Hands trembling, he opened the door…and just as suddenly pulled it closed again.
A veritable mountain of a man, Jocko Halloran shook his head side to side so vigorously the bones of his thick neck crackled loudly. In 56 years on God’s Green Earth he’d never lacked the strength or the will for…anything and he’d be damned to the Netherhells if he was to go starting such now.
For lack of any idea what else to do, he stared down at his hands. They were good, strong, big hands. They were hands that had hauled a hundred times a hundred hods of bricks in the hot summer heat of Atlanta. They were hands that had dug mile upon mile of trench, it seemed, in the frozen soil of the Ardennes. They were hands that had hammered and sawed, lifted and hauled and done every task he’d ever asked of them with nary a worry they’d not be sufficient to the task. So why, he asked himself, could those fine, strong hands not do something as simple as turn the handle of a door?
Reluctantly, he was forced to admit it was not the act of opening the door that stymied his considerable physical strength. It was the mind-numbing fear of what waited for him beyond that door that tipped the scales against him. For beyond that simple, functional, utilitarian door, the woman he loved…the only woman he had ever loved, was slipping further and further beyond his reach and ever nearer to the cold embrace of death.
Sure and his Bessie was a braw scrapper. Every battle she could wage against the accursed wasting of her body she had fought with silent dignity and unassailable tenacity. If spirit alone were enough to sustain her then, Saints knew, she’d live to see a hundred years but there comes a day…a point…beyond which spirit must give way to the disease. When the last tests had been run, the last chemotherapy dosage given and still the cancer remained, then the battles won mattered not a whit to the war being lost.
Today would be the end. There would be no reprieve, no resurgence of health, no more chances. Before the sun had set on this day, his Bess would be no more and what remained of Jocko wouldn’t be worth a damn anymore.
But, for that day, Jocko Francis Halloran would hoard every last ounce of his strength and will it into the resolve to never, ever let his wife know how lost he’d be when she was gone. She deserved better than that. She deserved to pass with love for her and not tears in his eyes. For her, he would do the last strong thing he might ever do.
Scant minutes later, the battered, hard-skinned hands that had cracked skulls and crushed rocks, gently stroked the flushed, bald head of the most beautiful woman he had ever or would ever see until the Good Lord called him home to join her.
This story was written for Alissa Leonard's new Finish That Thought flash fiction challenge for the prompt phrase: "Hands trembling, [he] opened the door."