You’ve been sitting in that armchair since breakfast, looking out at the grey November day, unmoved by the gusts of sleet spatting against the window pane. Can you hear the muted cry of the wind skating over the lifeless landscape? Can you see the anaemic rays of light creeping through the emaciated trees? Do they scare you like they scare me?

It’s time for your walk. The storm has passed, leaving a sprinkling of snow on the ground and a blood-red sun streaked across the horizon. There is no heat in it, but you expect your walk. At least I think you do. Sometimes you remind me of Elvis. You remember how he waited by the door, his muzzle buried between his paws, eyes pleading, waiting to be taken out.

I take your hand and am surprised by its warmth, its softness too, despite the dryness of the flaking skin, the blotched veins held together by a thin layer of flesh. I’m not sure whether you get any pleasure out of our walks. I’m not sure if anything gives you pleasure anymore.

I help you on with your coat, the one you always wear on our winter walks. The gloves are more difficult. You don’t understand that your fingers need to be straight. You knitted those gloves yourself, by the fire in the long winter evenings, as we listened to songs of the sixties. That was before you retreated into a remote, faraway place.

The east wind is biting and I shudder as I open the door. I button up the top of your coat and tuck your scarf in under the collar. You don’t seem to feel the icy chill. Your face is blank, expressionless, without wrinkles. You would be happy about that, at least. I wonder what goes on behind those translucent eyes. Or are they just mirrors?

I adjust your woollen hat so that it covers your already pink ears. “Is that better, my love?” A flicker of an eyelid would suffice, but I know I will get no response.

We take the usual route, across the narrow country road and through the wrought iron gate that squeals as I draw it open and shut. It’s been squealing like that since we moved into the cottage 20 years ago. I’ve been promising to put oil on the hinges ever since. The truth is it wouldn’t be the same without its whinging salutations.

Our friends said it was a mistake to retire so young, and at 60, we were young, though we didn’t know it at the time. We had plans to travel the world, to all those places we had never had time to visit before. We would discover new paths, search for other forests, and read all those books that had piled up on the bookshelves.

And the truth is we did many things in those early years, but we soon lost our enthusiasm for foreign parts, which never seemed quite as exciting as the travel brochures made out. And the books, well, they too were often a disappointment. Slowly, we drifted back to the old classics, the writers we had loved in our youth.

It was the walks that you liked most, not that we ever discovered new paths or explored unknown forests. We took the same route every day. We blamed Elvis, who had no desire to veer from familiar sounds and smells, but later when he died, we never went searching for new paths.

It’s hard to believe that you were once an eminent psychiatrist. You were a career person before we retired. You were constantly writing articles for one professional magazine or another, always being invited to conferences to share your knowledge and expertise. When my business allowed, I would go with you. It was an excuse to have a holiday, even if it was only for three or four days.

As the sun sinks ever lower in the sky, the gaunt trees crowd in around us, their icy fingers clawing at our brittle bones. I put my arm around you and draw you to me so that we can share the little heat we still generate together. Was it a mistake to take you out on a day like this?

I wonder whether we should go back but I catch a glimpse of the lake, our lake. Summer and winter, we would take out the boat, permanently moored among the reeds, and just row and row till we lost track of time. Exhausted, we would lie back in the boat and contemplate the clouds sauntering by and listen to the gentle lapping of the water against the hull.

There is a slight incline down to the lake and the ground is wet and slippery after the sleet. I hold on to you with both my arms. The truth is I’m not as strong as I used to be. We take it slowly, one step at a time. “That’s it, girl. We don’t want to end up arse over tip, do we? It would be an undignified way to go, lying helpless in the freezing mud, crying out in the wilderness to an indifferent God. We are alone, I’m afraid, my love, but don’t worry. You are safe in my arms.”

We eventually reach the water’s edge. Our boat is no more than a rotting hulk. It’s a bit of an eyesore, I know, but nature will reclaim it soon enough.

The sun peeps through the blood-smeared sky. There is death, murder perhaps, in the air. Everything is dying. Yet, no, that is not true. Life will return in the spring. But can we wait that long? In the past, four months went by in a flash. Now, it looms up ahead like a mountain to be conquered.

I find the darkness of the lake depressing, despite the light mirrored off the surface. It is a leaden light, destined to become one with the grey water of the lake. I try to remember it as it is in summer, the sun beating down on the lush undergrowth, the myriad of multi-coloured flowers, the blackberries fattening for nature’s feast. I make a note of where they are thickest so that I can return later and pick them to make blackberry and apple stew. There is nothing there now except decomposing leaves and thorny briars that look more dead than alive.

It’s time to go back. I half regret taking you out, but it is our 60th anniversary. 60 years today. We were mere children when we met. You were 19, going on 20. I was 21. Somehow we knew we were destined for each other. Yet you weren’t an easy catch. You had countless admirers, many of them far worthier than I, no doubt, but I persevered. You stayed on at college while I sold insurance. I hated it but we were penniless and I had to do something to keep the wolves from the door. Do you remember the one-room flat in Highgate that we were so fond of and the gas heater that gobbled up half crowns? We were sure the landlady had tampered with the meter. How we laughed! We laughed at everything back then.

