can’t sleep,” he said.
“And I thought you finally felt guilty about seeing a younger woman.” She was only half-joking.
“I wouldn’t call about that. I’m in my hotel room, and I have the most terrible headache.”
“You’re having a lot of those recently. We should see a doctor when you get back.”
“I’m sure it will be better in the morning.”
“Call me if you feel worse.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Forty years, one word.
Henri Colt is a physician-writer and global nomad whose work is influenced by an intimacy with human suffering and a passion for optimism. He is Professor Emeritus with the University of California and editor of the Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies.