This is a rewrite. The original is here. Just wondering what you think. As usual, all feedback welcome…
His hand, light as paper, slides off his chest onto the sheet beside him. Blue veins press at the waxy skin and pulse pointless blood through his withering form. I touch his arm. Although heavy with burden, he resembles feathery tissue tufting from a Kleenex box.
Stiff in every joint, I shift my chair to face his side table, its bottom drawer becoming a makeshift footrest. I allow my head to idle a mere moment on the back of the vinyl chair, perplexed that the once unwelcome din of the fluorescents has become a comforting presence during these last silent days.
A sigh rattles the stale air and I startle until I realize it’s mine. It’s the end. Our laughs and labours all coming to an abrupt finish, our last scene falling to the cutting room floor as the director decides he doesn’t like the ending we’ve scripted for ourselves. Waiting for death is proving ruthless in every sense of the word.
I turn on the soft lamp brought from home and get up to quiet the bright overheads. He stirs slightly as I walk to the switch near the door.
His voice shakes me. It’s dry and haggard, breathy. It’s been so many days since I’ve heard him speak.
“I’m here, honey. Right here.”
“Abi.” His fluttering eyes animate an otherwise dormant body, moths frantically searching for light.
“It’s okay,” I tell him. “Rest now, love.”
His feet begin to glide back and forth under the sheet like fins, sharks just below the water’s surface, circling their prey.
I look away.
“I haven’t,” he stops, unable to catch his breath.
I cup his hand in both of mine and squeeze each finger soothingly.
“No, not now, Paul. Please, you need sleep.”
“Hush. No talking. We’ll do plenty of that later,” I fable, willing him childlike naiveté.
“There was a time,” he chokes, “when I failed you. God, I failed myself.” Air catches, unearthing another enormous wheeze. “Not a day’s gone by that I…if only I could change it, Abi.”
Reaching to stroke his face, I remember the many moments he had done the same for me in much less severe times of need. His skin is cool and clammy, expiring. Remorse courses over his temples and darkens parts of the worn, blue fabric covering his pillow.
“Paul, you’re upsetting yourself. There’s no need, sweetheart. Close your eyes now.”
I climb up onto the bed and with the tip of my finger; his lids are gently drawn one at a time. I pull him in and he folds like a stack of cards. I lay whispering sweet nothings, his sharp hip poking at my belly all the while.
I begin recounting our first years as what’s left of his hair waltzes with my every word. The silly card we’d fought over, the day we’d gone for a quick shop and ended up stuck in the snow, slowly grazing through the groceries we’d thankfully packed into the back seat. Breaking off bits of cheese and chunks of baguette, we’d sung all the songs we knew and some we didn’t, almost regretful when the tow truck finally showed up. I chuckled at the memory of Paula’s quick and comical birth, straining my neck to see if he was smiling. He looked wistful at best.
I talk about how he had patiently taught me to swim despite me being terrified of the water and convinced me I was good enough to attempt art school when I’d felt less than worthy. I tell him that he’s been an incredible father and that I’m so very thankful to have been his partner. I whisper the hours away, revisiting each page of the life we’ve written together, skipping only one.
It’s not until the short beeps become a solid strike piercing my heart that I turn back to it; “I knew about her, Paul. I always did. She just didn’t matter to me as much as you did.”