shades are dusty,” Natalie tells Ryan. He cannot hear. She
understands this. She snaps up the shades of both windows, studies
the motes suspended in the air. “There's so much we don't see,
Ryan. Just so much we'll never understand.” She stares nine floors
down at the crowded parking lot. “It looks so calm down there,”
she says and laughs, surprising herself. “All neat and perfect.
Everything put into place.” She turns to face her husband. His face
is pale and thin. His eyes remain closed. “Remember Nick's toy
parking garage? God, he spent hours playing with that thing. Driving
his Matchbox cars up the ramp with his pudgy hand. Parking them in
neat slots. Folding down the striped guard's gate. We thought life
was so simple then, didn't we?”
looks small and inconsequential lying there tucked beneath the
blankets. “Are you hot?” Ryan always claimed the sheet was more
than adequate. She pulls down his blanket, folding it neatly at the
bottom of the bed. She recalls the plastic yellow pitcher of ice
water on the bedside table; a matching tumbler with a flexi-straw
inserted through the top. “Are you thirsty?” She stares at his
face, waiting for a response, waiting for anything. She sits
and folds her hands neatly in her lap. She doesn't know what to
touch; doesn't know where to put her hands or even herself. “God I
feel so helpless,” she says, watching the machine inflate her
husband's lungs. “I feel so in the way.” The room smells
of stale urine and disinfectant.
knew this would break my heart, Ryan.” She touches her wrist where,
on his own arm, the IV drips painkillers into his veins. “Why did
you do it, Ryan?”
stares at her husband's face; watches it slowly dissolve into Nick's.
They'd been at the lake that day. Fishing trip for Nick's birthday.
Ryan hated the water; always had. But Nick...God how he'd loved it.
a knock on the doorframe. She turns, expecting another nurse. All day
long they've traipsed in and out of his room, grim-faced and silent,
adjusting buttons and squinting at dials, telling her nothing. “Yes?”
squints. “That's right.” A lawyer, then. Or one of those people
asking for organ donations. But no: The woman carries a big black
purse over her shoulder. She steps into the room on tentative feet.
“It was my son.”
stiffens. Uncrosses her legs. “I'm sorry?”
son David that your husband saved last night.”
see.” Natalie feels the anger surge inside her.
I?” The woman gestures to the other chair. She sits without waiting
for a response.
“I'm Louise.” She sets her purse on her lap and
snaps open the gold clasp, rooting around inside until she comes up
with a packet of tissues. “My son's had a hard life, Mrs. Deale.
His daddy left him when he was just a wee one.” She shakes her
head. “Always a handful, that boy. Always getting into a heap of
thinks about Nick. Allows a small smile to cross her lips.
husband left me with four little ones and a stack of bills. I had to
work three jobs just to meet the bills.” Louise twists the tissue
between her hands. “I just...”She looks at Ryan. “If only I'd
been there more for him.”
old is David, Louise?”
tomorrow.” Her eyes glisten.
brother died at seven,” Natalie says, blinking. “We were raising
mouth forms an O, then crumples. She fishes in her purse again and
brings out a pack of Marlboros. She pulls one out and puts it in her
mouth, unlit. “I'm so sorry,” she says, her cigarette bouncing
along with the words and Natalie is reminded of the white ball that
bounced along the words at the bottom of the cartoons she used to
so sorry, Mrs. Deale,” she repeats.
shakes her head. “Call me Natalie.”
grasp hands and the two sit, watching each other with watery eyes.
me about your husband's brother.”
Nick leaned too far out of the boat. Fell in, before Ryan could grab
him.” Natalie rememberes watching from the dock. “Ryan was
terrified of the water. Couldn't force himself to go in.” She
remembers watching Ryan, frozen in the boat. She remembers screaming
at him to jump in after Nick. She remembers how, after the funeral,
they didn't speak to each other for three weeks. She remembers how
badly Ryan wanted a baby after that.
remembers giving up after three years of tears. “He never forgave
you have any children of your own, Natalie?”
blinks. “I just found out I'm expecting. I was going to tell Ryan
yesterday when he got home from work.”
eyes fill up with tears. Her voice cracks as she speaks. “If your
look,” Natalie says, glancing again at the window. “It's
snowing.” She meets Louise's eyes again. “Ryan always did love
the snow.” She rises and kisses her husband's forehead. And her
heart is broken, yes. But still she understands.
* * *
Labels: flash fiction, scriptic.org