William was sitting in an uncomfortable, lumpy hospital chair watching Marie, his wife who was soundly sleeping. The bullet wound to the back of her head had healed wonderfully after the miracles that the surgeons had performed, during the long hours in the operating theatre.
But healing the injury hadn’t brought his Marie back to him, not yet. She spoke hesitantly, which was an improvement he supposed, because at first she hadn’t spoken at all, but now she was becoming frustrated by her physical inabilities and frequently had bouts of terrible temper. Her doctor had told him that in all probability, she didn’t know what she was doing and it was the result of some kind of scrambling of the connections in her brain. But her most serious problem was her coordination between her hand and eye. The doc was confident that, with regular therapy and the cocktail of drugs that she was being fed, she’d make it back to being the person she was.
~ ~ ~
As clearly as though it had happened yesterday, I remembered Gerard telling me that he was going to give me the most unimaginably awful living nightmare in revenge for taking Marie from him. He couldn’t have known just how right he’d be. I feel so damned helpless, there’s nothing I can do to help her and, to make it worse, in some of her waking moments she made me feel as though it were all my fault.
Trouble is, I felt guilty as hell already and thought that she could be right!
‘If only I’d stayed at home that day.’ I said quietly to her pale, sleeping face.
I hadn’t heard the nurse come quietly into the room and her voice surprised me.
‘There’ll be lots of ifs monsieur Blake. You must try not to dwell on them.’ she said.
‘Oh…I know. But….’
‘Yes monsieur. There’ll be many buts as well. We must all try to stay positive if we’re going to do our best to help Marie.’ she said.
She looked tired and wasn’t smiling, she checked Marie’s pulse rate and temperature and began to write on a chart. She was absorbed in her routine of care and ignored me.
I felt like a useless hindrance, as though I was in the way. I knew that I needed to go home, try to sort myself out, feed our dog, take him for a walk, the exercise would do us both a power of good. I needed to get some sleep too, without any alcohol assistance, and clean myself up. Then there was the laundry and all the usual basic things at home that I’d been putting off, even my precious writing was lying scattered about the study desk gathering dust. I stood up and stepped out of the way as Marie’s nurse continued with her checks.
She’s right I thought, I need to be positive, get myself together. I was doing nobody any good staying here all day, least of all Marie. She may have noticed how I’ve run down I thought. I caught sight of my reflection in the window, I looked like a tramp. Hair all over the place and I needed a shave, the five o’clock shadow had deepened and was well on its way to a scruffy looking beard. Yes I thought, if she sees me like this, it’ll make her think it’s her fault and then she’ll feel as bad and as helpless as I do right now.
‘You’re right nurse. We…er…No, I need to be positive.’ I said. ‘I’m going home and I’m going to try to sort myself out.’
‘Good to hear it.’ she said, a hint of a smile twitched at her mouth.
‘Yes…er, someone will call me if there’s any change?’ I asked, already feeling my new resolve beginning to slip.
‘Yes, yes…of course we will. Now go. Take a shower and get some sleep.’ she said. ‘And…have a shave monsieur. You’ll feel tons better.’
I pulled on my jacket, winter was looming and there was a cold North wind combing through our bit of the Breton countryside. Leaves on the trees had begun to fall and in the cold, dry air, they crunched satisfyingly underfoot. Scuffling through the crispy leaves was something that Marie and I had enjoyed on our walks and had given me the inspiration to write several of my short poems. I turned back to the nurse as I opened the room door.
‘Christmas coming up soon nurse, do you think there’s any chance I’ll be able to take Marie home? Even for just a few days?’ I asked.
‘Oh…that’s weeks away yet. You’ll have to ask the doc, but I think maybe it’s possible. If you had the right sort of help to call in of course.’ she said in an absent sort of way.
‘That’s encouraging, thanks.’ I said. ‘Right I’m off, be back later tonight to say goodnight.’
‘I thought you said you were going to sort yourself out.’ she said, hands on hips.
‘A good night’s sleep will do you more good. And you know as well as I do, that your wife will probably be asleep now until morning.’ she said. ‘Now be a good boy. Go home, take a rest…have a good meal. I’ll speak to Marie’s doctor about Christmas and maybe there’ll be some good news for you in the morning.’
She was right of course, it had been nearly a month now that I’d been almost resident in Marie’s room. Her recovery was miraculous, everybody said so, but to me it had seemed slow. Perhaps I was expecting, or hoping for too much. But maybe I was just impatient.
The doctors and surgeons were pleased, they said that an injury of her sort could have, so very easily, gone one of two ways…and the other was fatal. The doc that I spoke to most often, thought that Marie’s steady progress was the best way and he said that he expected her to make a substantial leap forward soon. It could, he said, be almost as dramatic as turning on a switch. I just hoped it was going to be the right switch. I missed her more, much more, than I could ever have imagined and wanted her back. I crossed to Marie’s bedside and gently kissed her lips at the corner of her mouth. She made a dreamy moaning sound and mumbled something.
‘Sleep well, my darling. I’ll see you in the morning…Goodbye.’ I told her, hating that last word.
Maybe I should use the French expression au revoir I thought, or better still, à bientot…see you soon. Must remember for next time, it didn’t sound so permanent…so horribly final.
It felt strangely disorientating to be leaving the hospital in daylight, darkness came early in November of course, but usually I’d have been leaving the Hospital quite late, and I was surprised to see that it was just mid-afternoon as I came through the main doors. The cloudless sky was the same shade of blue as the, once fashionable, ice-blue jeans that I’d had as a young teenager and the sun, although bright, was low in the sky and doing very little to warm things up.
I shivered in the biting wind as I crossed the car park, running the gauntlet of the handful of pathetic smokers who’d clustered around the entrance. I’d probably inhaled more tobacco smoke since they’d banned the use of tobacco in public places than I had before. Back when I’d been a serviceman, I’d been a smoker, but can’t stand the sharp smell now, and the thought of kissing a smoker…well, just standing near one while they are talking is bad enough. None so pure as the converted I suppose. But I could smell the smoke lingering around my face as I hurried by, that’s another reason to get rid of the straggly beard I decided.
Could be a frost tonight I thought, the first of the season. I pulled my jacket tighter around me, pulled open the car door and slid behind the wheel. The heater in the tired old car was not too wonderful anymore, it took an age to warm up and it seemed to have just two settings these days too, nothing or full. It happily ignored the control setting for anything in between and I was either shivering or baking. Maybe I should retire the old thing, Marie’s car, a smart Mercedes convertible, was in the driveway. I’d thought about it before, but felt so upset to sit in the driver’s seat without her that I’d decided against it. Maybe the time had come to be more practical I thought, and this will be part of the new rational, positive me. The other reason for using the oldie was that I always used to bring Blue, our dog with me, he would wait patiently for me outside, watching the toing-and-froing of people and snoozing on the back seat. My mind had been so crowded with my thoughts of Marie at the time, and of course it still is, but eventually it had dawned on me that this wasn’t really awfully kind. Although he didn’t mind his trips out in the car, he always hopped in with enthusiasm in the mornings and he’d seemed quite happy to wait, but at home of course, he had plenty of space to move about and I always left the radio on for company, even though I knew it wasn’t necessary and a bit silly. And days like today, he wouldn’t be cold.