Roger and Sue


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Finalist
Jury
Roger was very good at planning and very bad at being alone, which is why he’d always selfishly hoped to marry someone at least five years younger than him.
He knew he’d have to wait a few years to get married so that he wasn’t marrying a child, but he knew it would eventually pan out in his favor. In college he’d have roommates and friends, but later in life, it was harder to find company. Better to be alone now than later.
Roger was twenty-eight when he met Sue. She was perfect, no matter her age. She could have been five years older than him and he probably still would have asked her to marry him as quick as he did. But, thankfully, fate was in his favor—she was exactly five years, two months, and eight days younger than him.
He’d jokingly told her his plan, telling her that he was very bad at being alone. Sue was so perfect that she agreed to his plan. She assured him that she was very good at being alone, and actually was looking forward to her free time later on in life when he wouldn’t be around anymore. She would read every Jane Austen book over and over again, decorate their house in the most outlandish of ways, and perhaps even become a vegetarian.
Their life panned out perfectly. They couldn’t ever have children, but neither of them minded. They were enough for each other. “And now I won’t have to worry about leaving home to visit them. Or waste all my money taking the grandchildren to Disneyland,” Sue would say, relieved, if he ever said that he was sorry that she really would be entirely alone once he was gone.
So life passed peacefully. They got a winter home in Florida, which was Sue’s favorite place. “It’s mostly for when you’re gone,” she’d assure him whenever he’d complain about the severe humidity when they’d visit. “I’ll live much more peacefully if there’s never a single thought of snow in my mind.” They stocked up Sue’s library, entering every used bookstore they ever walked past. They got a good life insurance policy for him so that she’d be well-off enough to travel as she liked, and so she could keep buying books at her leisure. She’d go to spas while he went golfing, she’d pretend not to notice how many pastries he bought at the bakery around the corner, and they’d end each day retelling stories the other had heard dozens of times.
Sue came home one day after being in town, and Roger was sitting on the porch reading the newspaper he had neglected that morning. She sat in her chair to his right, looking out at their yard bathed in afternoon light. Roger reached over and held her hand, continuing to read about the various disasters that never seemed to end in the world.
“I have cancer,” she said in her simple straightforward Sue way.
“You?” Roger asked. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that the doctor told me I have cancer. Shouldn’t be too bad, though. You have nothing to worry about.”
And because Sue was Sue, Roger believed her. She always had things figured out. And besides, they had their plan. “You’re right,” he said.
Weeks and months passed, filled with appointments, surgeries, and chemotherapy, along with piles of bills that outlined very clearly the beginnings of the failure of Roger’s plan. “Stop worrying,” Sue would always say. “I promised you I’d stick around longer.”
But sometimes when she was in the hospital for many days, Roger would come home and look around their house, anxiety rising in him constantly about what he was supposed to do if she left first. They had figured everything out for what she would do, but him without Sue? It wasn’t even a possibility that they had considered. He couldn’t possibly read that much Jane Austen, and he didn’t like Florida at all. And why would he ever travel on his own? And now their empty nest seemed less like a blessing of freedom and more like a curse of loneliness. Roger started a list, just as a backup plan.
Things I can do:
- Fish
- Eat more cake
But that was about as far as he got. Each day that he picked it up, he wanted to add one list item that read think about Sue, but he knew that would only make it worse. But he also knew that’s what he would be doing if she left him.
That last day in the hospital room, sitting next to her, her head wrapped in one of the colorful scarfs he had become so accustomed to, she held onto his hand weakly, and said in the softest of voices, “You’ll be okay. I know you will be.”
“But what will I do? We haven’t planned anything.”
She smiled weakly, her eyes shut. “You haven’t. I have.”
“That’s the problem. It’s just going to be me.”
“Oh, Roger. I’ve always been so much better at planning than you. Don’t worry—you have all you need.”
Roger went home late that night after her hospital room had been emptied and cleaned, unsure how he was supposed to find all he needed amid the piles of things collected for her happy solitude. Everything would just remind him of her and make this all that much worse.
But he entered the library anyway, a place he never really went. The shelves were full of all kinds of worn books, some shelves with double layers of books. He sighed, wondering what to do with himself now. The void of loneliness before him encompassed all his thoughts.
He saw a stack of books on a coffee table and went to put them away, until he saw an envelope on top of them. It said Roger in the handwriting that was more familiar to him than his own, her cursive shakier than it had been in earlier years.
Inside was a list, written in her hand.
Roger’s to-do:
- Go to that golf course you’ve always wanted to
- Buy all the pastries you want
- Get a boat
- Sell the Florida house and move to Vermont
- Never become a vegetarian
- Go on a walk each night
It went on, for pages and pages. Some were outlandish suggestions that he was sure were only there to make him laugh, but most were perfect for him. She had even put brochures of places she suggested to visit, there was a ticket to a car show a month from then in Vermont, and she had left the name of a friend’s daughter who was a real estate agent that could sell the Florida house as soon as possible.
I love you. I’m sorry I ruined your plans. Cliché as it sounds, I really am there with you always. I wouldn’t dare leave you alone.
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