Without a word, she dropped to the ground. Time appeared to stand still. Robert looked at the knife in his hand, at the blood dripping slowly from the point of the blade. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves in the trees above. A current of air caressed his cheek as if her soul had left the cooling body, kissed him goodbye, and travelled on.
They had discussed what to do, but in the end he had been given little choice. The diagnosis had shocked them both; it was she who had determined what would happen next. He had begged her not to refuse treatment, to at least try for a cure. Not once had she wavered in her resolve. She lived life to the full and intended to continue doing so. If this meant condensing their time together then so be it.
How long had he been standing there? In the shelter of the trees he could not see the sun, was unsure how much time he had left. Treading carefully he pulled her inert frame into the grave they had prepared and covered it with the recently removed earth. By the time he had completed the task it was growing dark. In the fading light the tree sculptures looked menacing.
He dropped the knife over a steep cliff and watched as it fell into the river below. It saddened him to burn all that he wore; he had walked so many miles in these boots, with her at his side. The fast flowing stream washed the last of her blood away, the freezing water mingling with his tears. He would have liked to walk on through the night, but knew that he must remain to clear the ash.
The miles were made longer by the blisters he developed in his unfamiliar boots. He welcomed the pain as he tried to deal with the wounds he now carried inside. The sight of their car, sitting dusty in the clearing, was almost more than he could bear. He heard her voice reminding him that he must go on.
He drove around as they had planned, covering mile after useless mile, day after day, before returning the hire car at the airport. He had placed his luggage in a dumpster, keeping only his papers and the newly bought clothes. Having travelled for eighteen months to reach this destination, it was not just his travel accessories that had worn.
‘Did she say where she was going?’ Her father looked understandably worried. ‘Her letter talked about you two falling out and her having to find herself, but she didn’t send me an address.’
‘She didn’t want me to know’ Robert responded. ‘She told me she was tired of the restrictions I put on her life, that I was not to try to contact her. I was even worried about coming here today in case she was back, but these letters arrived at the flat and I thought you could forward them to her.’
Robert hated lying to the old man who had always made him so welcome. They had talked about this, but she had truly believed that it was kinder to have him think she was still travelling. Robert was not so sure, especially now that so much time had passed. He wondered how long it would be before her father reported her missing, how many years of his life she had ruined with worry.
Robert’s life had become a purgatory with no prospect of a release into heaven. Had he ever imagined that he could move on? Almost a year after the event he could no longer rationalise his actions. Would he have been able to walk away, to refuse her demands, had he understood the cost?
He considered handing himself in, admitting to his crime, but could not face the terrors of prison. He considered suicide but lacked the courage for that as well. She too had baulked at the idea, pleading with him for his help. He was starting to hate her for what she had done to him, but not as much as he hated himself.
Robert answered the phone on the second ring, a cold sweat breaking out when he recognised her father’s voice. ‘I thought that I should let you know’ he said. ‘She rang me earlier today, says she has been in India teaching.’ Without a word, Robert dropped to the ground. Time appeared to stand still.