His hand, light as a feather and thin as paper slides off his chest onto the sheets beside him. Blue veins press at waxy skin, somehow still managing to pulse pointless life-giving blood through his withering form.
So yellow, yet so pale.
Stiffness in every joint, I shift my chair to face the side table. The bottom drawer becomes a resting place for my feet and I allow my head to idle, just for a moment, on the back of the vinyl chair. The once unwelcome din of the lights overhead has become a comfort in these last silent days. I touch his arm, ever so slightly. He is still.
The hand so effusive, the body so hollow.
The walls are littered with drawings, cards…photographs.
“Get well soon, Grandpa. We love you!” and “If anyone can beat this, it’s you, Paul. Stay strong!”
A picture Kaylee insisted I take when his visits were finally limited to only me. Standing in front of the hospital entrance, she was sporting a gap-toothed smile and waving; “Tell him I can still love him all better from here,” she’d said.
Composed in the midst of hope, reading them now is painful. They had been beacons of light, splashes of color in the face of a dreary disease, now, months later, they’ve waned alongside him.
Sixty-seven years of life, laughs, labors and love all coming to an end. Our lifetime within a lifetime. Over. Just like that.
I turn on the soft lamp I’d brought from home and get up to quiet the bright overheads. He stirs, ever so slightly as I walk to the switch near the door.
His voice shocks me. It’s been so long, days and days since I’ve heard it. It’s dry and haggard, breathy.
“I’m here, honey. Right here.”
“Abi.” His eyes are the only sign of life on his dormant body, fluttering and frantically searching for my face.
“It’s okay,” I tell him. “Rest now, love.”
“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.”
“Shh, quiet now. There’s plenty of time for talking,” I fable, turning him into a child being told the tooth fairy is real.
“There was a time,” he chokes, “a time when…I failed you. I failed myself. Not a day passes…if I could change it, Abi.”
I stroke his face, remembering the many moments he’d done the same for me, his skin cool, clammy…expiring. Tears course over his temples and darken parts of the blue fabric covering his pillow.
“Paul, you’re upsetting yourself. There’s no need, sweetheart. Close your eyes.” With the tip of my finger, his lids are gently drawn shut one at a time.
I climb up onto the bed, pull him in and lay whispering sweet nothings and savory somethings, his sharp hip poking my belly. While recounting the first years of our courtship I laugh and cry, the silly card we’d had a fight over, the night Paula was born, the day we’d gone on a shop and ended up stuck in the snow for hours. We ate through the groceries we’d thankfully had in the trunk while waiting for the tow truck. Breaking off cheese and ripping chunks of bread, we sang all the songs we knew the words to and some that we didn’t.
I talk about how he patiently taught me to swim when I was terrified of the water and convinced me I was good enough to go to art school. I tell him that he’s been an incredible father and that I’ve been so very thankful to have him in my life. I tell him all these things, but I save one.
I make sure the intermittent beeps have become one long and uninterrupted strike piercing the room with finality before I say; “I know about her, Paul. I’ve always known. She just didn’t matter to me as much as you did.”
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