The sign blinked in the slow manner that signs in store windows do; on…off… on… off. He stood there watching it from the window of her hospital room across the street. He listed to the sound of the machine she was hooked up to and realized that it was in time of the sign. Beep… beep… on… off… beeps…beep.
He looked over his shoulder and saw that she was still deep in a peaceful sleep. That was good he thought. With the hell of pain, she’d been through the last few days. He wasn’t sure if it was exhaustion or the meds that had allowed her to finally enter into a deep sleep. He didn’t care what it was, as long as she slept. The lights in the room were low; he turned and sat down in the chair by her bed.
There was a soft knock at the door. He looked up and saw the nurse slowly enter. “How is she?” she asked in that stage whisper all nurses have. He wondered if they had a class for that in nursing school.
“Asleep.” He watched his wife move in her sleep. The nurse moved to the machines looked at them, checked the IV drip, then straighten the bed covers and left. The woman who, for 46 years had been his rock and compass still slept but uttered a slight groan of pain in her sleep, if he lost her, he wouldn’t know what to do. Should he think like that? No, No she’s gonna be fine, just fine.
Just a cold, the doctor had said. Admit her just to be on the safe side, they said. So they could keep an eye on her, they said. At her age, they didn’t want to take chances. That had been six days ago and she had been going downhill the whole time she had been here. He wouldn’t have minded it so much if they could tell him what was wrong. A place or a thing, even a person, somewhere to vent his anger, his fear, frustration, but they could tell him nothing.
They had never seen anything like this before, they couldn’t explain it. Test all came back negative or with inconclusive results and yet still she was sick. They had finally thrown up their hands in defeat and called in experts. They came and had prodded and probed her and talked among themselves. Prodded and probed again and talked again. He had not been privy of those conversations. By watching the faces though he knew that they were as puzzled as everyone else. Then yesterday the doctors had come by and outside her room enquired if there was any family that might need to be contacted to see her.
He had thought about that question. They had three grown kids but they had families of their own. Sam was in Washington working in the Senator’s office 3,000 miles away. His twin Carol was in Europe on some photo shoot. And David was serving over in Afghanistan. No there was no one that could be there but him. He stopped. It had always been us or we, never he or she the words sounded foreign to him.
They said as a last resort they were sending all the results to the CDC in Atlanta, they might have an idea. Beep …beep …beep …beep that constant sound, his lifeline in this time of trouble. As long as he heard that sound he knew she was still with him, still his rock. That was all that mattered.
The soft knock at the door roused him from his contemplation. A new doctor stood in the doorway “Mr. Sanderson? May I have a word?” He got up and went out to the hall and softly closed the door. “I’m Dr. Cola, I’m from the CDC. Has anyone talked to you lately?”
He shook his head. “No, they said they were going to send you all the results and information on the tests they had done, but no one said they were expecting anyone from there
“Yes, well after receiving the information I thought we should have someone on site. I know you have been asked almost every question under the sun about where you have been, what you have eaten, and much, much more, invading your privacy. Rest assured I will not be going over that material again. I don’t like to mince words so I will tell you all we know up to now. Your wife is dealing with an illness that we have never seen before.”
“What? You mean like smallpox or something?” he asked as his brow furrowed with a worried look, could this be that dangerous? No, he wouldn’t believe it.
The doctor shook his head. “No I mean this is brand new: totally out of our range of known diseases. I wish I could say that we have a handle on it (pause).” He held his hands up and then dropped them by his side. but I can’t, we are at a total loss as to what is causing this.”
He looked at the doctor and saw he was not telling him the whole story. “You know doc I’m an old man and not use to people mincing their words around me, why not just come out and say it?”
Doctor Cola sighed; it was never easy to keep the truth from people. Even if you knew it was for the best. He looked straight into the husband’s eyes and realized that this was the exception to the rule. It would be better for him to know the truth than to be given false hope. “Your wife is dying and there is nothing we can do about it.”
The man looked down at his hands. He thought of all the things he and his wife had been through when they both had been there to lean on each other. Now he had to take this on by himself, “Thank you, doctor. Do you have an idea of how long?”
The Doctor shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “I wish I could tell you, it could be next month or the next 5 minute we just don’t know enough. All we know for sure is that the machine she’s hooked up to has not helped except to aid her coping with the pain.”
He nodded shook the doctor’s hand and thanked him for being so candid. He went back into the room and sat down by her bed. Beep… Beep… He now heard that sound, which had been a comfort and lifeline to his wife just a few moments ago, now became a death toll. He watched her and she moved in her sleep. Her eyes sprang open in pain.
“Hey, sweetheart I’m here.” He reached for her hand and held on as she trembled as a great spasm of pain passed through her. She looked at him with sweat starting to form on her forehead. He reached for the wash cloth and bowl of water by the side of the bed and tried his best to cool her down. She was burning up again. He looked at the machine 103°. He buzzed for the nurse. Not two minutes later she was at the door. “Could I have some more ice water to cool her down please?”
The nurse left and his wife looked at him with fear in her eyes. She swallowed to get her mouth wet. “Not a cold is it?” she softly murmured. He looked down and messed with the washcloth getting it wet again and before he could answer the nurse was back. She had brought a whole new setup. She set it down, picked up the other and glancing at the machines went out.
He patted her face with the cloth. “No, not a cold. In fact, you’re making history here.”
She weakly smiled at him. “I am?”
“Yeah” he dipped the cloth back into the new bowl of cold water and wiped her face. “It seems that you have something no one has ever seen before. I told you kissing those alien was a mistake.” He smiled at her and she smiled back.
“Well, you know me, always a sucker for a needy man.” She tried to sit up.
He pressed his hand on her shoulder. “What do you need I’ll get it.”
“Some water please.” He raised the head of the bed a little and gave her a glass with the bendy straw to drink from. “Here you go.” She took a long draw on the cool water and then leaned back against the pillow. “When did you last sleep?”
“Oh, I just got up, been sleeping like a log while I waited for you to wake up.”He lied.
“You’re a lousy liar, when?” she asked with the sternest voice she could muster.
“I got a good sleep, maybe three days ago, been napping on and off since then.” He put the towel back in the water and taking her hand in his he held it trying to think of how to tell her what the Doctor had said.
She looked at him suddenly a look of sorrow crossed her face realizing the pain she was putting him through by this illness. “Sweetheart we never kept secrets from each other in all of our 46 years of marriage, don’t start now.”
He sighed “Never could hide anything from you. The doctors are not very optimistic, they say you might have 5 minutes or 6 months not knowing what this is, they just can’t say.”
She looked up to the ceiling. “We always knew this day would come. We must accept it and rejoice in it.”
He took her hands in his. “Yes but I always thought it would be us together I never realized one of us would be left behind. I just can’t stand the thought of losing you.”
She kissed his hands. “You’re not losing me, you’re just letting me go ahead to straighten the place up for you.” He smiled at her.” Always thinking practical aren’t you?”
“Well someone has to.” She grimaced in pain “The kids?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Just was told the news. I’ve had no time to call them earlier.” She sighed. “Would be hard for them to get here anyway and it might be too late.” He tried to change the subject. “You know I love you don’t you?”
She reached for his hand “You always have and always will, just as I will always love you.” she grimaced as a shudder of pain passed through her.
He choked back a sob and smiled even though he felt like crying, he had to be the strong one. “Yep, we make a swell team, seems a shame to break it up. In fact, I’m not sure I can”
She smiled. “I’ll always be with you.”
He smiled back, thinking of the long life they had together and how they were the happiest when together. “I think that’s why I love you so much.”He held her hand and heard the machine stop beeping and turn instead to a steady tone, telling him she was gone. He lowered his head onto the bed as he held her hand and in the darkened room he cried.
The Doctor rapped on the door about twenty minutes later, entered and walked over to the bed. He looked at the monitors on the machines and heard the steady tone telling him the heart had stopped beating. Just to be sure he felt for a pulse. He slowly turned the machine off. “I’m so sorry for your loss” He looked over to the husband who seemed asleep. He walked around the bed and shook him. His hand that was holding his wife’s hand fell down to his side.
The doctor reached down and felt for a pulse. He shook his head and wished he had a love like that with his wife. His own fault really he thought. Well, he would start today to make it right; it wasn’t too late for them. He picked up the switch and buzzed for a nurse. She entered and saw him sitting in a chair next to the man and the doctor looked up at her. “Can you make a note that the time of death for Mrs. Sanderson was 11:06 A.M., Sunday the 20th and the death of Mr. Sanderson was at 11:07 A.M. same date.”
The nurse looked at the man in the chair shaking her head. “Just as well I guess. He once said that he couldn’t see living life alone after so long being a couple.”
The hospital went about the business of gathering the bodies and moving them to the morgue and set them side by side, to wait for the funeral home hearse to come claim the bodies, as they had time and time again. This time, though, a hearse wouldn’t be coming for quite a while. They had yet to call the family informing them of what had happened. Down in the morgue, the attendant just jostled the two gurneys side by side and went back to work. There among the slabs one couldn’t help to notice that laying on their gurneys as they were. That their heads faced each other and each held a smile of contentment on their faces.
© 2016 – 2017, Gary Gaudin. All rights reserved.
Gary Gaudin’s attitude to his life and work is simple: You’re not defined by how many times you fall, but by how many times you get up. The 63-year-old writer knew he wanted to write when he found himself in a wheelchair and his life changed dramatically. He found the courage to submit his work to publishers and has never given up on his craft in spite of these obstacles.
Born in California in 1952, Gary traveled a lot growing up since his father was in the military. He has traveled to every state in the US with the exception of Hawaii and North Dakota, and his passion for writing began in High School where he wrote skits for Drama Class.
One of Gary’s short stories was chosen to be published in a magazine, and his book “Aftermath” was placed on the Amazon book list. Despite plenty of rejections, Gary has pursued his writing career with dedication and a natural creative flair.
Inspired by Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, and Rod Serling, Gary writes in many genres but particularly science and speculative fiction. Living in the foothills of North Carolina he loves to read and watch old movies or listen to old music when he isn’t noting down his ideas.
Currently working on a political drama, he plans to keep writing with a view to being published in the near future.