Tuesday, 9:43 am
A long hacking cough, punctuated by a sudden intake of breath before continuing. Tears streaming down her blemished face, collecting in the crevices of her pockmarked skin. A nurse rushes over, dabs a tissue by her purple lips, wiping bile from her chin and rubs her back with gloved hands, soothing her. She settles back into the bed, looks at her husband with wary eyes.
He's sick of that word. She’s sorry for everything. Sorry that she forces him to visit. Sorry that he must look at her like this. Sorry that she snaps at him. He gives her a strained smile.
There’s a soft stream of sunlight through the blinds of the window and he closes his eyes, wishing he was anywhere but in the hospital room. He used to pick flowers for her, tulips and daffodils from their back garden but he lost the motivation to do it long ago. He’d place them next to her, on the end table covered in pamphlets offering end of life care or charities to get in touch with. He’d done his best to hide them under the vase but she had noticed.
“I’m not dead yet, James. You can stop with the damned flowers.” From that moment on he never brought her flowers again.
“Are you tired?” She asks him this in a hoarse voice, a sound a human can only make if they spend their days coughing up blood. James opens his eyes and lets his eyes adjust to the reality in front of him.
“A little. I’m okay.” That’s another word he loathes.
He’s been putting on an act of defiance for so long he doesn’t know how he feels. He knows he should feel pain, a sinking, horrible feeling that the love of his life will be taken from him, or he should feel anger at the God who has callously permitted this kind woman to suffer. But he doesn’t, he feels nothing except exhaustion. He never tells Mary how he feels because she wouldn’t understand, she’s too busy being wrapped up in her own tragedy to care how James feels. She used to cry about dying, now she waves it in the air like a flag of pity, drawing in nurses and family to fawn over her while James watches in the distance.
Maybe he does feel something after all. Resentment.
Tuesday, 11:08 am
Frank visits at ten and meets James in the hallway outside Mary’s room bringing a gift of coffee and a box of chocolates. He hands his son over the coffee and pulls him into a hug made awkward from the two men trying to balance a hot beverage and chocolate.
“I thought you might need this.” Frank looks older with unshaven white stubble and bloodshot eyes. He looks as though he’s been crying.
“Thanks, Dad.” He feels somewhat guilty now, that his father feels more remorse for his dying daughter-in-law than her husband does. There’s an awkward pause and his father gestures towards the box of chocolates.
“I picked these up yesterday and figured Mary could do with eating something other than hospital food. A few have liquor in them but I’m sure she’ll let you eat those.”
James nods solemnly at his father’s attempt to lighten the conversation. Chocolate liquors are the last thing he needs, he’s been drinking heavily for the past two months. He faced an interview with his boss last week and was told that if he ever came into work with a hangover again he’d be suspended. James figured that if anyone else had done the same thing they’d have been fired but having a dying wife is sometimes enough to justify reckless behaviour.
“How is she today?” Frank lowers his voice just in case Mary can hear him from up the corridor. There’s no need to do it, since the chatter of other patients and nurses drowns him out but nobody enjoys talking about a dying woman when she’s barely thirty feet away.
“She’s…in good form. Talkative.” That’s not a complete lie, she did force James to listen to the plot of some rom-com the nurses put on for her.
His father nods. “That’s good then. How are you?”
Fantastic. Drinking heavily. Hating life. “I’m okay.”
Frank half-laughs and shakes his head. “I’m sorry, it’s a ridiculous question. You’re hurting, like anyone would be.” James doesn’t know how to respond to this and he hangs his head in what he believes is shame.
“We should go and see her.” James nods down to Mary’s room, pointing his finger to the open door at the end of the hallway. His shoes squeak against the linoleum as his father pulls him back, hand gripping his shoulder.
“James,” There’s a look of worry in his eyes and James forces himself to look into them. “You don’t have to do this alone. You’re welcome to stay with me.”
James doesn’t want to talk about this. His father had already invited him into his apartment too many times already and James simply doesn’t want to go. He can’t sleep in his childhood room, lousy with drink and half-mad from a concoction of emotion. He’d rather go insane in the luxury of his own home.
“I’m fine Dad, really.” Lies roll off the tongue so easily. “I need to sort things out at home anyway.”
Frank smiles and pats his son’s shoulder. “You do what you need to do. If you ever need me, call me and I’ll be right over. I understand how horrible all of this is for you.”
He doesn’t understand. Nobody can understand.
Tuesday, 13:26 pm
James stands outside the hospital, cigarette in hand. He never smokes but his nerves have been so strung today that he needs a dose of nicotine to calm him down. He can’t listen to Mary anymore, can’t cope with the boring small talk finished off by hacking and he needs silence.
A figure emerges from the corner of the hospital, smoking a cigarette of her own. She’s got a white dress, cut a little too short to be modest and a pair of slim legs ending in a pair of white pumps.
“I know it’s bad,” She says to James when it catches him looking at her. “But it calms me down.”
“It’s okay, same with me.” She laughs and James takes the opportunity to inspect her chest. She’s well-endowed but she’s buttoned up her dress right the way up and left everything to the imagination. James looks at her legs instead.
“You’re not a registered nurse! I tell about twenty people a day to quit smoking and here I am doing the same thing!”
