It hurts to look at her. An almost physical pain that cuts off his breath. Traces of beauty linger in the soft, sallow folds of her skin. She is fading, despite the attentions of a doting staff. Now and again he concedes a sliver of appreciation, remembering to say thank you. But gratitude has gone the way of optimism, slipping away like her mind, a mind once quick and clever, now trapped behind a stark, fixed stare.
He watches and waits, his trained eyes scanning her motionless body, searching out the slightest change in coloring, or expression. Two years, four months, one week, and three days. Nothing. Neither clinical trials, nor the latest drugs have shown any hint of progress. Nothing, it seems, will lift the thick, dark curtain that has descended over her mind. On a day when he hasn’t slept, and his wrenching stomach burns, and his head pounds with anxiety, he wishes she would close her eyes and fall peacefully asleep--and not awaken. He detests himself for such thoughts. More for his helplessness. A physician unable to heal his own wife. A physician who knows how this will go down.
Danielle Carlson’s brain is dying. She stares blankly at the wall—day in and day out—as memories stream through the dusky window of her mind. Images that run in a continuous loop, like an old phonograph record stuck in a groove.
I wish they would clean my window; so hazy. There’s Jeremy. How handsome he is in his hospital greens. Jeremy! here I am, up here. I wish they would clean my window, so hazy. There’s Jeremy. How handsome he is . . .
Wednesday. Dr. Jeremy Carlson sits beside his wife, her hand in his, a fresh, yellow rose lying unnoticed in her lap. He watches and waits. And thinks.
They’d met on a Wednesday, nearly forty years ago, on the day he watched her sink a three-pointer that resulted in a win for the college, and instant celebrity status. Jeremy had no patience for basketball. He’d occasionally catch the last few minutes of a game as he cut through the athletic center to get across campus, always late. He’d sprinted along the back court that day, head down and deep in thought, when something made him look up.
“The gods, in their wisdom,” as he often recounted the moment, “lifted my head and directed my eyes to this gazelle-like creature, whose beauty and grace stopped me in my tracks and had me for life.” That evening in the commons, he presented Danielle with a congratulatory yellow rose. They were married a year later, on a Wednesday. Life was good. Maybe too good. Maybe those same gods became bored and decided to disrupt a beautiful arrangement, collapsing thirty-eight, fairy-tale years into two of grinding agony.
Wednesdays no longer hold the rapture they once had. They now tug along a set of unsettling emotions—the anticipation of a breathless lover racing to meet his beloved, along with the sickly churning of his stomach at the thought of her wasting away. He holds the memories close. Her dazzling green eyes that shone with love and happiness. The scent of gardenias when she entered a room. And that irresistible smile that melted his heart. Now he can’t get the fetid smell of deterioration and death out of his nostrils. Curse the gods!
He hangs onto the hope that the life-changing gesture so many years earlier would be the spark to fire up her memory. He brings her a yellow rose every Wednesday. A childlike expectation, he knows, like the boy who keeps feeding the goldfish floating on top of the bowl, thinking it will begin to swim again.
Danielle’s mental and physical decline following her diagnosis had been precipitous. Jeremy resigned his staff position at the hospital and cut his office hours. The love of his life was being snatched by a merciless thief. He fights back the burn behind his eyes and gently massages her shoulders, which are barely protected by a translucent layer of skin that drapes her shrinking frame like a faded tent dress. He talks to her unceasingly, speaking of things past and present, real and unreal. There must be a word or phrase that will slip through the portal between awareness and oblivion, and unlock her frozen mind. He hangs onto this thought. He’s even begun to pray. If the past is indeed prologue, he thinks, my only hope is in an afterlife, a concept he’s always found quixotic—until now. He shakes his head and continues his monologue.
"Remember the night we ran out of gas, and slept in the car? We giggled the next day each time we passed each other in the hall? Or when I was so happy to see you that first spring break, I tripped as I ran to you, and broke my tibia?" He brushes a wisp of ivory hair off her face and tucks it behind her ear. "You never did let me live that down."
He hears the floor nurse come in, and is aware of a throbbing hollow in his chest.
"Sorry, Dr. Carlson. She needs to get into bed now.” "Of course. I was about to leave.” He hesitates a moment, not yet willing to release his wife to the night.
“By the way,” he says, “I’d like Mrs.Carlson moved to another room; a room with a window.”
* Published in Writer's Relief, 2015
Copyright © R.S. Raniere 2018. Copying or re-distributing this original story is prohibited without the express consent of the author.