In his mind, she’s there keeping him company.
He builds, pours his sweat and tears into it. The construction of her cabin.
(Laura, he whispers, every morning.
The wind howls back.)
A crisp chill is coming in from the northwest by the time he’s nearing the end, affixing the roof to the frame, the walls that hold everything up. His nose is usually red by the end of the day.
Or maybe the cold is his imagination.
Maybe it comes from within his bones.
He thinks about Earth. How, according to legend, they’d mastered the pattern of rotation, known the truth of the tides and the hemispheres, known when the seasons would start to turn based on a calendar of the moon.
There’s a tally of the nightfalls and sunrises on a wooden post in the soon-to-be kitchen. He keeps track every day. It’s something to hold onto. Something to which he has a solid, definite answer.
39 days and nights here.
He’s lost some weight. There’s not much choice in the matter when he insists that every day be spent exerting energy. Energy not spent on finding food, rather on finding her somewhere within this edifice. This dedication.
Tears come often.
When it’s complete, he tells her about it, proud, a break in his words as he rests on the floor by the fire.
He hears her voice whistle through the hiss of the kettle he’d salvaged.
(The water is ready for tea. She’s making herself known. If he can find his voice, later, he’ll read to her spirit.)
“Bill,” he hears, uncanny and her, hitched miracle of a whisper through the quiet. Embers crackle; he holds his breath. "When I was ten years old, my favorite aunt died. And do you know what I would do?"
“What’s that, my love?” he asks the air, praying she’ll answer back, praying to the Gods that she’ll hear him and tell him how to live this.
“I used to make myself as small as possible. I’d curl up in a corner and allow myself to feel.”
The low hymn of her ghost echoes in the cabin for the rest of the evening, until he can’t stay awake any longer and sleep claims his body.
He hacks out in slumber. Low, bronchial outbursts, so cold that he shivers and shakes, curls into the corner, a blanket over him. His own body fails to enclose him in warmth.
He’s coming down with something.
He’s not surprised that there’s an After.
Zak believed this.
Laura had mentioned it a few times, said she’d found her mother there, in a world that hung between then and eternity.
In a way, he’s glad he hadn’t known how things could be, realized that Heaven is defined by the culmination of everything beloved, strung together like pearls in a picture of blissful and complete beauty.
His exact vision of good.
(He’d have let lives go to waste had he known this awaited them. He’d have lost battles. He’d have given up.)
Zak is there, his arms outstretched and ready to bear his father’s weight.
(Of course he’s there. He is his son.)
Laura appears, a welcoming smile causing the ivory of her skin to glow. Her small hands shake at the sight of him.
(Of course she’s there. She is his sun.)
“Missed you,” she says, dark eyes shining, the delicate touch of her chin on his shoulder.
“I love you,” he replies, sideways figure eights on his mind as he closes his arms around her. Infinity is a light weight affirmed, now, by this.