She helped me back into bed in my hospital room. We both were grinning like morons, and when our eyes would meet, she would break into a laugh, blush, and look at the floor before peeking at my face again. After she'd tucked me in and given me a lengthy kiss followed by yet another smile, she went to the bathroom to change back into her own clothes, pitching the gown into the laundry bin. She climbed into the bed beside me and cuddled up next to me with an arm and a leg over me. I put an arm around her.
She looked up at me.
“Do you need anything? You must be hungry.”
I shrugged. “There's no more food available until breakfast tomorrow.” I did feel significant hunger pain, now that she mentioned it, but either I'd gotten used to the feeling over the course of my illness or that feeling was masked by the blissful afterglow of our really enjoyable shower.
“Let me get you something,” she said.
“That would mean you leaving! I'd rather go hungry!”
“I'm not gonna let you starve!” she insisted and started getting up. “I'll try to make it fast. But I have to stop first at my hotel room before coming back here.”
I was going to protest again, but before I could say anything, she was gone.
I reached over to turn the CD player back on. I picked up some of the books and magazines from the stand beside the bed and plopped them on the bed.
I started paging through the magazines first. In spite of them not being overly interesting, it was somewhat enjoyable to see pictures of all kinds of places and nature and people when I'd been staring at hospital walls and ceiling for so long.
I picked up one of the books and turned to the first chapter and began to read.
It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
I read until I fell asleep.
She was in my dreams again.
She was a teenager sitting in a playground swing. I was sitting on the swing beside her. We were playing tic tac toe on a grid we'd drawn with our shoes in the gravel, swinging diagonally towards the board to make our moves, which didn't always land in the targetted lopsided square, laughing whenever we made our moves.
A group of teenage guys approached and surrounded her. She went to play tag with them.
I ran over to them and said, “I want to play too!”
She crouched down to me, patted me on the head, and said “You're only 12. You're too little.”
I looked down. I had no pants on and I was wearing a diaper.
“I don't wear diapers!” I started calling to her, but she was already gone.
I watched them play tag, and soon they weren't playing tag anymore. I could hear the clashing of swords. I ran closer to see what was happening. There was a hoard of roaring blue ogres attacking her. She was fighting back with a sword, but she was alone.
She needs help. She doesn't know how to play. I looked behind me and I had a huge group of orange ogres. I sent my ogres to save her. They killed all the blue ogres.
“I can help you,” I yelled, “I know how to play this game.”
She didn't seem to notice me. Then she disappeared.
Then I was walking in the halls of my old high school. I peeked into a classroom and I saw her writing on the chalkboard. She looked stunning in a gray skirt and pink and white striped shirt, both of which hugged her perfect youthful feminine curves, with her hair flowing down her back. She was writing my name over and over again on the chalkboard, but didn't seem to know I was watching. She was coming towards the door. I ducked behind the corner. She came out of that classroom, and wrote my name on every chalkboard in the entire school. She was looking for me but I didn't let her find me. I wanted to go to her, but I couldn't.
I wrote her a list of math problems and mailed it to her.
Then I could see her in her house. She was wearing nothing, kneeling on the floor, and was crying, with body-wrenching sobs while holding a drinking glass in her right hand, which she squeezed until it broke. She took a large shard and started slashing her wrists with it.
But I couldn't do anything. I couldn't get in. I was locked on the outside somehow, but I could see through the walls. Then I could see her outside, burning a picture I recognized. It was a picture of me.
Then she was in the kitchen in exactly the same spot as before, naked and shaking, holding the bloodied piece of glass, still gouging at herself with it, her face a picture of consummate anguish that made my insides churn.
I helplessly watched the blood stream down and gather in pools on the tile floor as she repeatedly cut herself while convulsing in misery too deep for words.
A terrified little child suddenly appeared in the doorway.
“Mommy? What are you doing? Mommy? Why are you crying?”
I tried to get in the house. I started calling her name.
The child came to the door and stared at me.
“Let me in!”
“Who are you?”
