AS TIME GOES BY
The colorless walls are filled with his imagination closing in on him with the faces and voices of the dead, the missing, the relationships gone bad. Nurses walk back and forth as if practicing to remember where their patients are or on some military drill. Sounds reverberate off empty walls and empty space where only the narrow tubes with blood flowing or the motorized gurgling of an oxygen tank represent life. Mark lay in his bed, his body deflated and dormant and his eyes reminding you of a fighter pilot in the dead air, eyes scared and exhilarated all at once. Does oncoming death do that, he wonders, does it excite the hell out of you, and he laughs, sighing.
“Something should excite the hell out of me. God only knows how long hell has resided in there to begin with.”
And his eyes close but twitter as he sleeps. It has taken a long time coming, to this place in his life. The walls contain memories and pictures of family and friends but especially of one woman, Tanya. Tanya, Tanya, he would say, shaking his head full of the open-ended questions never answered, the moments never lived. Now, at seventy-five and dying, his life becoming more like the wall every day, every moment, trying to fill himself with the one woman he has realized he has ever truly loved was a mission his brain could not refuse. But his heart, oh, his heart was breaking at the thought of Tanya and as he uncomfortably slept, his tears were running down his cheeks just thinking of her. His dry lips mouthed her name, softly as a nurse gently opened the door to see how he was doing. Francine, a young woman, sweet, pretty but with sad cat-green eyes almost purring, looked at him as if he was a relic, something tossed away due to age or something broken and that saddened her. The sympathetic lines of her face tightened as he softly moaned, and she leaned forward but then his rhythm steadied, and she quietly left the room.
After marriages and children, and a host of relationships and women in his life, after traveling the world and relocating to Germany, an innocent unexpected moment that introduced him to this lovely creature shook him off his feet. In reflection, life often takes a curve and swings left when you want to go right. How many missed opportunities have come our way without ever knowing they were even there, but he knew she was there from the first second he saw her. She stood in the afternoon light overlooking the city of Prague from a top the castle platform for picture takers in the coldness of a winter’s day. He sensed her presence like any man traveling alone who sees an attractive woman. Nothing unusual in that. What was unusual as he was taking pictures was her saying hello and that first unexpected moment has brought him here, to this bed soaking of his sweat and smell, of his aching movements and pain, to the memory of a young woman he had no right to meet or fall in love with. A first moment he never wanted to end. This Russian woman, or so he suspected, in Prague walking alone among the ruins and history overlooking the city and the rambling streets and bridge and river that flows through it. Tanya, thin lips but full of life, her searing blue eyes and angular Russian face beneath a slow building grin wanting to explode into a smile. Tanya, and as she spoke, he heard the words curve away and sounds fade into an English spoken so gently and sweetly with humorous impact and delight that he could not turn away. It took seconds to capture him and oncoming death to lose her.
He dreamed and recalled those first steps she took to come nearer, commenting on the use of a camera as well as a smart phone to capture the city in the dwindling light. She smiled and said she does the same thing, switching back and forth to capture the rust colored and green tapestry of rooftops and the Charles Bridge full of pedestrians and bicyclists and the lone remaining artist, a dark spot of hands framing and a brush briskly moving in the air. He turned, smiled and slowly asked her a question.
“Cameras are great but, in the cold, my hands burn, and you?”
She answered warmly and stepped a bit closer, “Yes, my hands hurt as well.”
He turned fully and looked directly at her and she looked up, her eyes squinting in the remaining sun bursting before lowering itself to an early sleep. She grinned and he put down his camera.
“It’s cold out here, “and he rubbed his hands and put the camera back in its case. “How about joining me for a coffee in the café,” and he pointed to the café as she smiled and shook her head, yes.
They walked together as a gust of wind blew across the platform and the sun started its
final decent falling past the buildings and river into nothing but the sweeping brush strokes of color fading into darkness.
Conversation among strangers can be awkward and full of non-words, the uhuhs and nodding one’s head but that is not what happened. There were no heads turning away or looking down, no discussion of weather or why he was in Prague. There was only direct eye contact and sharing who they were, what they do and how they feel about what they do. He, an English teacher and writer, she, a graphic designer and photographer and they smiled the smile that people share when they realize their commonality as if belonging to the same club but having never seen one another until, now. There was no hesitation in speaking one’s mind and as the coffee arrived and the shadows rose behind their backs facing the café windows, they felt at ease as if they had known each other all their lives. He inched closer but she did not move letting him come closer. There was no fear or concern in her eyes, and he knew he could trust her, and her face showed eagerness to know more. Her body was loose and relaxed and her dark, blond hair fell across her shoulders as she stared directly at him giving him all her attention.
