Lily sits in her favourite chair, a straight-backed mahogany Queen Anne. She knots her fingers around the phone, impatient to hang up. (She’s heard all she needs to hear, but she forces herself to listen politely.) Adjusting her skirt so that it hangs prettily, she is freshly aware of the curve of her calf and the delicate turn of her ankle.
Courting her, in the days before their hastily planned wedding – the reception crammed with plastic lawn chairs and store-bought potato salad – he told her that she had a well-turned leg. She giggled and refilled the glass in front of him in encouragement, but that was the last compliment she got, and in the years that followed, she took to hiding his bourbon under the cushions on the French Empire divan while he careened about, overturning her antique sideboard and screaming that he couldn’t live in a museum. That she was a freak who lived in the past, sucking the living sap out of him. That he was amazed he hadn’t yet collapsed into dust. Quietly putting the sitting room back together, she once dared to hope that he would do just that.
The first he knew of it was a shadow on an X-ray, hovering above his left lung, like a shark waiting patiently for another surfer in an antipodean bay. When she picked him up from the clinic, he leaned awkwardly over the gear stick to rest his cheek on her knee, sobbing softly. She sensed then that he had encountered some new, more dangerous enemy, and she smoothed his brow with a cool, co-conspiratorial palm.
And now, in her right ear, the doctor’s explanation fizzles out in an expression of sympathy. She runs her fingertips appreciatively across the embroidered upholstery of her beloved chair. A beautiful example of the style of the period, it is her prized possession – as rare, unexpected and pleasing as her husband’s terminal diagnosis.