In the Evening of My Life

Joan Stephens

"Well, Catherine, itís our fiftieth wedding anniversary and my eighty-sixth birthday. The children are giving me a party and all of our family and friends are invited. It will be a pleasant evening, but you wonít be there. I miss you, my love, and I wish it wasnít my fate to live on without you."

Sitting next to her tomb, he leaned back stiffly into the thick pillows that kept the cold of the stone seat from penetrating his aged, frail frame. Luke, Kanin and Oliviaís son, had carved the seat from the living rock wall and Josie, the resident seamstress, had made the cushions that lined the back and seat.

He closed his eyes as the memories crowded in. As always, the memories were of her beautiful face: the first time he had seen it, cut and battered though it was, it was still beautiful; her joyous expression when he first came to her balcony; the shy devotion on her face as she placed the little bag with its rose inside around his neck; the look of commitment as she swore to him that their love was everything; the wonder and awe on her face as she watched him hold their firstborn in his arms; her steadfast gaze as she pledged her undying love to him when they were wed; her Madonna-look as she sat surrounded by their three children; the expression of pride she wore as she held their first grandchild; and always, always, the look of love she gave him every morning when they awoke. How he missed that look. "Ah Catherine, I love you so much. Fifty years were not nearly long enough. One hundred would be too short."

He expelled a weary, strained breath of air. "Iím tired, Catherine, ready to sleep. Every day . . . it is harder and harder to face life without you. A few more obligations tended to, a few more lessons taught, and then I am ready to lay down the burden of office and come to you."

"Dad, are you ready?" His middle son, Matthew, stood a respectful distance away.

Vincent returned his sonís smile. "As ready as Iíll ever be, son." He struggled to rise. "These old bones arenít what they used to be."

"Here . . . let me, Dad." Matthew leapt forward to lend a hand.

Finally standing on his own two feet, Vincent squeezed the strong, lightly furred hand that firmly kept hold of his arm. "Thank you, Matthew." With a sly gleam in his eyes, he asked, "Have I kept everyone waiting a sufficiently long time?"

Matthew shook his head.

"Not even a little bit?" his father joked, laughter sparkling in eyes that were still an arresting shade of blue.

"Well . . . the Helpers are looking at their watches and the community is twiddling their thumbs." The young man chuckled.

"Good. Everything moves much too fast these days, even down here. In my wisdom, gained through long years of life, Iíve decided slower is better. Donít you agree, Matthew?"

"Yes, Dad," the young man agreed patiently, smiling gently into the aged countenance. Suddenly he stopped, causing his father to stumble. "I love you, Dad," he murmured, holding back a sudden spate of tears as he hugged his father tightly. A sudden premonition told him that this would be his fatherís last trip to the catacombs until the final trip from which he would never return.

Vincent patted his sonís back. "I love you too, son. I love all my children. Shall we go?"

"Oh . . . right."

As they started up the stairs, Vincent turned back for a final look at his wifeís tomb, thinking, Iíll see you soon. "Happy Anniversary, my love." Then he gave his usual farewell, "Sleep well, my dearest Catherine, sleep well."