*From Kerry Allen's first sentence.*
As I lay dying in a stew of my own blood and guts, she had only this to say: "The profanity is uncalled for."
I rolled my eyes and slammed the book shut, barely resisting the urge to fling it across the room. Whether it was the implausibility of the plot, or the fact that I could barely sit still, this novel wasn't going to cut it. Not today.
I needed thirty minutes--an hour tops--where I could climb beneath someone else's skin and breathe without pain. Without uncertainty. Without the cloying smell of antiseptic unsuccessfully trying to mask the stench of approaching death.
The orange vinyl chair, stiff and creased with use, squeaked beneath me as I leaned forward to place the book beside the water pitcher and the vase of yellow daffodils, their sunny faces pretending cheerfulness that suddenly seemed obscene.
Careful not to look at the woman huddled on the bed, anchored to this world with cords and tubes, I snatched the vase and stalked to the adjacent bathroom where I dumped them in the trash and stared in the mirror.
My eyes, red-rimmed from tears that had dried hours ago, were bruised with fatigue and still looked like hers. My mouth, too wide to be considered beautiful, was hers too. The rest of what she'd left me was buried within, wrapped around the woman I'd become until most days I couldn't tell where she ended and I began.
But she was ending. I knew it. Felt it in my bones that ached like I'd been the one hit by the car instead of her. She was slipping away, every moment easing her tenuous grasp on this life until time hung heavy between us as I waited to catch the last sigh.
There would be no words. The doctor was clear. Precise. I hated him for it. Or I would, when I had the energy to feel anything beyond the yawning pit of despair sinking it's teeth into me with every tortured breath she took. My throat was raw, ravaged by the frantic stream of words I'd aimed at the doctor, at God, at my mother--begging all of them to somehow return life to the way it was supposed to be. To somehow fix this.
I left the bathroom, drawn to the bed though I couldn't stand to be there. Helpless. Useless. Holding her hand--still unbruised, though the rest of her was ravaged--while I clamped my lips shut to keep from screaming.
Her hand was already cool, though the machine monitoring her heart assured me with slow, erratic spikes of neon green that she was still with me. With nowhere left to go, and nothing left I could say, I sank back down into the stiff orange vinyl chair, laid my head against the back of her hand, and counted her heartbeats until there was nothing left for me but silence.