The clock on the wall ticked and tocked as she waited. The end of the hallway loomed ahead of her like the mouth of a large cave, bits of moonlight glinting across the floor as it peeked through the window. Three more minutes, and she would be free.
Thirty-seven years of marriage and she still liked to pace through the house as Hal snorted and grunted in his sleep. It was a horrible kind of noise - the kind of noise that reminded her of the low hum of a motorboat, sputtering and whining as it changed gears. Thirty-seven years of sleepless nights - of uneven breathing - of wet, moist coughs that interrupted Peggy's soft slumber. Two minutes, she noted, as she leaned heavy against the linen closet door.
Thirty-seven years and two beautiful children, whose smiling faces plastered the walls of Peggy's slightly outdated home. In the dark, she eyed the family portrait, noting Claudia's long, auburn hair and Stephen's misshapen, but handsome Roman nose. He, too, snored, but was in no way the same orchestra of regurgitated sounds that Hal was. As if on cue, Hal stirred again, taking a deep mucous-filled snort. It was a sound Peggy knew well. It meant that Hal was falling into a deeper sleep - the kind of sleep that only fire alarms and smoke detectors could disturb. But not the kind of sleep that quieted her husband. Not yet - it was still one minute away.
Thirty-seven years of this strangled cacophony. Peggy's legs, bare but covered in liver spots, carried her down the hallway. She recalled the day Hal proposed to her, his mud-brown eyes searching her own as he bent on one stubby knee. The moment of silence before her resounding "Yes!" had been encompassing. She swam in that moment, heart exploding with excitement and peace and awe, even now. From the second Hal slipped the ring onto her bony hand, Peggy knew her life would be full with him in it.
For thirty-seven years and two-and-a-half minutes, Peggy had patiently watched Hal dream. His eyes moved rapidly beneath his lids, and his mouth gaped open, letting guttural sounds emerge without pause. Peggy touched a weathered hand to Hal's aging skin, soothingly stroking his temples. She smiled gently at the gurgling man, letting her hands search his sleeping face, and remembering the last thirty-seven years she'd spent at his side. The thirty-seven years of sleepless nights. Of beautiful children. Of strangled cacophony.
She closed her eyes, as she often would, and imagined her trembling fingers wrapping around his soft, wrinkled throat. She imagined smothering his snores with the down pillow that he insisted helped him sleep better. She imagined the silence that would come.
And then, she noticed, it did. Hal's strangled noises paused. His breathing lulled. Peggy opened her eyes. Hal's chest remained motionless.
"Hal?" Peggy whispered. Then, with more volume, she cried, "Hal!"
Her hands grasped at his shoulders, shaking him as she sobbed. She remembered every traceable moment over their last thirty-seven years and three minutes. She remembered joy rides in Hal's old Cadillac and Saturday morning trips to Costco. She remembered the way Hal called her "Doll" - even as the years stole her youth. She remembered the day he heroically carried a seven-year-old Claudia, blood-covered and tear-stained, two miles home from a bike ride gone awry. And how he had built a casket of old plywood for the family dog when Stephen insisted on a proper funeral for Skip. Tears streamed down Peggy's panicked face - thin, skeletal fingers still shaking her husband frantically.
Suddenly, a violent gasp escaped the lifeless body. Hal's eyes widened.
"Hal! Hal, " Peggy sobbed, as Hal struggled to get air, "A-are you okay? Tell me you're okay!"
Hal inhaled sharply, sitting upright. He smiled, and the lines beside his eyes crinkled as he fought to catch his breath. He opened his arms, pulling Peggy onto the bed, close to him.
Peggy settled into the sheets beside Hal, curling up against his warmth. Tears still streamed silently down her cheeks.
"Y-you scared me," she said with a whisper. "I thought - thought that you..."
"Shhhh," Hal stroked Peggy's hair, "Don't talk like that, Doll. I'm just fine. Not going anywhere yet. Now, close your eyes and get some sleep."
Wordlessly, Peggy obliged. With a heavy sigh, and Hal's arms wrapped around her, she drifted into a deep slumber.
After thirty-seven years and twelve minutes of marriage, Peggy found herself awoken yet again by the sounds of disgruntled distress beside her. Thirty-seven years and twelve minutes of togetherness. She smiled, noting the soft symphony Hal made as he slept - the gentle babbling that left Peggy aware that more years were to come.