“No, but that doesn’t matter.” Nestled in a cocoon of blankets, she looked up through the clear roof of the little gondola in which they sat and saw the gaudy but beautiful balloon keeping them aloft. Its twin on the other side could not be seen unless she tilted her head back so far, it hurt. A propeller at the rear provided forward momentum.
It was a wonderful device, and though she’d begged him for rides over and over, it wasn’t until she’d become ill that he relented.
Ill. An innocuous word–three letters, one syllable–that didn’t go far enough to describe the state she was in. She was dying, and they both knew it. What a shame that’s what it had taken for him to finally invite her on-board.
“We can go back–” he said.
“Not until after….” She trailed off, unwilling to put the inevitable into words, but also because it took strength to speak, and she didn’t have much.
She could no longer walk; he’d carried her to his magnificent machine and placed her on the seat with such gentleness, it brought tears to her eyes. She had not eaten in days and even shallow sips of water was becoming impossible.
She was grateful he’d taken her to Yorkshire when the future became clear. London, with its damp fog and filth and disease, would have killed her more quickly. She’d never really been happy there, away from the country. He’d known, as only a beloved brother could, she’d be much happier at the cottage.
The sun was setting. In minutes it would drop behind the hills to the west, but still she felt its heat through the isinglass windows. She laboriously turned her head to watch–not looking directly at the ball of fire, oh no!–but off to one side, where the golden rays were spreading along the edge of the land all the way to the ocean. She wondered if they’d reach the water in time, and then it ceased to matter. Nothing mattered but forcing her eyes to stay open as long as possible.
How she loved the green hills and majestic trees and endless blue sky! That these should be the last things she saw was exactly right, and she thanked Colin silently for realizing it.
Colin didn’t need to check. Didn’t need to look at the haggard face that had once been so lovely or feel her fragile wrist for a pulse. He knew the instant she died, because it felt as if a great light had gone out in the world. Weeping without a sound, he continued on toward the ocean. She would have wanted that.
Word count: 450
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