“You’re Russian aren’t you,” he voiced as she grinned and threw her head back gently.
“Yes,” she answered ever so softly as if to ask why, is that important or how do you know.
When she said, yes, he put the cup down and tentatively asked, “Do you always talk to strangers?”
Her lips curled and face lines arched backward but her hands stretched out on the table coming closer to his.
“Does it mean anything that I might be Russian,” and saying it so coyly and trying hard to not let a smile seep through her closed lips as if she was wooing an answer and testing him to see how he might reply.
His body straightened out and his voice rose but in a bit of a raspy tone and he answered,
“Well, a stranger and Russian might be too hard for an American to compete with. What do you think?”
How clever, she thought as she took another sip of coffee and letting him wait for anything she might say. But as she was about to speak, he said, “I’m Mark, by the way.”
And he had taken all the wind out of her sails automatically taking control of the conversation and she knew it and she liked it and so she smiled for what seemed forever.
“Are all Americans so clever,” she asked and let the smile in her eyes flutter and fly away and he replied, “Only on Wednesdays in Prague with a beautiful woman, usually, Russians.”
And she laughed saying only, “Ah hah, I’ll remember the days of the week much better next time,” and she smiled again broadly on her face, in her eyes and in her body, adding only, “I’m Tanya.”
“Well, nice to meet you, Tanya,” and they shook hands feeling each other’s warmth and light touch.
He has never forgotten those first few minutes, the café and the conversation and how beautiful she looked as if beauty was meaningless. She made it meaningless as she spoke and shared insight about her art and history. He felt entertained but with words that had power and depth. She spoke and it meant something. He knew she was a thinker, smart, caring and she felt the same about him. He asked if she wanted another cup of coffee and she nodded, no thanks and she then asked with some hesitation, “What do you write about?”
He grimaced slightly, having heard this many times before and she noticed, but said nothing.
“Hard to say,” he started but continued, “the standard answer is everything but that never goes over well.” And she replied, “I’m Russian, I can wait,” and she gently curled her lips into a faint smile, but he felt safe because of it and he spoke quietly at first.
“I suppose I can explain by saying I take the small moments in life that anyone can live and see them in a way that I create an epic sense of emotion so that anyone anywhere can relate to the pain or suffering, the joy or the fear that a character or a moment may contain.”
Tanya sat there motionless unsure of what to say or think. And as soon as she was about to ask a question, Mark continued and inched even closer to her.
“I mean,” and he gulped air that made him pause for a second, take a drink of water and continue, “There are real tragedies and honest moments where people suffer or question God or the world and they can be lost and it doesn’t always mean it has to be about people. It can be about an animal or a rock or a building. You know, anything can capture life, time, history and I share that on paper. Maybe people can read a line, a poem, an image, a story and feel they understand or belong to a moment lived by someone else, somewhere else or by themselves. It’s what it all comes down to, I suppose, and that is what I write about. Make any sense?”
She looked at him with her eyes wide and her eyebrows raised and her mouth forming a circle, but she didn’t say a word, but he knew. He knew she understood perfectly, and he thought, ‘So, this is what love is,’ to himself. In that very moment it was very clear to him that they had connected, that she totally understood him as if his soul was speaking to her in a language unknown, not understood in words, but in emotions that sat somewhere deep inside the both of them. It reminded him of how bees navigate above flowers with a singular purpose and every flower is prepared to accept what must come. Every bee coos a flower into forgiveness and as a bee nests in the bosom of that flower its petals cherish the warmth and the fluttering sounds that break the silence and reach deep into its essence.
They did not speak for a few moments and at times, looked away but then they looked directly into each other’s eyes. Something within them had been touched and he noticed a touch of pain in her cheeks and eyes but said nothing.
“I understand, Mark. Sometimes such depth reaches so far down that only silence has any meaning. I feel the same way when I take photographs of people or of objects trying to capture the full life of a person or a thing and in my designs, I aim to create art that relates to anyone and makes them feel a part of what the design stands for and the company it represents.”
And it was then that she shared her pain. She was in love with a man living an hour away and she was in town full or remorse and emotions gone haywire not knowing what to do or how to feel or how to go further. His heart sank but he tried not to show it and set aside his feelings to hear more.
