By K.D. Kelley
Every Monday, she brought him flowers. At first, her tokens were lost in the sea of bright bouquets that disguised the sterile hospital room with mylar balloons reflecting the fluorescent lights with wishes of Get Well Soon and Thinking of You. As time wore on, the gifts dwindled, the balloons deflated, until only hers remained to mark the weeks, the months, of a battle still fought. Each Monday, it became harder to enter the flower shop and face arrangements for happy occasions, balloons with messages of Happy Anniversary and Congratulations. Harder to ignore wreaths with ribbons shouting Loving Father and cards whispering Our Condolences and Praying for You.
Both the joyful and tragic were beyond her reach. The hospital room, no matter how comfortable, no matter how tastefully decorated, was still a hospital room, with no past or future. A stasis chamber for their life.
She brought him blue daisies. He’d never cared for flowers one way or another, but blue was his favorite color. The exact shade of her eyes, to be specific. The daisies didn’t match, but close enough.
His were brown. So dark they appeared flat until she got close enough, stared long enough, to see the swirls of faint caramel that sparked gold in the right light. After 23 months, 12 days, and 13 hours, would they still spark? She never watched when the doctors examined him.
She set her purse and a manila envelope on the long table over the bed before replacing the dead daisies with the new.
“Good morning, Alex.”
The only response was a faint beep, unwaveringly steady. Over the months, the profusion of machines had dwindled to that single heart monitor. One Monday she’d asked the nurse to turn off the sound, but the suffocating silence had been worse. She’d needed that proof of life, however small, to remind her that the doctors, treatments, and visits weren’t futile.
Finished with the flowers, she stood by the table and fiddled with the envelope.
“Your mother was here this weekend. We had a nice, long talk out on the deck. The weather was perfect for it, and she pointed out the constellations for me. Like you used to.”
She picked up the envelope, opened it, then put it down again. The flowers needed water. She spoke over her shoulder from the sink by the door.
“She came down to see Josh’s game and you, too, afterward. Made it just in time to catch your doctor and he told her—well, what he always says. Anyway, Josh’s team lost. I guess your mom probably told you that, and all the details, too. Josh made a goal, and he was so excited he didn’t care about losing. You would have been so proud.” She swallowed down the crack in her voice. “You would have been proud of him.”
Replacing the flowers, she returned to the envelope and pulled out the thin stack of legal-size papers, with a pen clipped at the top to hold them together. So few. It should have taken a stack several inches thick to end ten years together. A ream at least.
She pulled off the pen and flipped to the back page. Only one line, one signature required to make it official. She put the pen down.
“Josh works so hard. He remembers everything you taught him and practices every day. Michael, um, his coach, has been helping him, too. They really get along. Michael’s not—well, he’s not you, but they get along.”
One signature, her name scrawled in indelible ink, followed by the numbers to mark the date, and her stasis would end.
“I suppose she told you about this, too. It won’t really change much. Your mother will be in charge now, but I’ll still help her. I’m not going to…”
That was the point though, wasn’t it, of the papers that would sever her ties as his next of kin. A relationship irrevocably damaged through no fault of their own. Not Alex’s, and not hers, though it was left to her to finish it. She had to sign her name, for Josh’s sake and her own. They needed a fresh start, a new life, something more than an endless round of visits and Monday flowers.
But not standing at the foot of his bed, looming over him. Not when she’d spent the years of their life together looking up to him. Not when the memory of his face looking down at her was so clear. The laughter sparking the gold in his eyes before he’d wrap his arms around her waist and lift her, feet dangling off the ground, to bring her level with him.
She took the papers to a chair and cleaned a spot on the bedside table. The pen hovered over that single line.
Sniffing back tears, she rubbed at her nose. Nearly three years of nothing but silence from that bed. Nothing but a beep to remind her of why he lay there and not in a casket. Nothing but doctor after doctor telling her nothing would change. She’d signed her name to so many papers in those years. Just once more. One last time.
She hooked the pen to the papers, and picked up his hand instead. Leaning over the bed she rested her cheek on his shoulder in the curve between his jaw and collarbone, the soft hollow created just for her. Still a perfect fit. Still warm. She closed her eyes and imagined him tilting his head to snuggle her in closer.