“I'm your mommy's friend. I want to help your mommy.”
The door opened. I ran into the kitchen. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a needle and thread, and started sewing up her gashed skin. I kept sewing and sewing. I tried to talk to her but she just kept crying. When I finished sewing, there was just skin and flesh and thread all in an untidy bloody clump, but she wasn't there anymore.
The child stared at me with a blank expression.
“You killed my mommy.”
“No, I didn't!”
I could see flashing lights outside the house. It was the police.
They entered the house, said my name, and told me I was under arrest for murder.
“I didn't do this! She did it to herself!” I said emphatically.
Then I was in prison. I held a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird in my hand.
Then she was in there with me, young and beautiful and wearing a white dress with yellow flowers.
She was smiling at me and said, “As long as I'm in here with you, I'll never be bored!”
I put my arms around her and then we were fucking in the prison cell. Then she looked back at me and was an old woman. I looked down and realized I had two legs. I don't have two legs anymore. Then my left leg disappeared with a noise like a branch breaking, and I was bleeding profusely. I lost my balance and started falling. That jerked me to wakefulness.
I opened my eyes and was in the hospital room. Melanie was taking my blood pressure.
“I see you made it alright out of your shower,” she said. “Had me a little worried!”
“Yeah, it was fine,” I said.
“So I asked and found out that you're having an operation on Wednesday morning,” she sounded happy. “It looks like a match has been found. You will be getting a new kidney!”
“How? Who?” I asked, feeling guilty at the thought of a child in a car wreck who would be saving my life.
“I don't have those details,” she replied. “I do need another blood sample, though.”
I held out my left arm to her.
“Dr. Carson made me remove the stuff from over there,” she nodded toward the lounge chair while wrapping an elastic tightly around my arm, “so I just stuck it in one of those patient lockers,” she then nodded toward where the lockers were while she impaled me.
“You know,” she said, “your blood pressure is the lowest its been since you've been here. That's a remarkable improvement. I actually took it twice because I didn't believe the first reading! How are you feeling?”
“Great,” I said, and realized I wasn't lying. I did feel great. I registered when I concentrated, the fiery soreness in my left side, the hunger pain, the nausea, it was all still there, but I couldn't really feel it. The only thing that was bothering me was that she wasn't here. I looked at the clock on the wall. 9:41, it read. I didn't remember what time it had been when she left, but I felt like she'd been gone a long time.
After she was done taking care of me, Melanie advised me to get some rest and moved on to other patients.
I kept staring at the doorway. Then I looked at the clock on the wall before staring at the doorway again. Then a minute later I looked back at the clock again, and noticed it now read 9:48. I resisted the urge to text her. I noticed the CD had finished playing to the end. The other CDs were out of reach, so I reached over to press play to replay the one already inside the player. I picked up A Tale of Two Cities again and started reading where I'd left off.
I looked at the clock again. 9:50. Why is time crawling so slowly? I tried to read again. I couldn't focus now, since I was hungry, tired, sore, groggy from all the drugs, and I just kept thinking about her showing up in the doorway.
I noticed the remote on the stand. I set the book down and reached for the remote. It hurt in my left side as my hand grasped it, but the pain felt dull and distant. I turned on the TV. I reached over and turned off the music, wishing as I felt the pain again that I'd done both in the same reach.
I watched football for awhile, then flipped around and stopped at a rerun of the really old show Game of Thrones. It was the episode where my favorite character, Sandor Clegane, stopped his older brother from killing Loras Tyrell. When the credits began to roll with the ending music, I looked at the clock again. 10:59.
I turned off the TV, and reached over to set the remote on the stand, and turned on the music again, and grabbed several magazines.
I paged through them, and kept glancing at the door.
Finally, on one of my glances, there she was!
She was standing there, holding a black thermos under her arm and a bag in her hand. She had changed her clothes, and was wearing a long black skirt and a gray shirt with a black sweater.
“Hi,” she smiled at me from the doorway, but didn't enter the room.
