I remember finalizing the cover of 'Gallows'. Chris had a very critical eye. I was the one with artistic talent, but he was the one with taste. So we cranked his side of the bed up so he could see the screen on my laptop, and with the aid of Picasso 3, we took the photo I had selected and ran it through numerous edits and enhancements until he asked me if he could play with my laptop and I passed it to him.
He took the photo I wanted to use and cropped it and edited the image, Next, he changed the lighting and the colors to a two-tone red and black that conveyed the feeling of the novel. 'I like it when I can be of some help,' he said, and he lowered his side of the bed and went to sleep. At first, I wasn't sure I like what he had done to my creation, but I was determined not to tell him, and by morning I could see how much better it was than the one I had struggled to perfect. That is the way things were with us. And that is why I immediately began working on 'Deliverance.' Both of us needed me to be near his side of the bed. Two months later, Chris died peacefully in his sleep. His last words were to our aging malamute: 'You'll always be Daddy's good puppy, Maxx.'
There are always chores and duties associated with a death in the immediate family, but I was not new to them. I had buried my third husband and my first-born son within six months of one another during my third year of law school. Both of my parents passed in the next decade, and my baby sister died of a brain tumor in 2008 while I was beginning my first and favorite novel, The First Marie and the Queen of Scots. She did not sleep well at the end and would email me at all hours, and if I was awake and writing, I would send her what I had produced that day. In many ways, her passing was more difficult than Chris's, because he was ready, and she was not. She missed the birth of the last six of her eight grandchildren. Hers was a short and unforeseen illness, but, Chris's last illness was not his first illness and, in spite of brief periods of reprieve, it lasted for ten years. By 2013, he was entirely bed bound, and from there, he proofed my second novel, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, from his side of the bed as I wrote it. When he passed, my enthusiasm for writing also passed. Those who have read the novels in my Legacy series know they have a large romantic component beginning with The Last Knight's Daughter when I introduced bastards Daisy Kirkcaldy to Will Hepburn and let them fall tumultuously in love. Perhaps I abandoned them because with Chris gone from my daily life, I was jealous.
Late this winter I reviewed what I had written in a single setting, knowing I either had to scrap my manuscript and stop fooling myself into thinking I was a writer, or I had to bring Will and Daisy home. I had no idea which. but it was too cold to paint ceilings or repair damaged walls. For want of a better alternative, I began to write myself out of my dilemma, and in doing so, I interjected hints of the romance missing from life into the story. I am not a romance writer, If I were, I would have been thrilled with my creation, but the orthodox historian that is my alter ego had trouble dealing with it. After all. my fugitive was a well-known Jesuit, and in the words of one of my principal characters, 'the Church cannot tolerate another Luther.' Who was I, a lapsed Episcopalian turned agnostic, to even consider the Jesuit John Gerard might have had more than a desire to follow his colleagues into martyrdom keeping him in England?
Out of frustration, I closed my Word processor and went back to Google's scholarly sub-site and my personal research library. The Jesuit's own work, The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, skirted the tensions in his personal life with finesse, but then, his ultimate sponsor was the Vatican. Other sources suggested I may have uncovered a historical truth. Perhaps John Gerard did not wish to be rescued. I relaxed and let Daisy and Will solve the mystery, and they engaged Will Shakespeare and the notable Vaux family of Harrowden to help.
My own life is neither better nor worse than it was six months ago. I still struggle with the American political climate. I still have walls to paint, flooring to repair, cabinets to resurface. I am working on a new Bucket List: I want to travel wherever I need to go to hear Yevgeny Sudbin play Rachmaninoff and I want to sit on the beach at Monterey one last time. I would like to visit the Opera House in Manaus and pretend I am Clarice Starling with emerald studs in my ears and Dr. Lechter at my side (a romance less likely that the one I shared with Chris, but not by much); but none of those are essential.
This is the week of the Solstice. Tomorrow the sun will rise beyond a certain notch in the hills above the Combat Center at 29 Palms, and in November, behind a house on a ridge to the Southeast. At the end of the last millennium, while our son still lived with us, Chris had taken to getting us out of bed early and marching up a dirt trail that leads to the BLM land just beyond the ridge on the border of Joshua Tree National Park. One of the homeowners had set out a water trough on the wild side of his property and we could see the footprints of the goats and occasional Bighorn sheep that watered there. While it would be nice to walk that way again, it is an excursion best left to someone with a Jeep. A knee transplant is not on my Bucket List. More frequent visits from friends and family would be nice but I am neither housebound nor alone. From my patio at sunset, I can look beyond the hills where wild things roam and see all the way to the Borders of Early Modern Scotland.