Even three years later, waking each morning drained what little willpower Gabriel still possessed; and the picture taped to the inside of his silver fob watch gave him a sorrowed pang whenever he opened it. Though the photograph was old and faded, with her long auburn curls and gentle brown eyes, she was the vision of Pre-Raphaelite beauty.
The cancer diagnosis came almost twelve years ago, yet it did nothing to prepare Gabe for Dinah’s death. The prognosis had been grim and the two were sure they were spending their last months together. However, treatment started working and the asphyxiating darkness began releasing its grip on Gabe’s heart.
The day the test came back clear remained ever present in his memories.
They were both in tears by the end of the hospital visit, throwing around words like “remission” and “future” in a way they had not had the liberty to before. Though her thick hair had been stripped by the chemicals and her skin was sunken and sallow over her cheekbones, all Gabriel could think was how beautiful she was.
"I love you," he said, kissing her eyes, her forehead, her nose, her lips. Six months, one year, two, and she was still with him. Three years passed and she was back to being the woman she was when he married her. Fine wrinkles had spread around her eyes and her hair had grown back with silver in the copper curls, but she was his Dinah, vibrant and lovely as the day they met.
On his fifty-fourth birthday, Gabriel hoisted a little Plexiglas canoe into the bed of his of his old blue and white ’84 Chevy and climbed into the cab. The day was bright and Gabe stared for a moment at the perfect azure of the July sky. Sunlight filtered through the trees in flickering shapes as they lined the left side of the dirt road, shading the path from its warming caress. The lane connected his cozy little farmhouse to the narrow, but paved way intersecting Faith Avenue which turned into Main Street a few miles down.
Stretching one arm out the window, Gabriel turned the ignition and put the car into gear, listening to the crunch of gravel as the truck crept forward. The wind whistled through the shaggy strands of his greying hair and Gabriel reached up to scratch his chin, fingers smoothing over the horseshoe mustache framing his mouth.
Dinah had always liked his mustache. He supposed that was why he had been wearing it for the past twenty years. In that small child-like part of his mind, he thought it something of a good luck charm. It was that, and a bit of coincidence, that brought her into his life.
It had been a cold autumn day and Gabriel had just come down from his hunting cabin in the higher reaches of the mountain to spend the winter with his mother. It was a yearly tradition which had continued until her death in ’91. Gabe had grown into the habit of wearing a full beard in his cabin, but his mother preferred he be clean-shaven when he came to visit. In compromise, he sheared off the beard, but kept his mustache.
"Good day, sir," Dinah said when he entered the barber's shop.
"Good day to you, miss," he intoned with a bow of his head. Hers had been an unfamiliar face in the small town, apparently an assistant of old Mr. Gooding who was getting on in years. If he was honest, Gabe was sometimes worried to let the man near his face with a straight razor, but loyalty always won out in the end. Maybe it was the mentality of being born and raised among a population of fewer than three hundred, but Gabe couldn’t bring himself to go anywhere else. It was hard not to like the old man, and Gabe considered him one of his better friends.
It turned out that Dinah was Mr. Gooding's granddaughter. She was about 27 at the time and going into the family business instead of staying with her father in the city.
Dinah sat him down in a chair and immediately began trimming down his beard, all the while chattering away at him. Gabe had never been a talkative man, but Dinah didn’t seem to mind that. She told him everything from her life story to meaningless town gossip that meant little to a man like him.
Gabe found that he enjoyed the soft tenor of her voice as she rambled on. He chuckled at her jokes and spoke on occasion, but mostly he listened. And that was all it took.
As he left, he smiled and shook her hand, admiring the braids hanging down over the shoulders of her plaid button up. It was when he saw that forthcoming sparkle in her brown eyes that he realized she would be his wife.
Gabriel pulled the old pickup into the dirt lot outside the Green Goose Diner. He ordered a stack of pancakes with maple syrup and a tall glass of orange juice. Mac, the owner of the place, gave Gabe a friendly grin and offered his condolences on the anniversary of Dinah's death. Gabriel just nodded with a somber smile and thanked him for having the time to think of Dinah on this day. Even though the other man was only a few years his senior, Gabe thought that Mac was a grandfatherly figure. With his big belly and snow-white beard, no one would have questioned him if he had announced that he was jolly old Saint Nicholas.
Gabe drank his orange juice and ate his pancakes in silence, watching the quiet bustling of the locals in their accustomed routine. This had been Dinah’s favorite place to eat. She had been like a daughter to Mac, and Gabe knew that if anyone understood how much he missed her, it was Mac.
"We should get married just out front of that old trailer," Dinah told Gabe one day.
They had become fast friends and it didn't take long for Gabe to ask her to be his girl, but her proposal that they should get married came as a bit of a surprise to Gabriel. He knew that he was going to ask her to be his wife, but he had been waiting for the right time to bring it up, never guessing that she might be as certain of them as he was.
"Outside the Green Goose?" he asked. It was a bit absurd, but then, that was Dinah. She nodded and laced her arm through his, leaning into his shoulder.
"It’ll be perfect,” she continued, “I think I'll wear that blue dress. You know, the one I wore the first time we danced?" Gabe beamed at her. Blue was his favorite color, and he loved more than anything to see her in that dainty, lace-fringed thing. He nodded and kissed her on the top of the head.
She did wear that dress outside the Green Goose and he wore a bolo tie around the neck of a crisp white shirt. It was an informal affair, their boots scuffed from a day’s riding and her hair was in double braids over her shoulders. There was no doubt in his mind that he was going to be with her until the day he died.
He had always thought that he could, too. He was nearly seven years older, after all. It had never crossed his mind that she might go before he did. Not before cancer crumbled the illusion of their easy home. It was then that he began to wonder what his life would be like without her.
But she had conquered everything that life had served and he had returned to that comfortable place where he was certain that he would not have to go a single day without her beside him.
Gabe finished his meal, bidding Mac a fond farewell before he left the diner.
The seat was warm as Gabe climbed back into the truck and the metal of the seatbelt burned his fingers when he clicked it into place. He backed up, pulling onto the main road and heading off toward the lake, shifting his Stetson lower over his face to shade his eyes from the sun.
Memories lined this path. They were painfully vivid in his mind, but he withstood, unable to miss a single one.
Children played at the park where he and Dinah sometimes sat, musing about what it would be like to have some of their own. The opportunity had never seemed to present itself. At first, they had been too busy living to think about that and by the time Dinah had recovered, they decided that it was probably best to let it go. He would have liked to have had kids, if he was honest with himself, but he never regretted giving it up. It was well worth the time he had spent with his wife.
Gabe stopped and parked for a moment next to the trail leading up to his hunting cabin. It was a long hike, but they had gone as frequently as she could manage with her work and illness. Vehicles could not make it past the dense line of the forest and it generally took a full day of hard travel to make it up there, but it was something they enjoyed doing together.
Gabe initially chose to build his cabin there for the good hunting and beautiful scenery, not to mention the primal thrill of surviving the wild on nothing but his own two hands. Dinah had fit surprisingly easily into the little niche he had carved out in the world. It was a thing of irreplaceable beauty and he was forever grateful for that.
They spent their honeymoon there, working the day’s light and spending the night’s reverie in comfortable embrace. Those times were the happiest of Gabe’s life. It was before Dinah got sick and before money was ever an issue between them.
He wished that he had the time to hike up to that cabin one last time, but he wasn't as fit as he once was and trekking up in a day had been a challenge even in his prime. With a last sigh and a silent goodbye, Gabe stepped off the trail, leaving behind all the safety and happiness they had known there.
The last memory was neither happy nor safe. For three years he had avoided the stretch of road past the old windmill.
They said her passing was instantaneous. Painless. A blessing, really. Dinah’s little T-bird hadn’t stood a chance in a head on collision with the cargo van. The woman behind the wheel had been youthfully distracted, veering into Dinah’s lane at the last moment.
He sometimes wished that he could hate the girl for it, but the emotion never came. There was an emptiness inside him that could not be filled, not even by anger and hatred.
Gabe pulled the C10 to the side of the road and stepped out of the cab. The skid marks that he could see so clearly in his mind's eye had faded to nothing and without the debris and blood, the place was almost beautiful. Perfect white daisies lined the road and Gabe plucked up a few, tucking them into his breast pocket. Daisies had been her favorite.
Gabriel returned to the car, climbing in and swinging the door shut with a bang. He pushed his hair back and inhaled, the scent of daisies filling him with nostalgia.
His final destination would be the hardest, yet Gabe felt a strange sense of relief at the thought of it. He would stop at the lake where he scattered her ashes. Though he was aware of the illegality, it was where she wished her final resting place to be. And for everything that she had given to him, everything that she had meant to him, and everything that she was, that was the least he could do.
The lake was a beautiful place, the trees grew dense along the bank and it was rarely crowded, even on a fine day like this. It was a haven to her and a reminder of her to him.
Gabe parked his car down the road from the little entrance lane and pulled his canoe from the back of the truck. It wasn't a long walk to the lake, but Gabe’s breath was harsh by the time he put the canoe in the water. He straightened and wiped the sweat from his brow. Tying the canoe to an overhanging tree, Gabe returned from the lake.
In the glove compartment of his C10 was a .44 caliber Magnum revolver, he pulled it out, and shoved it into the waistband of his jeans. Gabe closed the door of his car and left.
The water rocked the canoe as Gabe climbed unsteadily in, pushing off the shore. It was quiet, except for the sounds of birds and squirrels, a peaceful place: the sort of place where he wanted his Dinah to rest.
Gabe smiled. Dinah had always known best, but she was gone, and Gabriel was tired.
He thought it was time that he rest too.