This story was chosen by Fiction Flurry to represent their organization in the Columbus Invitational Arts Competition.
Libby lies flat on the plain white sheet. I have not yet grown accustomed to the steady whoosh and rhythmic ticking of machinery, the ventilator at the end of the bed doing the breathing faithfully for her. My fingers gently dance across the right side of her skull, the tiny new hairs there are scratchy against my palm. Her brown curls have been shaved completely off, but still, it’s quite an improvement over two weeks ago, when they were matted and thick with dried blood.
If she were to see herself now, she would say, “Oh, hell, Glenn, tell me again why you married me?”
I know this because it’s what she says on those mornings when she awakes and I am at home, and she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror over my bureau just across from our bed. Each time she asks, I think to myself because you have a funny, crooked little smile that reminds me of the Mona Lisa; because you are probably the worst cook, but the best pecan pie baker ever; because you love me and I have always known it just from the way you look at me. Yes, these are the things that I think, though now I can’t quite recall, when did I last say them out loud?
My cell rings and I check the caller ID. It’s the office. I know that it’s Martha on the other end. Martha, who’s like a second mother to me and who should have retired years ago, but who I rely upon beyond words. I must take this call – can’t afford to miss this call – so I flip open the phone and Martha connects me with the buyer in Shanghai. Martha has forwarded my presentation on to him. I usually prefer to meet with the client in person, but today, well, today requires special consideration. I dive in with my pitch, one that’s worked quite well for me through the years. It’s this success which allows me to believe that I’ve created quite a secure lifestyle for Libby and myself.
I look up at the clock on the wall opposite me. An hour has passed. It could be any other day of the week. I could be anywhere in the world. But it is not, and I am not. The whoosh and tick remind me, in a quiet, repetitive way that I’m standing in a room, in King’s Cross Hospital, keeping vigil over my wife.
I start to wrap up the call. “Yes, wonderful,” I say, “If you can please just send confirmation of that in writing to Martha, we can have the order ready for you by the end of the month.
“Yes, yes,” I say, “I’m quite sorry to have missed seeing you, too.” I have not told the executives in Shanghai about my wife’s accident, haven’t confided in anyone outside of the family and Martha, for that matter.
After I hang up, I notice I only have two bars left and I’m debating if I have time enough to dash out to our Lexus and get my charger or not. It was a gift, this car, from me to Libby for our anniversary last year. I remember thinking how safe it would keep Libby, protect her for me while I was gone. But this, well this has shattered that illusion completely. Besides, she insisted on driving her old VW Bug.
“It’s like an old friend, Glenn” she had said.
My thoughts are interrupted when a team in white tails barges in. Dr. Nagly reads from a portable computer screen, on it are the medical records that a nurse has pulled up for him.