Chapter 4: The Lake
by Tala Bar
Nunez did not need any special knowledge or particular insight to know that his wife was dying from the latest attack she had undergone.
Gil had been an ailing woman for a very long time; the greater part of their married life she had spent in a wheelchair. Luckily she had been a highly skilled computer operator and programmer who could do her job from home, and they did not need to rely for their living just on his salary as a technician. The couple had installed as many robotic and automatic facilities as possible in their small apartment, so there was not much to do in the way of housework like cooking and cleaning. A great deal of the work of rearing and taking care of their two daughters, however, had fallen on Nunez.
According to all his acquaintances — because he had never had close friends — Nunez was considered a stoical, phlegmatic man, not given to emotional outbursts. They could not make up their minds, though, whether it was so because he never felt anything deeply or because he had learned to hide his feelings. This calm nature had stood him well in coping with his wife’s progressive illness. The idea of leaving her in that state had never crossed his mind, not only because it was not the done thing, but also because his love for her had strengthened and deepened the more ill she became.
Gil was certainly a factor in her husband’s attitude. Nunez might have fallen in love with her as a young girl because she was pretty enough and had a supple, curvaceous body; but he kept his love for her later, after she had lost her figure to births and her prettiness to disease, because she had a quick, agile mind. She was able to find her way out of any stressful situation, and had a strong, quiet character that enabled her to give endless mental support to her husband and daughters.
Gil was the axis around which the small family had gathered and on which it leaned and relied. Not being able to do things actively around the little apartment, she would give her instructions when necessary in a quiet, decisive voice accompanied with a smile when necessary. They lived high up a residential tower and, as her illness progressed, she stopped going out, relying on the computer and the means of multimedia to bring the world in to her.
Nunez himself had acquired the habit of coming home straight after work as a maintenance man in a robotics factory; he would accompany his wife in her physically restricted life as well as broaden his own horizon through her mental world. He had never demanded from their daughters to help him look after Gil, doing the necessary with quiet love and dumb cheerfulness.
Aya, the eldest, left home five years before the catastrophe, having taken a job on the other side of the world. When she had hesitated to go so far away from town and her parents, Gil told her she should live her own life the best she could and not be a too bloody philanthropist. Two years later, Reya, the youngest, was accepted as a boarding student at the local University, coming home on a visit only two or three times a year.
Left on their own, the love between Nunez and Gil had intensified; the more Gil’s health deteriorated, the more her husband stayed home. He was constantly looking for excuses to be absent from work, spending his time in the company of his wife as much as he could. Gil had the knack of keeping them both in a carefree, cheerful mood, even through the severest attacks of her illness. After a while, she became too weak to get out of bed, to spend even a few hours sitting up in her wheelchair. Nunez, unwilling to hire a nurse, took an unpaid indefinite leave from his job to look after his wife. He knew her illness was reaching its peak, and he was not going to lose even one moment of their life together.
The day came when she told him to fetch the girls home. After he had sent the messages, he sat by her, tending her through the final fit from which he knew she would never rise again.
When everything was over, the body had been cremated and the three survivors had come back to the little flat, Aya said, “Father, what are you going to do now?”
“Aren’t you going back to work? Surely they would take you back?” Reya added, worryingly.
“First let me know what’s doing with you,” Nunez said quietly, unemotionally.
He had almost gotten unused to talking to his daughters, whom he had brought up from little girls. They were grown women now, almost strangers to him after the exclusive time he had spent with his wife and never leaving the appartment.
There was a short pause, then Aya said, “I’m marrying that man I’ve been living with, Father.”
She had been pacing restlessly around the small living room, and Nunez looked up at her from his low sitting position. He smiled weakly. “That’s nice. Is he a good man?”
Aya shrugged. “He is good enough, and it’s easier to rear a child together.”
He nodded. Then he looked at his younger daughter. “I’m sorry we haven’t talked for such a long time. How’re your studies going, Reya?”
“I’ve got my degree and working on the doctorate thesis.”
“What’s it about?”
“Ecology. It’s the main interest today, so I’d have no trouble in having it accepted.”
He nodded again. They were settled. That was good, because he did not think he could do anything for them. He was glad his job at home was done.
“But what about you, Father?” The elder asked again, though it was clear her mind was far away.
“I don’t want you to worry about me. I’ll find my way. But I have to look round a bit. Now that you mother is gone, I’ll have to find something else to do...” His voice trailed, dissolving into nothing.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar