An entry for the Famous First Lines contest on WritersCo.
The edges of things are what fascinate him; the change of a season, the seashore, the first hint of light at dawn. It has been like this ever since he can remember, much to the vexation of his parents. They never could approve of his habit to drop everything else in favour of exploring what scarce nature surrounded his childhood home, or observing the people in the neighbourhood. Now that he has finally moved out on his own, he finds the fascination is ever stronger, ever growing. There is this urge, this compulsion to witness and record every moment of transition possible. These days, he never leaves his apartment without a camera.
Perhaps, he sometimes thinks, it is because he has always walked along a fine edge himself. He was a sickly child, and the misfortune of poor health has followed him to frequently ravage even his matured body. It is only a matter of time before it caves completely.
This is something he has accepted, even embraced, a long time ago. He has vowed to live without regrets until the inevitable happens.
However, when one day he opens his eyes to the stark white ceiling of a hospital room and is told by a sympathetic nurse he may be running out of time in a few short days, something inside snaps.
"Robert," his doctor begins in a tone she must no doubt think is soothing, "I know this is a lot to face, even for you, but aren't there still things you would like to do? Your photography, for example, I've seen how passionate you are about--"
He cuts her off with an angry, jerking movement of his hand, the one that doesn't have tubes attached to it; he has no time for this. Shakily, he gets up on unsteady feet, but is forced to sit on the edge of his bed until the dizziness passes.
Never before has he felt this humiliated, this helpless, this-- this afraid. He is truly on the edge now, and it is a terrifying thing, to finally come face to face with his own mortality, the betrayal of his fragile body. It is with difficulty that he manages to keep his voice even, dispassionate, as he asks to be left alone. For someone to call his friend Nadia, no, not his parents; just Nadia. He loathes the pitying looks he gets as they file out of the room.
Looking around, he spots his camera on the night table, stares at it like its presence, its very existence in his suddenly shadowed world makes no sense. He reaches out, then snatches his arm back at the unbidden urge to throw the object against a wall.
He wishes to break something as he has been broken, but not this, never this. There would be no end of grief then. He takes deep breaths; in, out, in, steadily, slowly, until he feels more in control, more like himself. "Never despair" has been his motto even before he quite understood the meaning, and he will not fail himself now. The world shall see no tears from him.
When his best friend arrives, after a time that seems interminable but must be only half an hour, if even that, he is sitting on a chair, staring out the window at the sky that has just begun to darken. The sunset, he can see, will be one of the most beautiful he has witnessed. As Nadia comes to stand on his left and lays a hand on his shoulder, he barely reacts. They do not need words to communicate.
The sunset is as gorgeous as he anticipated. His window gives out to the sea, and as there are no trees or high buildings to obscure the view, he can observe every single moment of the vibrant painting. As the light slowly dies away, the reds, oranges and violets of the sky become ever deeper in shade, colouring ocean and clouds both. The last, long licks of the sun are almost blinding, but their eyes never stray. Then, as it finally dips below the horizon and the deep blue reigns sky and water once more, he feels like he has been given something invaluable; something precious to cherish in his last days.
It is somehow fitting that the only photographs of this will be those etched in his memory.
He turns to his friend, then, and finds a pair of dark eyes calmly examining him. She has known him only a few years, but in that time, they have shared everything; he has made no secret of his frailty to protect her feelings and she, in return, has never pitied him, only supported him through all. She is just as prepared for this as he, and in this moment, it is with profound relief that he takes her hand and squeezes, just a little. He is grateful for her presence, and probably for the first time, he truly regrets that he has not the words to tell her so. But as she smiles, a soft, sad smile, he is comforted that she knows either way.
They spend the night talking, heedless of the fact that visiting hours have ended, knowing that the staff will turn a blind eye to this violation of hospital rules; they feel that giving him some freedom will ease the stress of his continuing deterioration. It is almost thoughtful of them, and appreciated by both Nadia and himself.
Just before he falls asleep, in the wee hours of the morning when the sky has already begun to lighten in expectation of the dawn, he makes his final request of her. It is a hard one, and he wishes there were a way to apologise for what he is going to make her do; in the end, though, neither of them would have it differently. When he gives her the key to his apartment, their fingers brush. After a long moment of standing perfectly still, hands still joined in midair, she leans down to kiss him gently.
It is merely a touch of lips on lips, soft against dry and chapped, but it is an expression of the things they have been to each other in the past four years; an expression of the things they never said because it was never necessary.
She leaves, then, taking the camera from the night table, and repeats her promise in a soft caress of his cheek. His eyes are blurred with exhaustion, but he can tell she is smiling that sad smile of hers. It is oddly comforting, and lets his lids close with a sigh.
She will go to his home, photograph and pack everything, and show the pictures to him; then, when it is his time to go, she will stand at the foot of his bed and record his own transition, his slip from the edge. It is a hard thing he has asked of her, but this way, the circle will be complete.
After all, it is the edges of things that fascinate him.