"You awake, Holmes?"
"Yes, yes of course. It feels better to have my eyes closed, that's all. So pick up where we left off." He shuffled his shoulders deeper into the pillows as I painted pictures with my voice.
…And yet it seemed to me my palette was terribly wan; I could not help recalling my voice of the past, how it rang out strong and confident with a militant edge. Now it was more akin to the awkward voice of my youth.
Holmes was not the only one who had changed, I knew…
"Yes? What comes next, Watson?" Holmes' voice was strident and displeased, and as I glanced over I saw him frowning. I began reading the next verse and he settled down in a cat-like manner, frown disappearing.
Beauty, it seemed, was in the ears of the beholder as well as the eyes.
"I still don't understand Boyle's law."
"Well, it's like this—"
I looked up from the old scientific journal we were flipping through. "Yes? What is it like, Holmes?"
"Complicated? Strange? Irrational?"
"Too hard for me to grasp?"
"No!" His face was growing frantic and he was making an anxious, repetitive gesture.
"Yes! Yes, that's it. That's right." He grabbed my hand tightly, taking a moment to compose himself before he leaned back, straightening the collar of his nightgown—he rarely dressed these days.
"It's like this, Watson. As long as you fully understand what an inverse proportional relationship is…"
"How was town? Stop trying to hide that package behind your back, and come show it to me."
"I wasn't planning on it…"
"It's only a little something I got for my room, Holmes, you'd think it frivolous."
"Well, I want to see it. So hand it over." He sniffed the paper, ran his fingers along it and began to unwrap it with interest. "Oh…"
"Yes, it's just a painting."
He looked down at the bucolic country scene, the focus on the wispy clouds. He picked it up almost reverently, running his fingers along the frame, seeing it as more than colour and chemicals. In fact he saw something in it that I could not.
"I could hang in here, of course, if you'd like," I said into the silence. "Only there's no room, with all the pictures of criminals."
He looked about him. "Take them down, Watson, and pack them away. These pictures are from another time in my life. I am done scourging the darkness; now I wish to fix my eyes on lighter things."
I had the picture hung by that evening.
"Are you being serious?"
He looked amused and bewildered at once. "Whatever brought this idea to your mind?"
"I'm not sure, Holmes. It's just that—well I spend so much time in your room anyway, and…it's just very lonely, to be by myself at night."
"Watson, I don't have power over your dreams," he chuckled. "Isn't it the same, whether you sleep by yourself on in here?"
"No, it's very different," I insisted desperately. "It's not the same at all, Holmes. Look, we can ask that man from town to move my mattress in here, on the floor by the wall. No trouble for either of us, and I'll make sure none of your papers are touched. Holmes--." I looked up a moment. "This is just something I need, to be—nearer, to you. I need to be close by." Having made this admission I coloured and waited in silence.
"It's the most ridiculous idea you've ever had."
I nodded, forcing a smile and getting to my feet.
"And, one of the best."
I turned quickly to see his eyes dancing.
"Sleep well, Holmes?"
"Hm? How's that?"
"You were giggling half the night."
"I was sleeping in a different room, I was excited!"
"Apparently." Holmes gave me a look of affectionate condescension, his head resting on his pillow. "I must say I'm glad these fits of levity started now, rather than the tender start of your career; no one would have taken your stories seriously."
"Eh?" I sat up, hugging my knees and looking at him curiously.
"Well, take that dramatic scene in "The Birlstone Mystery." It would have read something like, 'I had already started laughing, but I did dimly notice that Holmes was preparing for staying up all night—he put on a blue dressing gown, which was quite fitting because my face was getting to be—'"
"Dash it all, I was not laughing that hard," I snorted, shoving my feet into a pair of slippers. I reached for my own dressing gown, and paused. "You do remember that night, Holmes?"
"Oh yes. Very peaceful, very serene…it's a rare but lovely thing when the mind has the right combination of stimulation and peace. As great as you made my brain out to be, it was most finicky."
"Is," I corrected, finishing slipping into my dressing gown and standing up, tying it around my waist. "I hope—I hope I added to the peaceful part," I added hesitantly.
He smiled in reply, and I went to make us some tea.
I settled onto my mattress, book in hand—my back hurt too much to sit in a chair for long stretches of time now. I felt Holmes' expectant eyes on me as I thumbed to the right page, but suddenly a weariness bit all the way to my bones, and I felt the book slip from my hands.
I looked over to see him resting his head on the edge of his bed, looking at me from under troubled brows.
"I'm all right, Holmes…I'm just so tired…" I sagged against my pillows, trying not to move as I felt my energy drain away…everything was just been building up, all my worries and lists of things to do, and I suddenly found myself empty.
I gasped in surprise as a thin hand pressed on my chest, my eyes shot open. "I said I was tired Holmes, not going into heart failure!"
"You should have specified," he fussed, keeping his hand on my chest for several more seconds until he nodded in approval and sat on the floor by the head of my makeshift bed. He had dragged his blanket off the bed with him and now he folded it around himself with a small shiver. "You do too much, Watson. We have a housekeeper and a handyman, you don't have to be worrying all the time. And I am aware when you come over to my bed in the middle of the night to see if I'm breathing, Watson. You never were the stealthiest fellow."
He picked up the book I'd dropped with a slightly unsteady hand and leaned his elbow on my bed. "I'll read today. Oh shush, Watson." He pulled his glasses from his pocket and was about to put them on when he paused and tugged my blanket up to my shoulders, nodding in satisfaction and completing the involved process of settling his reading glasses on his aquiline nose. I had heard him craft his own poetry—though he preferred the term "soliloquy," but I'd never heard him read someone else's poem and I listened in anticipation.
He read with confidence and drama, as if he instantly saw inside the meaning of every word and the myriad shades of meaning that were wrought by combining them. He read in the tone of an impassioned scholar, though his voice was perhaps not as strong as in his acting days. After several pages, his voice trailed off and his head came to rest on my shoulder.
I closed my eyes.
The days are going faster, Holmes, can you feel it? —I see them flashing, leaving me breathless as from an autumn wind. Sometimes at night, after I've made sure you're still breathing, I lay in bed and the pictures of our days move by with each blink. With each blink, a new picture rushes into my brain and swims up into my eyes. I can hear the click of a camera, I can feel my life's history growing bent, yellowed, faded and blistered with salt water.
And for all that, Holmes, for all the bewilderment that comes from the shortening days, I'll have you know: this quiet time of ours, side by side pasting our last photos in the scrapbook of our life--this time is more precious than an endless summer day by myself.