You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #32 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.
The prompt for this podcast is “Being dead can be quite liberating…”
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Eyes filled with tears stared back at her, reflecting pain and disbelief. The sum of every line, every wrinkle, and every tiny imperfection on the face belonged to Bill, whom she married fifty years ago. She knew his face as well as her own. They had celebrated the milestone anniversary only six months earlier. At the time, she contemplated how anyone deserved to be as happy as they were. She counted their blessings: four children; ten grandchildren; three great-grandchildren and another on the way. Though the family scattered across the globe, they united often for celebrations.
Last night was one of those celebrations. Their oldest grandson just graduated from medical school at the top of his class. Hailing from a long line of physicians on her side of the family, she could not be prouder. Both their grandson’s parents were specialists, their daughter a radiologist and their son-in-law a cardiologist. There were so many “o-logists” in the family someone once joked they could open their own hospital.
They were a close-knit family, though it didn’t start out that way. When she first dated Bill, her parents said it would never last. They referred to him as an uneducated laborer and did not even consider their words derogatory, just a statement of fact.
“He won’t be able to match wits with you once you become a doctor,” her mother said. “You’ll have nothing to talk about.”
She didn’t listen to her parents, and married him, not for his witty conversation, but for love. What angered them more was that she got pregnant a few months after their wedding and left school once their son was born. In the eyes of her parents, death may have been a better alternative for her. At least, they could say their daughter wasn’t a failure. For some time, they didn’t even acknowledge their own grandchildren.
The turning point came after Bill’s construction company won a huge contract, and they no longer had to struggle financially. By that time, the kids were older and able to look after each other. She returned to school to become a doctor of general practice. At almost forty, she wanted to prove to herself that she could do it, and she did.
All the more ironic, somehow, that she and Bill ended up in this predicament together. With little feeling on her left side, she cradled her husband’s head where it had fallen against her and wiped the tears rolling down his face. Her tiny palm cupped his cheek.
His lips parted to say something, but blood trickled out the corner of his mouth.
“Shhh… don’t speak.” Her voice trembled. “You’ve just bitten your tongue, nothing serious, my darling.”
The amount of blood flowing from his mouth suggested something else. Her words were a lie, like the many comforting words she’d said to patients before they went into shock. The difference on those occasions was she had the power to try and save them. Years of being an emergency triage doctor had sharpened her diagnostic skills. In her husband’s case, she suspected internal bleeding caused by trauma to at least one major organ.
She stroked his cheek and her face lightened with compassion. The corners of her lips turned upward despite that she wanted to scream. She bent forward and kissed him. “I love you,” she said. More tears streamed down his face. He gave an imperceptible nod and squeezed her hand.
She saw him struggle to return the sentiment, but no words escaped from him; his breathing grew labored.
“I know,” she said, bobbing her head in an exaggerated nod. “I know. You don’t have to say it … I know.”
Bill’s eyes rolled back in his head and his body shivered. She gripped him tightly, trying desperately to disregard the signs.
“No … no …” Her face twisted in agony. The pain that seized her body could not match the emotional upheaval. She convulsed with sobs for a long time, cramped in that front seat of their crushed, overturned car. She heard the sound of birds chirping, muted traffic noise, but otherwise, it was quiet. The tiny ray of sunlight, which peeked through the shattered passenger window now brightened the interior of the car. In the distance, sirens blared. She could not tell if they were getting louder.
When the jabbing pain in her arms could no longer be ignored, she gently released her husband.
With eyes closed, she counted her blessings.
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