A Serenade – Part VI of VI

He asked me how I wanted to do it. Small? Big? Church? Register office? I had never been terribly romantically inclined and wasn’t one of those girls who’d planned her wedding since she was four. I didn’t have hundreds of friends, family and acquaintances that I needed present, so I went for the least complicated option: register office with two witnesses, namely Mrs Connelly and her son Marcus. I got a simple, white dress and he wore a flawless black suit. We took a taxi together to Westminster City Hall, holding hands. Laura and Marcus were already there when we arrived and took us to the waiting room with other couples.

As it was our turn to stand before the clerk, he looked at Alfredo and nodded. A melody came on and then he started singing. The serenade that he had first performed when he thought I wasn’t around, then again at my request:

Over us the moon is shining
Bright as flowers in the spring
Silently heard is the sound of a bird
Mixing in the air that’s beaming

Can this song be heard forever
As it calls my heart to you
While we drift along together
Adrift are my thoughts of you

Your voice is the sound of the wind beneath the willows
Your features I see in the strangers that I pass
The wind that’s bending, the strangers passing
The seashore brushing against the tide
Stringing along where my heart has a song
And that song in my core cannot pale
This is a serenade, my yearning serenade

Over us the moon is shining
Bright as flowers in the spring
Silently heard is the sound of a bird
Mixing in the air that’s beaming

Can this feeling last forever
There is nothing more I want, so trust me
Let this feeling live forever
And till the end of time

It was soft, powerful, loving, moving and highly emotional. Normally the cheesiness of the lyrics would have made me gag, but the way he sang every word as though he’d written them himself had me in tears. So much so that I was unsure of whether I had any mascara left on my eyelashes by the time he was done. I fell into his arms as he finished the last word on a soaring high note that sent shivers down my spine.

‘I love you,’ he whispered into my ear and kissed my cheek. I was unable to speak but my reaction to his outpouring was probably enough of an answer for him ‘Let’s get married, shall we?’

I turned to the clerk and noticed that he had “something in his eye” and had to clear his throat.

‘Right… we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in marriage… You fell in love by chance, but you’re here today because you’re making a choice. You both are choosing each other. You’ve chosen to be with someone who enhances you, who makes you think, makes you smile, and makes every day brighter. You’re about to make promises to each other that you intend to keep. You’re going to vow to take care of each other, to stand up for one another, and find happiness in the other. There’s a simple premise to each of these promises: you’re vowing to be there. You’re teaming up and saying to the other, “Every experience I am going to have, I want you to be a part of.” Will you, Maria, keep Alfredo as your favorite person – to laugh with him, go on adventures with him, support him through life’s tough moments, be proud of him, grow old with him, and find new reasons to love him every day?’

‘I will.’

‘Will you, Alfredo, keep Maria as your favorite person – to laugh with her, go on adventures with her, support her through life’s tough moments, be proud of her, grow old with her, and find new reasons to love her every day?’

‘Definitely.’

‘I would now like to read “Blessings for a marriage” by James Dillet Freeman.’

While the clerk was reading the Freeman text, Alfredo and I stood holding hands and looking at each other. He finally said we were man and wife, and “you may kiss the bride”. We met in a decent, understated, subdued kiss that would look romantic in a picture, at first. Then we pulled away for a moment, looked at each other again and a devilish look swept across his face. He turned to the clerk, then to our witnesses, said “excuse me”, bent me backwards and kissed me again – Hollywood style. We chuckled all the way out of the room, where the next couple was standing outside. The bride, in her 60s, was looking adoringly at Alfredo as he walked past.

‘Excuse me, Sir, was that you singing in there?’

‘Yes, it was.’

‘You really, really sound like…’

‘I hope you’ll have a wonderful wedding day,’ he smiled and touched her shoulder as we continued walking past them. It wasn’t like him to interrupt someone talking to him. As I was about to ask him, he turned to look at me. Something in his eyes seemed unfocused. Then, I watched it happen as though in slow motion: his hand went up to his chest, his eyes rolled back in his head and his knees gave way. I dropped to the floor and turned him over on his back as Marcus ran to the reception and shouted for them to call 999. I ripped open his jacket and was about to start CPR, once again, when he suddenly gasped for air and his hand took hold of my wrist.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered as a tear ran down his temple. ‘Stay with me… please.’

Blankets appeared out of nowhere, one under his head and one covering him. I lay down on my side and put my head on his shoulder, where I could both be close to him and pay attention to his breathing. I slipped my hand under the blanket and put it on his chest, as his arm went around my back. His heart beat was weak but still somewhat erratic. His complexion was a pale grey and his skin was clammy. I blocked out the noise going on around us and didn’t even notice when the medics arrived, only when they lifted me off him and got him onto a stretcher. I fought off Marcus who wanted to comfort me and ran in the direction of the ambulance. He’d been given an oxygen mask and drifted in and out of consciousness as we rushed to the hospital.

Once we arrived I refused to leave his side, even when he was being examined, and nobody objected. It may have had something to do with me being in a wedding dress, of course. As feared, the news wasn’t good: he once again had blood poisoning, this time more serious than the last time, due to a kidney infection – but his liver was failing, his right kidney had shut down, his left was severely infected and his heart was weaker than ever before.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the doctor. ‘We can make you comfortable, but…’

‘Will you please give me a moment alone with my wife?’

‘Certainly.’

I felt numb. The silence in the room was deafening.

‘I love you, sweetheart. I’m so sorry.’

‘I love you, too,’ I sobbed. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t let you die in this place.’ I hadn’t said the D-word out loud until this point. ‘I’m going to take care of you.’

He nodded with a smile, just as the doctor returned.

‘Knowing you, Alfredo, you want to go home. What are your thoughts?’ he asked me.

‘Just tell me what I need to do.’

‘We’ll administer the first dosage of antibiotics and morphine intravenously and then I’ll give you a written schedule with when you need to administer the antibiotics. I’ll arrange for a nurse to come in three times a day to administer the rest.’

Within two hours we were in a taxi on route to Lennox Gardens. We’d been offered an ambulance, but Alfredo refused. He didn’t like them and wanted to sit next to me instead. He held my hand and rested his head on my shoulder, his breath caressing my naked skin as he was quietly singing the finale of the serenade he’d sung to me at our wedding ceremony a few hours earlier:

‘…can this feeling last forever? There is nothing more I want, so trust me. Let this feeling live forever and till the end of… time…’

Minutes later there was a change in his entire body, that was almost unnoticeable, like every muscle relaxed simultaneously, combined with the steady flow of air against my arm ceasing. I wrapped both my hands tightly around his and let streams of warm tears run down my cheeks, knowing that this was it: his heart had finally given up.

In a bid to keep him with me for as long as possible, I asked the driver to drive around Hyde Park, where he and I had walked every day for the past few months, and then to return to the hospital. I don’t know when the driver realised what was going on, but as soon as we pulled up he left the car and came back with two men in white and a stretcher. A nurse came out to look after me as they took him away. It wasn’t until the double doors closed behind him that it felt like my heart ruptured. The nurse took me to the doctor who had tended to him a short time before. When I stepped into his office he had a package in his hands.

‘He asked me to give you this in the event of his death,’ he said and handed me the brown envelope. ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’

He touched my shoulder as he walked past me. I slowly opened it and took out a vinyl single and a handwritten note. Underneath a picture of him as a young man was the title “A Serenade”, released in 1954. The note said:

“My darling –

Hopefully this will prevent the song in your heart from fading.

I’ll be with you, always.

Alfredo x”

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