By David Christopher Johnston
You were here on Tuesday. It was a cold morning, the sky so clear and blue it reminded me of an oil painting. The sun had risen hours before and peeped in through a crack in the curtains; light bounced off a glass vase and danced in colour, creating an iridescent pattern on the wall. I watched the dazzling display as I shook off sleep.
I put on my clothes and made a cup of tea, then sat in the chair beside your bed. ‘Good morning Margaret, my love,’ I said, placing my hand on yours.
You looked worse than the day before. There was a strange rattle in your breathing, so I made a note to tell the carer. I gave you some water and brushed your hair, then made myself some toast with jam.
We sat in silence for a while, hand in hand. The cheerful chatter of birds in the back yard fluttered in through an open window. The distant sound of a lawnmower balanced on the periphery of my conscious.
My mind wandered back to the first time we met: at the February Ball in 1949, when I asked you to dance. How beautiful you looked that evening in a long, yellow dress. How we danced the night away. It breaks my heart to see you now; it breaks my soul to know we will never dance again.
The carer arrived around ten and immediately called the Doctor. We waited. She eventually came an hour later, examined you briefly and then spoke to me in the kitchen.
’I’m afraid it won’t be long now, Walter,’ she said. ‘You may want to sit with Margaret and say your goodbyes.’
I nodded and turned away, tears rolling down my face. ‘I always sit with her,’ I mumbled in a defeated, unintentionally defensive tone.
The Doctor simply nodded and placed her hand on my shoulder. I thanked her for her help and walked her to the door. The moment she left, I stood by the kitchen sink and began to sob ugly, helpless sobs.
I didn’t have an appetite for lunch, so I gave you some water and brushed your hair. For a while, I sat by your side and just looked at you: memorising every detail, sketching every perfection, painting a picture of your beauty to keep behind my eyes for eternity. Moments passed, minutes turned into hours and the final grains of sand flowed steadily into the bottom of our hourglass, never to return. Time trickled away.
A leaf from the orchid on the windowsill — the one the grandchildren bought you for your birthday — fell in a clumsy tumble onto your bed. I’d forgotten to water it (you always took care of those things) and the pretty, purple flowers edged with white were shrivelled and dying in the hot sun. It’s my fault, my mind is a mess. I made a note to take it off the windowsill later — to ensure that the grandchildren didn’t see it.
I yelled at the carer that afternoon: he didn’t do anything wrong (I was just sad). You would have been upset with me and told me it wasn’t his fault that you were ill. I know that. I apologised shortly afterwards, but he said it was fine and understandable in the circumstances. I still felt terrible.
As the sun went down behind the trees, we listened to Nat King Cole and I sang along to our favourite song. The birds outside sang with me in an avian symphony celebrating the closing of the day. When we were younger, I remember singing together whenever and wherever we could — filled with the confidence of youth and the knowledge that we would live forever. Love forever. Your voice was so beautiful; I would do anything to hear you sing again.
I talked to you about our life: the day we first met, the adventures we had, the world we saw and the family we made together. In my heart, I had always retained a foolish hope that you would wake one day from this nightmare and everything would be fine. You would call out my name, smile your beautiful smile and ask me to put the kettle on. All the pain would be forgotten in an instant. But in my mind, I always knew you wouldn’t get better; I knew the nightmare was my own. It’s so sad to see you this way, my sweet northern rose. I don’t know what I am going to do without you.
After dark, I closed the curtains and sat back down beside you. The floor was littered with crumpled orchid leaves. I held your hand, kissed your cheek and lay my head next to yours.
‘Goodnight Margaret, my love,’ I said. I dreamt of the first time we met.
On Wednesday, you were gone.
Copyright © 2020 David Christopher Johnston.
David Christopher Johnston hereby asserts and gives notice of his right under s.77 and s.78 of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work of fiction. All moral rights are asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this work of fiction may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author. This story is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.