‘For better or worse, in sickness and health.’
Colin nodded at his wife’s misquoting and squeezed her hand tightly.
‘It’s going to be okay,’ he whispered back.
She gave a little shake of her head, but didn’t stay anything.
‘We’ll have…to try…’ he stopped unable to force the rest of the words out. He had the urge to tell his wife so much, but the tears had closed his throat.
She sighed and shifted on the rough hospital bed causing the sheets and her gowned to rasp together. She turned her head away, shutting her eyes and letting the room fill with the whirling machines and their breathing.
Releasing her hand, Colin tried to hold himself together. He rubbed his palms across his knees and thought about going to get a hot drink. He couldn’t leave her like this, even though it seemed she had taken the terminal news okay. He studied her and noticed how thin her face had become. His wife looked like a flat portrait of herself, he decided.
Slumming into the hard chair, he thought about what to do, but nothing formed in his head. He pressed a hand to his head and listen to the ticking clock on the wall.
‘I’m going to get a drink, do you want anything?’ he spoke softly.
She didn’t reply.
He got up and saw she had fallen asleep. Gently, he fixed the knitted hat that hid her baldness and pulled the sheet up to her chin. He left as quietly as he could and went down a floor to the café. There cradling a burning cup of tea, he sat at a plastic table and watched everyone else.
There was only a few people hanging around and most of them looked like last minute visitors. They were sat alone or in pairs, whispering over cups and plates. Colin glanced out of the window and saw a small garden below him over which the mid-summer sun was just beginning to set.
I should take her out there tomorrow, if the weather holds, he thought before sipping his tea. Then his thoughts turned and he recalled how two years ago everything had started in this very hospital. He looked into his tea and tried to remember his wife telling him the news. They had been at home, going to bed. He knew she hadn’t been well, but she had been hiding it in her normal way. What had they done that night?
He shook his head, too much having happened for him to hold on to that one moment. He sighed, blew across his drink and took another sip. Placing the cup down, he pressed his hands into his head.
I don’t want this.
They had been a classic family; dad, mum, a boy and a girl. Now though, as Colin sat in his suddenly empty living room and looked at the photos, a chill crossed his heart. Sympathy cards lined the window sill, their soft drawings of flowers lit by the lamp. From upstairs he could hear his wife’s shaking sobs. He thought about going to her, but for the moment he needed to be alone.
His daughter had just died.
She would have been twenty-five next week and had gone on holiday with her boyfriend. A plane crash that had killed countless others and torn families around the world apart, had claimed her. She would never return.
Colin got up and touched the last photo of her and her older brother. He tasted bile in his throat and acid in his stomach. He shook his head and felt a surge of anger at losing both his children.
Unbelievably, tomorrow was his son’s anniversary. Eleven years gone now, killed by a drunk driver, aged only eighteen, in a car accident.
Colin slammed down the photograph and went upstairs. He found his wife flung across the bed face down. Her black dress rode up around her whilst her body heaved and shook on top of the sheets. He helped her up and took the dress off. He dropped it to the floor and saw she was wearing matching black underwear.
He lay her down on the bed again, took off his clothes then slipped between her legs. She didn’t protest as he slipped limply in and tried to offer some comfort. After, he held her tightly till she slipped into a restless sleep.
It was the happiest moment of his life. Colin stood on the church doorstep and watched the guests gathering. The early autumn sun was shining in a blue sky and even the little graveyard looked cheerful. He arranged the collar of his suit for the hundredth time and straightened out his red rose in his top pocket.
Everything had to be right and traditional, today was her big day. And also his, but this really was all for her. He watched the last of the guests arrive and greeted them warmly. He helped them find their seats and made sure that their children were going to be quiet.
Nothing can go wrong, everything has to be perfect.
Then, he was taking place at the altar with his best man and the vicar. He listened to the mumbled of voices from behind which got blasted by the starting of the church organ. His best man glanced behind them and Colin saw his face light up.
He felt sweat bead on his head and hands. He quickly patted it away and took in a few depth breaths. Repeating the mantra over and over again as if he was about to perform that instead of his vows, he tried to clear his mind. He felt her come to his side, he turned and accepted her hand given to him by her father. Colin gulped and took her in. She was too beautiful in crushed white satin and frills.
The vicar’s voice mingled with the ending notes of the organ, filling the silenced room with his opening welcome.
Colin clutched her hands, feeling warmth spreading through him.
Life had given him everything he had ever wanted.