MOLKHO'S WIFE DIED at 4 A.M., and Molkho did his best to mark the moment forever, MOLKHO'S WIFE DIED at 4 A.M., and Molkho did his best to mark the moment forever, because he wished to be able to remember it. And indeed, thinking back on it weeks and even months later, he was convinced that he had managed to refine the instant of her passing (her passing? he wasn't sure the word was right) into something clear and vivid containing not only thought and feeling but also sound and light, such as the maroon glow of the small electric heater, the greenish radiance of the numbers on the digital clock, the yellow shaft of light from the bathroom that cast large shadows in the hallway, and perhaps, too, the color of the sky, a pinkish ivory set off by the deep obscurity around it. He would have liked to think he recalled the dark morning sky because it added a stirring, elemental touch of nature, but he could not be sure of it, any more than he could be of the whisper of the wind and the rain; yet he was certain that there had been music- yes, real music he himself had turned on hesitatingly but convinced that if she wished to hear anything at all as she died, it was the music she had cared for so much in those last months when reading had become such a chore for her. Like the radio operator of a military vehicle heading into battle, she would adjust the small stereo earphones in the dead, painful twilight hours between the visits of her friends, her talks with her children, and her various treatments and pills; choose one of the cassettes by her bedside; and switch on the tape machine. She discussed this music with him and even once hinted that when the end came (so they referred to her death), she would like him to play some of it for her: if he saw it wasn't too much for her, she said, he should let her have music- and he was happy to be able to oblige, for she had trained him well during those last months and he had learned to do exactly as she told him, taking everything with the utmost seriousness. And so now, too, he remembered to flip the switch, though he didn't dare put on the earphones but rather left them dangling by her head as he cranked up the bed, so that from the two pillows came the sound of wind instruments, distant and muffled but assertive, the solemn, aerial flourish of the breathless, staccato hunting horns in the Mahler symphony that he had inserted in the deck three days ago, for though he did not know if its throbbing strains were really the most suitable, he was afraid to surprise her with anything new, no matter how peaceful and simple.
It was thus that he remembered the moment of her death, by its exact bars, the repetition of which could recreate at will that final scene in the silence of the night. He had no way of knowing which of the undulating notes had entered her consciousness as she breathed her last, no way (nor did he seek to find one) of telling if she heard them at all. Never taking his eyes off her, ardent with pity and zeal, he had let himself be led through a black forest in the light of a damp, chill dawn, struggling past heavy branches toward a lit valley or hollow and the soft, tawny doe that stood there, pursued and yet summoned by the throbbing horns.
Just then her breathing had stopped. He didn't touch her, afraid to wake her or hurt her- and yet that was it, the moment she never would know, though of all the moments in the world it was the one most intimately and individually hers, presided over by that invisible hand that tells us thus far and no further. He had never thought much about such things as life after death or reincarnation, had indeed thanked her mentally for shying away from all that mysticism, whose dark unreason would only have been swept away anyhow by her aggressive, bitter intellectuality. It suited him perfectly to be alone with her now, alert, quiet, and wholly concentrated, with no one to distract him or share his thoughts with and, above all, with no doctor or nurse to try some new tube or drug, but rather all by himself, exclusively in control and in charge- alone with the lights, alone with the sounds, alone with Death, the same Death he once had imagined in the form of the black shot put he was made to throw in gym class, the ball of Death that had rolled into her room several days ago and lain silently beneath the furniture or the bed, despite all his efforts to heave it back even a few feet. That Death was now right by him, astonishingly piercing and bursting forth from her at once, while his only thought was to keep her from feeling any pain- yes, that had been his sole mission in recent months, to ease her pain, so that even now, at the last moment, a whole battery of remedies and devices was available for the task: cranks, handles, crutches, a wheelchair, a washbasin, a fan, medicines, drugs, an oxygen mask, an entire field hospital in one small room, all to lessen her pain, all to help her soul exit gently.
Yes, always, even when sitting at his desk, even when walking in the street, erect, slow, and preoccupied, his head already gray yet his body still youthful, even when eating or sleeping, he had thought all the time of her pain and how to cope with it, had listened continually to her disease-eaten, scalpel-scarred, drug-swollen hulk of a body, which, stewing in the inflorescence of its poisons, had lain for weeks on end in the same giant, ultramodern hospital bed standing like a chariot in the middle of the room, with its jellylike water mattress and its cranks, bars, and wheels, in the hope that her last journey might take place at home and that all those ministering to it- her mother, her children, her family, her friends, and above all, he himself, its general manager- might get her safely past her rampaging illness to the competent quietude of an inevitable death. Lying next to her like a loyal staff officer on the plain, narrow bed that had replaced the old king-size one they had shared since their marriage until the day it...