Francine walked in and Mark sat up in the bed as best as he could. His eyes were blurry, and she knew he had been crying. She fixed his pillows and he moaned but gently and she asked, “So, how are you feeling,” and he answered, “Dying as usual,” and you?”
“So, we’re in that mood, huh? Come on slugger, stay in the game, it ain’t over till it’s over.”
He huffed out, “Isn’t, dear, not ain’t and in the ninth inning the fans start to leave if their team is losing big time.”
She spoke back, “Don’t be a grouch,” in a stern voice, “and what about extra innings. Keep rooting and you never know.”
She gave him his medication and was about to leave when he asked, “So, you think God is a baseball player, huh. So, I guess that makes cancer the devil, right?”
She was quiet and looked up saying only, “I don’t know, Mark. I just want you around a little longer, that’s all, okay? I’m used to your pain in the ass.”
Mark pushed his body more upright and in a hoarse voice said, “It’s not in my ass but in my bones but I’ll see what I can do.” And he smiled faintly as she walked out.
Night hit powerfully against the windows as if there had been no conversion of light to darkness. Life can be as sudden, and death can be as sudden in any given moment but he looked deeply into the dark window and felt a different sudden and immediate feeling and that was that first moment that Tanya had made him feel he could erase every ounce of pain and torment he had been carrying. Only she became important although he could not truly understand why at the time.
In the café, Tanya became a bit sullen but tried to hide the sadness in her wrinkled forehead somewhat looking away.
“I’m at my wits end, unsure of what to do and whatever I do, it isn’t good or right enough.”
She looked drained suddenly and he felt empty not knowing what to say.
“Have you tried……..,” He tried to speak when she interrupted him as her voice rose.
“Yes, Mark, I have tried everything, but we just don’t seem to understand each other.”
She paused, hesitated and as her mouth slowly began to open, she quickly closed it again as if afraid to say another word. But then she looked up and quietly as if a small child afraid to say the wrong thing said, “I’ve been married and have knocked around for the last fifteen years going from one man to the next and every relationship was going to be the last. Only, it never is. I keep thinking this is right, a new relationship and then I realize I cannot stand being alone so if I find someone new, without looking, mind you, I get attracted and think, okay, maybe that is where I should be and then I leave my old relationship, enter a new one and it repeats itself over and over. And I carry the pain and memory of each man I have left until the heartache is just too much to stand, too much to live with.”
And with that she turned away to look out into the darkness.
The darkness of the hospital room seemed to grow somehow, almost mushrooming itself into a dark cloud floating under the ceiling. Mark muttered to himself as if afraid the walls would listen and tell on him in the morning. The draining and bubbling sounds of instruments connected to him, his shallow breathing and the medication he was on affected his senses.
‘I think it’s raining. I can hear rain against the window.’ Mark lifted his body to sit almost halfway in the bed and lunged forward trying to see if it was really raining outside.
‘I wonder what it’s like, dying?’
He strained to breathe in air and started to momentarily panic but then the air came back in full potency and he relaxed and semi-laid back against the pillows.
‘Yeah, well, it can’t be worse than the last time I went to the bathroom, for God’s sake, that was death to be proud of, ha.’ And he fell back against the pillows as the darkness surrounded him.
The next early afternoon Francine walked in with her head held high and trying to contain the biggest hospital smile you can imagine which in the real world is not very big.
“So, Sir Mark, your Royaliness, Master and Commander of room 175, there is a guest waiting for you in the lobby. First one, isn’t it, Mark? I’m happy for you. I’ll bring her right in.” And Francine leaves with an air about her as if she had saved a dying patient, which maybe she has, for a few more days.
In walks Cheryl bringing a big smile and a bag of food from the outside which Francine said was okay. Mark looked up with the mask on his face and lifted one arm which he could not keep in the air for long and Cheryl sat down to see Mark’s eyebrows raise and a slight smile across his face.
Cheryl moved closer and spoke in a natural tone. “So, how are they treating you, kiddo?”
And she reached out her hand which he tried to hold. His fingers were cold, lifeless but she didn’t show a thing and looked up and away for a second as her eyes were moist and she did not want him to see her that way. It had been fifty years since they had first met at University. For a short time, they entertained the idea of a relationship but that never took off and they became good friends sharing and discussing their lives over the years. Her marriage and his marriages and their children and the health scares all of them had encountered and had won, until now.
“Tell me, how are you doing, Mark?”
“I’m hanging in as long as I can although I don’t see the purpose except for Francine threatening to kill me if I died.”
