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by Janel Gradowski

3:55 PM. I stand in the church’s nursery, watching the cheap plastic clock on the wall. Five minutes until the ceremony begins. Mother fusses with my veil, pausing frequently to dab her eyes with soggy, wadded up tissues. Bridesmaids flutter around like pink chiffon hummingbirds, chattering and swooping in to make minor adjustments to my dress, my makeup, my hair. Five minutes until I marry a man I’m not sure I love. He is solid and dependable, a safe choice. I am reckless and erratic, a slowly imploding mess.

6:38 PM. He gave me a clock this morning, for our first anniversary. Shiny, gold gears tick away the minutes and hours. A glass dome protects all of its delicate parts, keeping the rest of the world from tainting it. He said clocks are an appropriate first anniversary present. He looked it up on the internet. What man buys a gift like that for his wife after only one year of marriage? My husband. I imagine other men getting see-through lingerie and champagne. I try to convince myself that he is a good man. He treats me like a queen. Opens doors for me. Fluffs my pillow before we go to bed, every night. Whispers he loves me when I can’t see him in the darkness.

3:46 AM. I nurse our son to sleep. I rock silently in a slow rhythm punctuated by the staccato ticking of the anniversary clock. The baby wakes me every night at 3 AM. A squirming, pink alarm clock. I’m exhausted from the nursing, crying, comforting and endless diaper changes. I can’t believe two, imperfect people produced this perfect little person.

9:05 PM. The hospice nurse left five minutes ago. All I need to do is call her cell phone and she’ll come back. She said he probably won’t make it through the night. The doctor said it was unusual to develop cancer so young. The radiologist said he killed all of the cells. The cancer came back with a greedy ferociousness, ripping and clawing its way through his body. His only wish is to die at home, with me by his side. I forgot to replace the batteries in our clock. It sits on the mantle above the head of the hospital bed that dominates the living room now. I miss its steady ticking. His ragged, tortured breaths are the only sounds in the house. Then it is silent. Our son calls for me from his toddler bed, crying because of a bad dream. I cry too.

Janel Gradowski lives and writes among the farm fields of central Michigan. Her non-fiction and fiction work has appeared in Six Sentences, 50 to 1, Beadwork Magazine and several other publications.  Contact Janet.