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A Paper Monument

She had an idea. I liked it. We wrote a novel. That’s the long and the short of it. Well, the short of it, anyway. The long of it was just a bit more involved. She was Esther Darlene (Darls) Epstein. I’m her husband Barry. We both had a lifelong love of literature, and I wrote short stories for fun. That’s the genesis of our story.

When I retired from teaching in 2003, we decided to escape the ravages of winter on Manitoulin Island and spend some time in the south, so we closed up the house and headed for Florida. That’s when Darls had her idea; a story about the people of the future, living in a world ravaged by climate change, forced to live in cities under domes for self-preservation. I was working on another novel at the time, but I found her idea so intriguing that I put aside mine to follow hers.

Darls had been in poor health for many years, but still managed to travel. On the four day trip south we threw ideas back and forth, developed characters, envisioned scenes and settings, plot threads, and we built a city and a new, idealized world. It took us, on and off, four years to realize our dream. I did the actual writing; she was my editor, my collaborator, my harshest critic.

Another two years went by, as I attempted to find a publisher or an agent, without success. We amassed a fine collection of rejection letters, but we were undeterred. At age 70, in acknowledgement of our mortality, we decided to publish the book on our own. Fortunately, a friend who had read the manuscript pointed us towards a publisher in Indiana that would do the job quickly and relatively inexpensively. I say fortunately because, barely six weeks into the project, Darls was diagnosed with lung cancer. Due to the poor state of her health, no treatment options were viable. From January of 2012 she fought to stave off the ravages of the disease, struggled to stay optimistic, even though we both knew the inevitable outcome. Characteristically, she was more worried about being a burden on me, an imposition, than she was about herself. She worried about how I would finance her funeral and how I would manage after she was gone. We discussed all of this as I sat by her bed, attempting to reassure her that I’d be just fine, though my concern was with her pain and her state of mind and her fear of what lay ahead.

It was a terrible thing to see; her weight loss, her deficit of memory and concentration, her deteriorating faculties. Near the end of April we received copies of the publisher’s proofs of Usher’s Harbour; one hardcover and one softcover. She got to hold them and see her name in print, and to read my dedication to her inside. A few weeks later we received a shipment of the finished product, and we sold our first copy to a friend just days before she lost the final battle. She drifted off to sleep as we watched television together and just never woke up. Our novel is a monument to her; to her courage and her determination, to her wisdom and to her dedication to raising our four boys, and to the forty-six years of love and support and companionship we gave to each other. Nothing more need be said.