Cheryl laughed. She always laughed at a good joke and Mark was good at poking fun at himself. Mark got excited and smiled as he lifted himself up a bit and Cheryl leaned in. The sun was beating against the large window and sunlight entered the room for the first time in days.
“I see you’ve brought the sun. Who did you pay off?”
Cheryl smiled and said, “Yep, you got to know the right people to get anything done.” And Mark added, “Any chance,” and he pointed to the ceiling with a finger, “you can get into a conversation about other stuff up there?” Cheryl grinned slightly but didn’t say a word as Mark laid his head back down against the pillow.
“Remember when I told you about Tanya, the woman I had met long ago?” Cheryl smiled and looked deeply into his eyes and shook her head, yes.
“Let’s see, I think I left off where we were sitting in the café and finishing our coffees when she had told me about a man she loved very much which was like stabbing me with a fork but I continued to listen, remember?” Cheryl just shook her head as Mark lay against the pillow while the sun rays bounced against the window. “Tanya was tired at that moment and you could see it in her body language, but she kept explaining.”
“Well, Mark, you see I just created this pattern and all it brought me was pain and confusion. I never learned to live on my own always finding another man to help take care of me.” Mark pushed the coffee cup away to make some room on the café table as she continued.
“I loved each man and somehow I found certain things to love about one man and different things about another, but I thought that Jakub was the real thing. I left my marriage for him and put all my hope in being with him. I knew in my heart he was it. I had never been so attracted before and that had been an issue many times over. No man had ever excited me the way he did, and I had never loved that way before.”
Mark was dying inside but what could he do. He cared but he was just a stranger and played no role although as Tanya talked, he felt she was reaching out to him and not just telling him a story.
“And this is where you are now, right? Have you left him?”
Tanya raised her head and there was sadness but also pain and a bit of scorn making him think he should have said nothing and just remained quiet. Then she softened her face and relaxed her body as a long breath relieved her.
“Yes, well, no, not exactly yet, I’m unsure and think I need to, but I love him and it’s so hurtful. He knew I deeply cared about my ex and that he mattered to me but out of jealousy, which he had no reason to feel jealous because nothing was going on between me and my ex, he started to berate me, tell me my ex was a bad person and that holding on to him was destroying our relationship. He made me feel guilty, screamed, gave me no space and I felt trapped. He turned what I thought was special, a man I fell in love with and left my husband for, started to make me feel dirty and ashamed. I know, maybe it’s my fault to a degree. Maybe I should not have maintained such strong ties to my ex and yes, maybe I let him become a fallback, a man I knew and trusted although a man I did not love the way I needed to love and get love back. I don’t know. I screwed up but this could have all been managed so differently. Why do men scream and threaten? Jakub’s a good man but he made me feel afraid. I made mistakes but I was in Jakub’s bed every night and not with my ex. Why couldn’t he see and understand that? Why didn’t he see I left my husband of seven years for him because he was whom I loved, really loved and now he has destroyed that too and for no real reason other than his wild jealousy.”
The waiter came over and cleaned away the cups and saucers and explained that they were closing soon. Mark went out for a few minutes and when he returned, he found that Tanya had paid the bill. He insisted that he pay, and he gave her the money back and said to have a couple of coffees on him and remember him that way. He gave her his email address and they slowly left the castle grounds walking the cobblestoned streets winding down until they reached the city streets and the streetlamps and people walking by. They turned to each other and gently hugged goodbye. They would see each other one more time, two days later and that last time would have to last for the next seven years.
In a high-pitched voice Cheryl asked, “Was there anything else the two of you had talked about? You know, some other personal things?”
Mark closed his eyes and as his lids fluttered you could swear that he was looking at Tanya in that moment, but he slowly opened his eyes and spoke softly.
“Yep, we did. Strange that there were deep seated experiences that hurt us both. Her life in Moscow was hard, lonely, without much money and spent in a block apartment building. These were old buildings that once belonged to the rich and were converted into many individual apartments within one large apartment. Families had their own rooms and shared kitchens, a bit like a hostel today but back then, the heat of Moscow or the cold for that matter would create stress in cramped housing. Bathroom sinks ran, she said, and cockroaches were like new neighbors indiscriminately scaring everyone. Like miniature electric cars they scooted about and in the dark, she said, it felt dirty and scary.”
Cheryl shivered as if she had a goose-bump attack and she sat up in her chair. Mark slouched in the bed and seemed tired but there was energy in his eyes.
