“Hold me, just hold me!” she said and he did. Because there was no way of making her understand anymore that it was just the everyday twelve o'clock noon siren. It wailed in the distance, from the firehouse just a block from their home. She gripped him so tightly he wanted to die. When it stopped, she looked up at him with a coy smile on a face seamed with hollows and lines like old lace.
“Oh, I'm so embarrassed,” she said and struggled to sit back in the bed. “You must think I'm awful.” Her voice was a whisper, a mere breath of life. He eased her into the pillows, thinking she felt like a Chinese lantern, weightless, paper-thin.
“Of course not,” he comforted. One hand lingered on her shoulder, drew softly down over her arm. She shrugged it off with a scowl. “Who are you?” she said.
He held his breath, let it out, then said it again, though each word drilled into his soul. “I'm Tom,” he said. “I'm your husband.”
“Oh.” Her eyes were a palest blue, alive, eager. “ Do we have any children?”
It broke his heart. It made him angry. “Think, Margaret, think! You know this.”
Her face twisted, recoiled like the tip of a starfish when touched. A nurse came in and gave him a half-smile of sympathy. It made him feel worse.
“I'm sorry,” he said to his wife. “We have three children. Peter, Jeremy, and the youngest is Margaret like you.”
“That's nice,” she said and smiled. “This is my boyfriend,” she told the nurse. “This is Roy.” The nurse fluffed up the pillows, checked Margaret's pulse, and left them alone again.
She drank only a thick milkshake, three sips at the most at a time, as if it were poison he held to her lips. Guilt gave him patience to keep at it, because she'd forget she had taken some just a few seconds ago and so he could talk her into ‘trying' a sip. He'd signed the papers that morning. He felt that she knew. He hoped she would believe that he'd asked first if starvation was painful. “She picks out the black specks of pepper,” they told him. The last taste to go was for sweetness. He had brought her chocolates, her favorites, the jellies. “Thank you,” she had said. “They're so hard to get with this war.” But that was last week, and now she wouldn't touch even them.
The day that she died he sat by her. Held her hand though he didn't think she knew he was there. From dawn till the sun slipped through the blinds in a bright morning sun, he sat there. The nurse brought him something to eat and some coffee. She lifted Margaret up and gave her a sip of cranberry juice. “Talk to her, she'll hear you, though she can't respond,” the nurse told him. He tried but soon fell silent again and just sat.
She'd slept through the noon siren that day. In the late afternoon, she opened her eyes, looked straight at him. For the first time in a long time, he saw her there. “I love you,” he said.
“Chocolate,” she answered.
words: Susan M. Gibb, Connecticut, (Spinning / Hypercompendia)
image: 'Without a face' - Sibel Catana, UK (profile + images)
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