He held the paper in front of him. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever written; it would make him famous. He massaged the cramp from his sore wrist and beamed at the sheets in his hand. It had taken years of painstaking effort. It was his life’s work, it had cost them nearly everything, but it was finally ready.
“Honey, is it really finished?” His wife walked in, a cup of tea in her hand, and pointed to the paper.
“Yes”, his voice cracked. “Yes. It’s done” he cleared his throat. “I think it’s done.”
“Oh, Harold,” she glowed. “I’m so very happy for you.” Her face beamed with pride. “Are you happy, darling?”
He nodded, still holding the paper. “Oh, yes. Delighted, my love.” He flashed her a wide grin.
“I brought you some tea”, she said, remembering the cup in her hand. She placed it gently on the table next to the old typewriter.
“Shall I get the wine?” she said in an excited voice. “Yes, it’s perfect! I’ll go and get the bottle!”
He nodded as she darted away in an eager rush and moved to place the paper onto the desk but stopped halfway, looking at it.
How much had this cost them? How many friends? How much time and money?
And he knew his health had suffered for it. So had his wife’s. There was rarely a day where one of them was not suffering from some minor illness. But it was finished. He had done it, and now they could go back to living normally. He could get a job, and they could go on holiday. They would see the grandchildren—how old were they now?
And yet, he hesitated. What would he do now? This was his life. From dawn to dusk, he had known nothing else for many years.
His smile didn’t waver as he placed the paper on his desk, opened the drawer and reached for the small cardboard box hidden away at the back.
* * *
She emptied the final tray of ice cubes into the small metal bucket and placed the bottle of chilled wine into it. This was the most wonderful day; she was so proud of her husband.
She hummed cheerfully as she climbed the stairs but stopped cold at the top as a sound came from the office and turned her skin stone.
The old typewriter clacked.
Something was burning.