I always loved her. That much was never in question. I loved her sweet personality, that never had one bad word to say to anyone. I loved the way she felt in my arms. Her bronze skin was as smooth as the finest satin sheets, and her large brown eyes were so mesmerizing that I once spent fifteen minutes just looking into them, until she finally asked me what was wrong. "Nothing, babe," I replied, for at that moment, everything was right with the world. She lit up her cigarette, and took my hand. I was the happiest man ever at that point.
We were engaged, all set to be married the next year. I had recently graduated from the university, and I was working as an apprentice at the privately owned funeral home that had taken me on. One day, she called me on my break. "I've missed my period, and I've been feeling like shit," she had told me. "The pregnancy test I just took came back with two lines. We're going to be parents!"
I was anxious, but excited anyway. I was with a beautiful, wonderful woman, and we were going to have a baby; I was working at the only profession that I had ever wanted to join, and we had just bought a modest three bedroom Victorian fixer upper. Life was finally perfect.
The problem with being at the pinnacle of your life is that there's nowhere to go but down. Unfortunately, all the effort I had put into painting this beautiful portrait of life was for naught. A month later, at the OB-GYN appointment, they discovered a malignant tumor in her uterus alongside our child. I held her hand as we received the news. After some testing, they confirmed our worst fears: she had a particularly malicious and rare form of ovarian cancer, and she was in stage four. She was going to die. Our unborn baby would die.
I didn't let her see me lose it when we got home. I went out into the broken-down shed in the backyard and lit up a cigarette. I bawled my eyes out silently as I realized the full impact of the doctor's words. After it was out of my system, I went back in and made her a vodka tonic, with extra lime wedges; her favorite. She kissed me, and told me everything was going to be alright. "We'll always be together, Joe. I'll be with you forever." She was so much braver than me. I pulled her close to me, and we went into the bedroom to make love. We didn't have any time to lose.
Finally, the day which I had never been fully able to prepare myself for came. I went into work that day, against the wishes of my boss, Doug. I had explained that I needed to do this embalming. He usually disapproved of people embalming their own loved ones, but he allowed me to. He understood that I needed the closure, so even though he wanted me to take some time off and let him or his son Bobby do it, he gave in.
I was in the prep room all alone with her body. I started playing her favorite song, Knights of Cydonia, on my mp3 player, and I got to work. I hadn't realized how much the cancer had taken away from her radiance, until I had restored it. She looked like a sleeping angel. I took my gloves off, and placed my hand on her cold chest. "Please keep your promise, Clarissa. Always be with me. Never forget that I love you." I kissed her on her lips one last time before I placed her in the casket. Afterwards, I could have sworn I felt someone come up behind me and put their arms around me. I just ignored the sensation. I was in mourning, I told myself. I was bound to have strange thoughts and feelings right then.
After the funeral, I went back home, and laid on our king sized mattress with her pillow in the spot she used to lay. As I fell into an uneasy slumber, I thought I heard her say, "I love you too, Joe." I shrugged it off, and fell asleep.
Two months passed and I was still having those strange sensations. Bobby was talking to me one day, and he suggested that I take a real vacation. "Sit down at your house, and relax. You didn't take any time to get over her death. I'll give you some money out of our petty cash to take a paid break. Come back in two weeks, bud. I'm getting worried about you." I agreed.
I walked into my house. It hit me like a punch from a bodybuilder: the smell of fried chicken. My niece must have been here, I thought. She had been helping me since Clarissa had died. I took a thigh, and almost fell over. It tasted just the way that my love had always made it. I ate the whole plate, wondering where my niece had learned to do that.
As I stood there, I heard a small whisper. "Do you like it?" Even though I knew no one was there, I answered the air. "Yes. I love it." I felt a wave of happiness come over me. I would get over this. I was strong, and her love would always be a part of me. I went to take a shower, and went to bed.
Late that night, I heard a baby crying. It woke me up with a start. I walked out in the hall. It was coming from the front room. I walked in there, and I was amazed at what I saw. It was her, sitting on the couch with a beautiful baby girl in her arms. "I told you I'd always be with you, Joe. Isn't Emily precious? Now we're together again. We'll always be together."
"But how?" I asked. "You're dead. I embalmed you."
"Yes," replied Clarissa, "and so are you."
"How?" I couldn't believe it. I had just been at the funeral home that day. I hadn't killed myself or been maimed, so how could I be dead?
"You came home and ate the rat poison in the box on the counter. You thought it was chicken. You loved it."
I walked back to our bedroom with her at my side. In the bed, there was my body, contorted in a strange position, lying in a puddle of blood, vomit, and urine. "I didn't die very easily, I take it," I said to Clarissa. She smiled at me cryptically. "Dying of cancer wasn't any picnic, either. Now, enough sightseeing. I've been waiting for you to join me for two months. I knew that if I kept talking to you, you'd come to me. Now let's go. Eternity's calling us, Joe." I took her hand, and followed her through a strange door out of the mortal world. I didn't bother fighting it.
So, I'm dead, but I'm back with my fiancee and daughter in the netherworld. I guess it's a fair trade.