“Get in here!” I called.
She came and set the thermos and bag on the hospital bed tray. She kept staring at me and smiling.
“Didn't mean to take so long,” she said. “The first grocery store was closing, so I had to find one that was open so late, and it was kind of far. Then I had to go to my hotel room and make this.” She unscrewed the cup and then the top seal of the thermos, and poured a tiny amount of green liquid into the cup and passed it to me.
“What...is that?” I asked, looking skeptically at the green goo in the cup.
“Oh yeah? What kind?”
“It has kale, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, onions, carrots, and lentils. Then I blended it all up.”
“But listen. I know you want to eat a ton of it really fast.” (I didn't, actually.) “But you have to eat it really slowly. A spoon or two at a time, then take a break. That's how it's more likely to stay in your body.”
“How did you make this in a hotel room?”
“I got one with a kitchen?” she said with a small laugh.
She pulled a spoon out of the bag and gave it to me.
I forced myself to try it. I resisted the urge to spit it out, and tried not to make a disgusted face as I sloshed it around in my mouth before swallowing it.
“So? What do you think?” she asked.
“It's fucking gross,” I said honestly.
She laughed and shook her head.
“But it's sweet of you to make me gross food in an effort to prolong my rapidly fading existence and alleviate my starvation pain!”
She just kept smiling at me.
I took another bite. It really wasn't that bad. I was about to take a third bite, but she grabbed the cup and spoon away from me.
“Okay, now wait,” she said and set them on the bed tray nearby.
I stared at her.
“So, did you have fun with your new stuff?” she asked.
“I sure did! I would even have played football, only it's not that interesting as a single player game!”
“I think you'll really like what's coming in the morning,” she said.
“I'm pretty sure I prefer what came a few minutes ago!” I said.
She grinned. She came to sit by me on the bed and kept looking at me with a smile.
“Why did you come now?” I asked at last.
She seemed confused by the question.
“I mean, did you time it to a specific date in your weird mental catalog of specific dates?”
“It's...yeah. It's the anniversary of...something,” she said, and looked at the floor.
“Oh yeah? Of what?”
“It's March 28,” she said.
“That means nothing to me,” I told her.
“So what is it?” I pressed.
She shrugged. “It doesn't matter. Okay, you can have a bit more now.”
She stood up and passed me the soup cup again, then pulled the bed tray closer so she wouldn't need to get up to reach it.
I took another few bites of the green soup from the cup, but it wasn't as warm anymore.
She took the cup and spoon and set them on the bed tray again.
“I don't know how much longer I'm gonna last,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean, I'm really tired,” she said. “I'm gonna have to go to bed soon. I barely slept last night after driving all day 'cause I was too antsy thinking about seeing you all night.”
“Gotcha,” I said.
She seemed to be staring at the wall.
“What were you expecting?” I asked her.
“I didn't think you'd remember. me. And I thought if by chance you did remember me, you'd think I was a weirdo stalker or something and not want to see me. I also considered the possibility that you might be...mentally absent.”
“You are kind of a weirdo stalker. A nasty green soup-making weirdo stalker who's aged a billion years since I last saw you. But apparently that's my type.”
“How come you never...I mean...did you...never mind,” she said.
“How come did I never, did I what?”
“Never made any attempt to talk to me or anything.”
“Think about it. You should know the answer.”
“I want you to say it.”
“You were fucking married.”
She said nothing for awhile.
“He died 20 years ago,” she said.
I didn't know that. “Why didn't you come find me then?” I asked.
“You did. What the fuck?”
“Yeah. I saw you and you were with a...pregnant woman. She was really pretty and you looked happy. I was happy for you and I left. Was that...your wife?”
I nodded. I was absorbing this.
Eventually she asked, “So did you have more kids, then?”
I shook my head.
She said nothing.
“We'd named the baby Charlotte. It was a girl.”
My stomach started feeling sick at these memories.
“I was out picking up the crib that we'd ordered from the store. I pull in the driveway, and there's another car in the driveway.”