James forces a laugh just so the conversation can continue and so he can look at her legs for a little while longer. He takes a drag of his cigarette and the nurse does the same and there’s a moment of peace that James hasn’t had in a long, long time.
It goes. “You visiting anyone?”
This catches James off-guard. “Err…yeah. Yeah, my friend had an accident. I’m seeing how he is.”
“Oh, gosh.” She flicks her cigarette into the nearby bin. “What happened?”
“Nothing major. Fell off a ladder.” He’s getting better at lying each day.
“Sounds painful. Nothing broken I hope?” There’s a tone of concern in her voice, one that all nurses have. James wonders if its natural or acquired in the trade.
“No, just a concussion.” He finishes his cigarette and drops it into the same bin, brushing past the nurse and feeling her skin up against his own. It feels good.
She takes a long drag from her cigarette, blows out smoke and throws it into the bin as well. She looks at the watch on her uniform.
“It’s half one. I’ve got to get back to work.” She straightens her uniform and begins to walk back into the building.
“It’s been nice talking to you, I hope your friend gets better soon!” She gets further and further away from James and his eyes focus solely on her bottom and how it fits so nicely in the slim fitting uniform.
She probably had a face to match.
Tuesday, 15:55 pm
All James can do is stare dead-eyed at his wife as she convulses. Her arms twitch wildly and foam pools around her mouth as two nurses try to roll her onto her side. She looks directly at James, eyes wide and frightened with damp hair clinging to her forehead and she wants reassurance that she’s going to be all right. When the fit subsides, she’s placed back on her back and the hair is pushed out of her face. A few strands fall out and the taller nurse quickly pulls them away so that Mary can’t see that she’s falling apart. Her breathing is slow and heavy, her yellow pyjama blouse falling and rising steadily as her eyes open and close. The TV had been long turned off and all Mary can see in the blackness is a corpse doing its best to stay alive.
Her face crumples and she looks uglier than ever as tears begin to swell in her tired eyes. She brings her hands to her sallow face to hide her tears but they do nothing to distract from the heaving sobs she starts to produce.
“I’m a monster.”
She attempts to curl in on herself but her legs have become so weak and skinny that the task is impossible. The nurses are quick to surround her, asking her if she needs anything or if they can do anything to help her but she continues to cry. She slides to the side of the bed, looks at her husband with woeful eyes. He looks at her sickly yellow skin now blemished with red blotches and how her hair is stringy and patchy. She reaches for him, tries to drag him closer with her long, bony arms.
Tuesday, 19:28 pm
He’s on his third drink now, drinking alone in his own home and watching some programme he’s not interested in. It’s an old courtroom drama that they stopped airing in the mid-eighties but it provides enough background noise for James to not be left alone with his thoughts. Of course, it’s impossible to escape one’s thoughts so he watches TV to block out his darker thoughts, ones that would send him to a court all too real.
He thought about cleaning the house, the living room has long became overrun with takeout boxes and empty beer cans, resulting in a foul smell but he was struck with sudden lethargy the second he returned home a few hours ago. He thinks about visiting his father and staying over for the night but he’s already decided he’s getting drunk tonight and he hasn’t lost his pride just yet. He won’t get drunk in front of his father. Perhaps he can call someone? No, he’s blown off most of his friends and the ones that would indulge him speak to him the way one does a particularly volatile toddler. To Hell with them. There’s always the chat section in his newspaper, he can let some random woman rob him blind with extortionate calls for meaningless conversation. He won’t do that either, the conversation with the nurse was enough. God, she had nice legs. In another life, maybe they’d be sprawled over his lap right now instead of a six pack of beer. Did he get her name? Hell, did he get her face?
Can he remember Mary’s face? The one before the illness. She had brown hair, always in a loose ponytail. Can’t remember her eyes. Brown, maybe? Could be blue. Did she have freckles or is he thinking of someone else? He can’t see her anymore, each day her features become more and more shrouded in black fog, ruining any clear image he has of her. She floats deeper into the back of his mind, he finds it harder to recall what they used to enjoy doing together and his memory is clogged with images of her screaming, vomiting and thrashing into her hospital bed.
James looks at his beer can. This isn’t true, he can remember Mary Sunderland. It’s the beer. The beer and stress clouding his mind and preventing him from thinking straight. He loves his wife. He loves her so much and he’s broken without her.
“I miss you, Mary.” He whispers to his beer can but even his own sense of self-denial can’t accept that poor attempt at sorrow. He drinks the rest of his beer.
Tuesday, 23:49 pm
James stumbles into bed, tripping over his jeans as he pulls them off and lands into the soft bedsheets. He has his grey pyjamas thrown onto the chair in the corner of the room but he’s far too drunk to even attempt to get them on. He claws his way to the top of the bed and stops when he can feel the pillow against his flustered face. He collapses and within seconds the furniture illuminated by moonlight become dimmer and dimmer and the world around him fades out of existence. He’s asleep within seconds.
Wednesday, 9:32 am
Mary looks up from her book, tilts her head and furrows what remains of her brows. She’s been in good spirits today, though for how long this will remain is uncertain.
“What’s the matter James? You’re awfully quiet.”
I’M MISERABLE. I HATE MY LIFE. I HATE BEING HERE. I MISS MY LIFE. I’M MISERABLE.
“I’m okay, Mary. I’m fine.”