“Tanya told me about her father and mother. They had divorced and she was never too close to her father and she did not trust her mother very much which kind of explains seeking out men and relationships. She never really learned to stand on her own and not standing on her own became a habit. At least that’s what she said. Easy to understand how things can get that way but when you looked at her, you’d never think it. The woman’s jaw was strong, her eyes clear and the look on her face could be firm but it was her smile that gave her away. That slow building smile, starting with a sly grin that won me over. That is where she hid her warmth and her beauty. But Cher, there were other things I told her about my parents, and she was easily able to relate. It turned out she had married a man half Jewish and had also had a Jewish relationship with an American as well so was familiar with things. When I told her, my parents had been in WW2 concentration camps it did not surprise her. She asked where and I told her my dad had been in Auschwitz and she cringed but understood.”
And he looked down at his toes slightly shaking his head; “Can’t feel a thing, so damn strange,” and he looked up again only to see Cheryl’s eyes narrowing and her body crunching up. There was a pained look on her face and Mark asked if she was okay but Cheryl only slightly grinned and shook her head to say she was fine. The sunlight continued to penetrate the entire room as rays spread out over parts of the floor creating a diagram of lines as dust balls floated in a far corner. The ceiling was high and peeled paint dangled in another corner. At that moment, Francine entered the room.
“Sorry to disturb you but Mark needs some medication. And dinner will be here soon. Do you think you’re up to swallowing whole food today, she asked tenderly?” Mark shook his head, yes, and Francine left quietly.
In the very furthest corner of the room Cheryl heard what appeared to be a buzzing sound. At first it was only a very low, dull humming sound but something whizzed by and it turned out to be a bee. Cheryl ducked as the sound got closer and then it moved farther away and then the sounds stopped.
“Looks like a bee, Mark. Well, you won’t be alone.” Mark nodded up and down and then went on with the story. He started to struggle more, and his breathing was shallower than before, but he excitedly continued.
“I told Tanya about my dad and that he had been selected to pull out the golden teeth of the dead and then assigned to throwing the bodies on top of each other as if they had been dirty clothing and not people at all. After a pile of skeletal flesh had been large enough, they lit it and watched the dark flakes fly out into the wind and circle the camp. He never forgot that and when I was a boy and looked up to him and into his eyes, as crazy as it sounds, you could almost see his eyes looking up into the sky for those black, charred flakes of what had been people and little children and, well, yeah, I told her all that. My dad was a shy, quiet man. He never said much as my mom did all the talking. He kept it all in but my mom, she cried it out nightly with her nightmares and screams that awakened me every night. As a kid I would run to their bedroom door and stare at their shadows and hear my father’s cooing her and gently waking her up and out of the nightmare that haunted her for more than twenty years. That stuff has stayed with me all these years. Yep, we talked about a lot of other things.”
“How did she feel,” Cheryl asked, and Mark only said, “the same way you feel, sick is sick, isn’t it? Anyway, the next time I saw her was two days later as it so happened, I had already booked a bus to go to exactly where she and Jakub had been living. Later that night, Tanya sent me an email thanking me for the coffee and that started it all off; our email and Whatsapp contact.”
“What do you mean,” Cheryl asked curiously as her eyes enlarged and her forehead squeezed forcing lines to bulge out. Mark easily noticed and asked, “Are you okay?” She smiled and relaxed and shook her head and then Mark replied but first he noticed that bee buzzing again swooping overhead and then settling against a windowsill in the dark, sitting there motionless as if a witness or a prisoner.
“A tourist lake and mountain area an hour or so out of the city had been recommended to me and in the that first email I felt that Tanya was being nice but also curious almost like that circus act of yours a minute ago,” and he laughed as did Cheryl but he continued, “so after getting that email I told her directly that I wish I could see her again and that she had totally mesmerized me and well, that does mean an emotional reaction, I suppose. She replied immediately, thanked me and it felt as if she had left a door open. I was never sure what that meant but I liked it. The next day, in the late afternoon, she texted again saying that there was a jazz concert going on and if I’d like to meet them at the stage area which was right next to the lake. I quickly answered, yes, shaved and got ready totally unaware as to what to expect especially since she had said, them. About forty-five minutes later, I was there having rushed and after a few minutes, there she was, and so was Jakub. I’ll admit, a nice enough guy, and apparently as a musician and composer he also knew many of the people who had gathered for this local outdoor concert. We spoke, had some wine and while Jakub caught the attention of a friend or two and went over and spoke to them, Tanya and I stepped closer to each other next to a bonfire’s raging flames into the dark night and talked. When Jakub had returned, he took her aside for a minute and afterwards she whispered that he had told her it seemed as if she and I had been friends forever and that made us both smile. I stayed for about an hour and then she and I hugged goodbye and I walked away back to my hotel and they left as well and as we parted, it began to snow.
