He gave the doctor credit for how he delivered the bad news. No sob story. No fluff. Just brain cancer. Non-operable and only 3 months left to live. The doctor told him that he should have enough time to get his affairs in order and sincerely wished that he could do more. The terminal man nodded and thanked the doctor.
He took it better than most because he knew this fate was coming. When both his mom and dad passed away from the same cancer, it was only a matter of time before he suffered the same fate. His brain was a ticking time bomb that was finally coming down to its last seconds.
When he returned home to his wife, she immediately broke down sobbing. But, he knew he didn’t have time for tears. He had to get to work immediately. It took two weeks to transfer the house and bank accounts into her name. He ensured that his wife would have enough money to never have to work. With that taken care of, the terminal man wanted to do one last thing for his beautiful wife.
His beat up pickup bounced along the dirt path. Swampland surrounded the road on both sides and stretched out to the horizon. It had been an hour since he last saw any inkling of civilization. As the tires slowed down and crunched against the dirt and stone, he pulled up to an old shack that sat atop stilts in the middle of the swamp. He got out of his truck and slammed the door shut. His boots were quickly covered in a layer of thick muck as he approached the old shack. In the distance, a cicada chirped its familiar tone as he knocked on the door. Behind the ancient, hole-ridden screen door, an old black woman in ragged clothes and long, dirty dreads emerged. She spoke in a heavy accent that reeked of creole.
“Ah, my dear, I have been expecting you” she creaked in her heavy, island accent and curled a bony finger from him to the inside of the shack, “Come in. Please.”
He crept into her house, having to slouch down because of its abnormally short ceilings. Inside, the house the putrid smell of decaying swamp burned his nostrils with every breath. The gypsy woman reached out a hand and dragged him across the house. He passed jars of small creatures preserved in sickly green liquids and then was brought to a shelf filled with empty mason jars.
“This is what you come for, yes?” the gypsy asked him in a curious, excited tone.
He looked at her, confused.
“You said that you had a way of preserving memories. How are these…?” He began to question but was abruptly cut off.
“Hush, dear. Watch now”
The gypsy woman grabbed a jar off the shelf with a frail hand, popped open the lock on the lid, and held her hand on the jar without opening it.
“Close your eyes. Take a deep breath for me. And, hold it,” she commanded.
Closing his eyes, he drew a lung full of the musky air.
“Think of the moment you and your wife first met, my love,” she continued “now breathe out into the jar, holding onto that memory.”
He thought about seeing his wife for the first time on a grass field in college and smiled as he let out his breath. After fully exhaling, he opened his eyes and watched the gypsy quickly close the jar. Inside, a soft green aura began to glow. The same shade of green from the grass field.
“Now, whosoever opens this jar will witness the same memory that you just recalled as if it was their own. How’s that for preservation, dear?” she asked with a smug smile.
A wide grin grew across the terminal man’s face. “How much?” he asked.
The gypsy woman shook her head. “No dear. You take these. All of them. They are yours.”
It had now been three months since he had received the diagnosis. His body was much weaker than it was three months ago and his thoughts were much more scattered. Constantly fighting the urge to succumb to the sickness, he continued to sit in his basement every day, deciding which memories should be preserved. The jar on the far left contained their first kiss. Another jar was when the two of them went to the shelter and adopted Chet. The jar three shelves in held the moment when he dropped to a knee and proposed to her. He held the final empty jar in his hands and knew exactly which memory was meant for it.
To most people it would look like any other morning. He and his wife were eating breakfast at their kitchen table and he quickly got up to leave for an important appointment. His wife kissed him on the way out the door. It was the last memory they had together before he was diagnosed with his death.
He heard the wooden steps behind him creak as his wife came down to look at the library of memories that he had built for her. He sealed the last jar and placed it on the remaining empty spot on the shelf. She held his hand and smiled. Then, he felt another presence in the room. He turned to the left and saw his mother standing beside him. A tear streaked down her cheek.
“It’s beautiful what you’ve done for her” she said to him without ever moving her lips.
He smiled and swallowed sharply. Turning back to his wife, he gave her a kiss on the lips and looked her in the eyes “I love you forever and always.”
“I know” she said with a smile while fighting back tears.
He heard his mom once again, “It’s time to go, honey.”
He turned back to the wall of jars with a smile on his face as a searing pain grew in his temple.