Fiction Friday: Chapter 16
Read previous chapters here.
This is the final chapter.
Leda enters the hospital with Diane on her heels. She thinks her daughter is talking to her, trying to calm her, but she does not hear anything. She only sees the reception desk and the long hall beyond the doors that are closed to her. She demands to know which room her husband has been taken to, and the nurses are accommodating, as they know Mr. Simmons has already arrived and been stabilized. They give her the room number, and before they finish articulating Leda sweeps past them and through the doors, letting them flap behind her. Diane is almost hit by the doors, but she dodges the blow in time, then follows her mother. She decides that she might as well join Leda’s mission rather than try to hinder it by calming her.
They arrive in Walt’s room, small yet comfortable, to see him attached to every machine imaginable. He looks robotic, with wires and tubes emerging on both arms and on his face. He lays still, not sensing his family’s arrival. Leda wonders if he will be able to talk to her once she wakes him. She steps forward, hoping to get his attention, to touch him or shake him, but then the doctor arrives.
It is a man Leda has not seen yet in all of the visits they have made in the last six months. Yet, he talks to her as if they are old friends. He is not young, but neither is he old. He wears sneakers and scrubs, and Leda instantly approves. Although she dresses impeccably, she remembers the first doctor when Walt’s rollercoaster ailments began. His shoes clicked and clacked, only annoying her in the time of crisis. Now, this man before her wears sensible clothing, rumpled and stained from work. She can see that he has probably already saved several lives today and she thanks him for saving Walt’s.
The doctor’s face changes. He still smiles, but there is a worry behind those gray, twinkling eyes. He does not accept her thanks, but instead gives credit to the paramedics, who stabilized him in the ambulance on the way. He then explains that Walt has suffered another stroke, more massive than the first. He pauses for a moment, ponders the wall behind Leda’s head, then jumps into a speech he has given thousands of times. Leda only catches words, but she understands their full meanings. Unconscious. Paralysis. Unstable. Dying.
Dying. Her Walt is dying. She looks at him, wrapped in a hospital gown and white sheets, connected to wires that should save him. Instead, he is dying. The doctor explains that he will not likely regain consciousness, but that he only has a few hours, maybe days, at the most to live. He makes a graceful exit, one Leda does not notice. She instead takes Walt’s hand and decides to let go. She knows this is the end and tries to face it with strength and courage.
Diane crosses the room and takes her father’s other hand. She feels tears slide down her face, but she cannot make a sound. They stand like this for some time, then notice the fluttering of Walt’s eyes. He opens them, and Leda feels her heart leap. Will he recover? The curve of his mouth and greyish pallor of his skin lets doubt creep back into her mind. She knows the doctor has declared him at the end of his life, but she still feels some hope.
“Colleen?” Walt mumbles. Is that you? He is staring beyond Diane and Leda, instead upwards toward the ceiling. A tear trickles from his left eye, and he moans. “Colleen, honey. Colleen!” His voice is quiet, but his words are important and emphasized.
Leda wants to tell him no, that it isn’t his beloved daughter, but Leda, his wife. She feels the words bubbling up in her mouth. “It’s me, Leda!” she thinks. But then it hits her. He is dying. He can see their baby, the one snatched too soon. This saddens Leda, but she knows with a surety that when her time comes she’ll get to see Colleen too. She’ll be with them. With Walt and Colleen.
It is then that she knows she must hold onto this belief, this knowledge, this truth, instead of the old memories and hurts that have come her way. She grips Walt’s hand tighter, caresses his hair, still thick and beautiful.
“I love you, baby,” she whispers to him. “You can go now. I’ll join you when I can.” She feels his hand grip hers tighter, just for a moment, and then he is gone. His eyes flutter closed and she feels the life no longer in his hand. His soul has gone with Colleen’s, and she feels relieved.
Leda puts her head down on his chest. She rests there for some moments. She says goodbye, then she stands up, unwinds her fingers from his, and allows her heart to rest, lightened of its many loads.