“And then what, Cheryl asked with anxiety in her voice.”
“Nothing really or rather, we emailed each other hundreds of times and over the course of
the next two months we had a tremendous amount of contact. She had a hard time because she could only stay as a visitor and her visa status was expiring so she had to leave the country. It was something she had done before and every time she left, she returned to Minsk in Belarus where she had friends and a permanent visa status. She could not return to Moscow where there was too much pain and where her ex still lived. She was committed to leaving but it was breaking her heart.”
Mark gasped and spit out a bit of blood and Cheryl sat up quickly but then he relaxed and rested his head back against the pillow. Breathing heavily, he quietly continued.
“It was crazy, Cheryl, it was emails, Whatsapp messages and phone calls often for hours on end and we spoke, laughed and discussed everything you can think of but we always came back to pain and healing and love; hers for Jakub and mine for her. There was no happy way out of any of it until she decided that it is best if she removed me from the equation. She was still carrying the emotions of ending her marriage as she had never dealt with it and now, the love of her life, a man she deeply loved but she understood that he was ultimately unhealthy for her and the last thing she wanted was the stress of caring about a third man, me.”
Mark’s breathing became shallow and he took deep gulps of air trying to catch his breath. Cheryl called for Francine and she came in bringing a single rose in a narrow glass vase. Its petals were just opening to the room light.
“So, Mark, I see you’re going to make it a long night for me, huh?!” And she bent over him looking deeply into his eyes. Her sharp stare told him what he had known was coming. Neither of them needed to say a word but Cheryl felt something had changed and stood up. Francine looked at her with a face so tight and strained and eyes so clear that Cheryl slowly sat down again and slumped in her chair. She then rose as if to leave but Mark waved her off as if to say, stay and so she sat down again. Francine gave Mark another dose of morphine and turned to Cheryl and said she’d be back in a little while. The bee’s buzzing sound increased and all three of them looked at the window which was now blanketed in darkness and could hear the bee but couldn’t actually see it, however, Francine had placed the single rose in the vase on a windowsill and its red color reflected against the glass. Then she left.
“Cheryl,” Mark called out and she looked up. “I never saw her again and after two months, hundreds of email messages, the both of us going back and forth as to what we would do regarding our feelings, especially mine, one day, became the last day. I never heard from her
Cheryl stared at him with a blank look on her face saying, “What do you mean you never heard from her again? You mean that was it, nothing?”
For the first time Mark started to take off the oxygen mask and did so halfway and under the mask, in a brittle, half-broken voice said, “No, never again but I didn’t need to. Do you understand?” Cheryl looked at him quizzically and her back stiffened. “I didn’t need to hear her voice or see her because I understood finally, for the first time in my life what love really was. In her own way she loved me to not hurt me and she loved herself enough to not return to Jakub and she loved him enough to cry for him knowing how much he was hurting. For the first time in my life, love didn’t need a single word, or a single touch. I realized that after all these years of living and fighting and loving people that the connection between who you truly love is so deep in one’s soul that when she closed her eyes so far away, I started to cry and when she hugged a pillow in pain and tucked her body so that she could pretend she was invisible, I could feel the pain and torment in my chest. Loving her was loving myself. Words weren’t necessary and anyway, time always passes by, somehow. She lives inside of me. It is why I have hung on so long. I do not want her to die in me.”
Cheryl stood up in the low light of the room and her arms hung down by her sides as if she had surrendered to something greater than herself and said, “I’ll be right back,” and she wiped a tear from her eyes and left the room. In the hallway she saw Francine and they walked back into the room, now darkened by the full night’s depth encircling the building and the city. The only sound was the low buzz of the bee sitting somewhere in the shadows. Francine looked at Mark and darted a quick stare at Cheryl who understood. He was gone. Francine, in a hushed voice said, “I’ll take care of things,” and Cheryl only slowly nodded while looking at Mark lying on the bed, lifeless and alone. Then Francine said, “I better get the doctor on the ward first. Be right back,” and she covered Mark with the white bed sheet. As Cheryl walked out of the room, she turned off the one light still on and she heard the buzzing of the bee much louder. It was hovering over the single rose in the vase at the window and for the very first time, she saw the bee against the faint light against the window land on the flower and nest on a petal as if it had finally come home to where it belonged.