We’re nearly home, my darling. The cottage looks so cosy doesn’t it, nestled in among the trees, despite their nakedness. We have been happy here. I think it was the garden that gave us most pleasure. Wouldn’t you agree? I can almost smell the scent of the roses and hear the eager buzzing of the bees gorging themselves on nectar. I can just make out my overgrown vegetable garden at the end. I had some hens once too. You put your foot down when I suggested we got a pig. You were right, of course. I was thinking of all the rich manure for my vegetables. You were thinking of the smell.

I wonder what will happen to the house when we are gone. We did ask them to choose, but they couldn’t agree about who should have what. So, we decided to let them fight it out. I hope it won’t create too much of a rift between them. I can’t see Lucy living here, not even in her old age. She’s a city girl through and through. Nor Patrick either. He’s settled in Canada now. They will most likely sell it and divide the spoils.

The house is warm. I help you off with your coat, hat, scarf, gloves and boots and lead you into the sitting room. The fire is set. All I need is to hold a match to it. “I think we should have a drink to celebrate, my love. What do you say? My goodness, 60 years! It must be some sort of a record, surely?”

I pour us each a glass of port wine. You liked a drop of port before a meal. I put it on the table beside you. I know it won’t be drunk unless I hold it to your lips, but it is part of the ritual. I stand with my back to the fire and raise my glass. “Well, here’s to us, my love. S60 years! They haven’t been bad years, have they? Not perfect, I know, but is anything perfect in this life?” Your gaze is directed at the fire and I can see the flames dancing on your cheeks, which, after our walk, are blushing like summer roses. Are you smiling? I would like to think so, though probably it’s just an illusion of light and shadow. I finish my glass of port. “Okay, girl. Time for our special diamond anniversary dinner.”

I go into the kitchen where I have everything prepared; pumpkin soup with ginger and garlic, chicken in mustard sauce with rice, followed by cheese cake with cream and yoghourt and cherries on top. We will have a bottle of your favourite wine, a Riesling, which reminds you of our boat trip up the Rhine.

You seem so comfortable by the fire it seems such a pity to move you, but it is our Diamond Anniversary, after all. I lead you to the table and tie a bib round your neck. Eating has become a messy business of late. I ladle the soup into two bowls and bring them to the table. I take a sip from mine and lick my lips with relish—yum! yum!—but I know it will make no difference. I manage to get a couple of spoonfuls into your mouth, which you swallow mechanically. I pour some wine into your glass and hold it to your lips, but it dribbles down your chin.

Now, it’s time for the highlight of the evening, the chicken pilaf. It was one of the dishes the children loved, don’t you remember? Tonight, I have added something special. I am assured by Google that it is tasteless, odourless, and utterly painless.

I give us both a good helping. I have chopped the meat up fine and the sauce is runnier than usual so that it can be swallowed easily. Feeding you is a painstaking task, but slowly you manage to eat a sufficient amount. When I get ‘round to mine, it has gone cold and I eat it with little gusto. I lift my glass again. “To us, my love. To those wonderful 60 years.”

I finish everything on my plate, though I have to confess I don’t have much of an appetite tonight. I wash it down with the remains of my wine.

“Darling, I have something very special for you, something I promised to get you even before we were married but never got round to buying. I suppose there were many things I didn’t get ‘round to doing. But I did tell you how much I love you, didn’t I? I know I had that silly affair. I don’t think you ever forgave me. I tried to make up for it, but I’m not sure I succeeded. Still, I want you to know, my darling, that, despite everything, you were the only person I ever truly loved.” I lean across the table, take your left hand and slide the diamond ring on to your finger. “I hope you like it, my love. Better late than never, eh?” You look down as if to examine it. “It’s a Princess. Wonderful craftsmanship. Look at the symmetry. Marvellous, isn’t it?” The diamond catches the light, which is deflected on to your face. For an instant, your visage comes alive. I want to think you understand, deep down.

“Well, darling, I think it’s time for bed.” I can see your eyelids are beginning to sag. “I’ll just put the guard in front of the fire. We don’t want the cottage to burn down, do we? The children wouldn’t appreciate it.”

After making the fire safe, I come back and lead you to the bathroom for our nightly wash. I take off your clothes and sit you on a stool we have for that purpose. I am surprised how thin you are. Why haven’t I noticed it before? I wash you in all the right places and put on your nightdress. “I think we’ll dispense with the nappy tonight, my love.” I lead you into the bedroom and lay you on your side. I wonder if you will be asleep by the time I get into bed.

I complete my ablutions and join you. You open your eyes a crack when I wrap my arms around you. “Good night, my beautiful love. I hope I have made you happy. You have made me immensely happy. I’m never going to let you go, ever again. They may not make coffins for two, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll be together, one way or another, in the grave. I hope the children won’t be too upset when they find us tomorrow, but I’m sure they will understand. It was what we agreed, wasn’t it? They will see my letter and I did mention our plan to them once, I think.” I can’t take my lips from your cheek, not before I am sure you are gone. It was painless. No fuss, no bother. “Good night, my darling. Wait for me. I won’t be far behind.”

I feel myself sinking, lower and lower. I am holding your hand and we are walking on the lake. I can hear your voice singing our song. “I will love you forever. I will give up my will for you. I will give up my life for you…” The words seem strangely distorted as they waver over the water. Your voice is fading, but I hear it still as I sink to the bottom. It is not dark, as I expected. It’s full of light. Suddenly, I see you, your arms out-stretched, the diamond beckoning. “I am coming, my love,” I whisper.


“I Will Give Up My Life for You…” is an excerpt from Ian Douglas Robertson’s new short story collection in progress, El Dorado.