Copyright © Text 2016 by J.S. Davidson
Copyright © Cover Illustration 2016 J.S Davidson
Edited by Sandra Simmonds
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The moral right of this author has been asserted.
All characters and events in this publication, other than
those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious
and any resemblance to real persons,
living or dead is purely coincidental.
“Ange!” Davey called as he shuffled along the hospital corridor, his chequered brown dressing gown dragging on the floor behind him. He wanted to run to Milly’s room, but his worn hip rendered that impossible.
“Milly woke at 3.00 a.m. asking for you. I’m sorry I woke you, but if I waited ‘til morning… Davey, I think morning would be too late.” Her soft and gentle voice conflicted with her solemn expression.
“So, she’s still…?” He choked on his words.
Ange smiled her warm smile, “You still have time to say goodbye.”
“How?” Davey’s stomach ached, and he had a nagging pain in his chest since he took Ange’s call. “Fifty years she’s been by my side. How do I say goodbye? I can’t even remember the name of the disease that’s killing her.” When the doctor had broken the news to Davey all he heard was that Milly had mere months to live. Everything else blurred.
Ange rested her hands on each of Davey’s arms. Her crystal blue eyes looked into his weary ones. “Don’t think of it as goodbye, just sit and talk with her – reminisce.”
As Ange watched Davey enter Milly’s room, her heart sank. She sat in the dark grey chair in the corridor and rested her head in her palms. Her job was to nurse the dying, to help alleviate their pain and discomfort in their final moments. And when they passed through the veil, it was her job to hold the families together. There was only one problem: each time she helped glue them back together a tiny piece of her fell apart. Other palliative nurses didn’t share Ange’s worries. They had become accustomed to the pain. In fact, the day she was offered the job in palliative care, a senior nurse assured her that she would become immune to the sorrow, that in only a matter of time it would be ‘just work’. But after one long year, Ange’s sorrow for the families hadn’t lessened.
Davey stood in Milly’s room and looked at her. She was lying on the only bed in the room with big fluffy pillows propping her head up and a tight blanket attempting to keep her dying body warm. Over the last several months, Davey had become accustomed to the oxygen tubes in her nose. He scarcely recalled what she looked like without them.
Milly’s eyes opened and a small smile tugged at either side of her lips. “You’re here,” she whispered with a weak voice.
“Of course. How are you, love?” He spoke gently as he slowly moved his way to the side of her bed. “What are you doing awake at his hour?”
“What are you remembering?” he asked as he sat in the blue curved seat by her bed, wincing slightly from the pain that shot down his leg.
“Everything.” She smiled.
“Everything?” He half laughed, “That is a lot to remember!”
“We did a lot,” she said as she closed her eyes. “Do you remember when we flew across the Nullarbor on your motorbike?” She paused and took in several slow, long breaths. “I almost died when you arrived at my work on the back on that damned thing. Everyone thought I was mad when I just up and walked out with you.” She tried to laugh, but her deteriorated lungs wouldn’t allow it. “Do you remember the hot winds gushing around us as we raced over the scorching ground? I felt like I was flying…”
He took her hand in both of his and pressed his lips to the back of her fingers. He closed his eyes as he listened to her memories – very soon that would be all he would have of her – just memories.
“We took that tiny tent of yours.” She continued to struggle with every word. “We barely fit into it. Your feet hung out the end.” There was laughter in her eyes as she was carried away with thought. “Do you remember sitting under the only tree in miles, and staring up at the night sky? Oh, I’d never seen so many stars – the sky was alive! I could almost feel it hugging the world, like a big blanket.”
It was almost too much for him to bear, her beautiful green eyes looking at him. How would he survive without seeing them every day?
She struggled on, “It was almost midnight when we walked on the beach at Lucky Bay, the sand squashed under our feet. Do you remember how warm the air was? Midnight – and I wore a summer dress! I spread my arms out and spun on the spot. Oh, the breeze was alive as it danced along the beach with us. You scooped me up in your arms and raced me out into the waves. The warm water splashed us with ever step you took. That was it, you know – that was the moment I fell in love with you. You kissed me as we stood knee-deep in the ocean and I knew you were the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with.” She opened her mouth to speak again, but instead of words, came coughing.
“Milly!” Davey stood to his feet and leant across to his wife. “Milly, sit up.” She coughed harder as she gasped for breath. “Milly!” He cried as he tried to pull her up. “Ange! Help!”
There was once a time he would have just picked Milly up in his arms and run her to help, but age had slowly taken his strength. Now all he could do was to call out.
Ange called as she quickly moved to the side of the bed. “Milly, it’s okay. Nice deep breaths. In and out,” she instructed as she took the tubes from Milly’s nose and held the oxygen mask over her face.
Milly’s skeletal fingers rested gently on Ange’s arm as she drew in oxygen. Davey looked at Milly, her white hair dishevelled and knotted from resting on the pillows, her fingernails unpainted and face without make-up – not at all how she looked at home. But it was her eyes that were most different; they were tired. Only a moment ago he watched them glisten and dance with life as she told him her stories. He sat back in the blue chair and leant his head to his hands. Milly’s life was slipping away and no matter how much Davey wanted to hold on to her, he could not save her. He knew the time was coming. The sickness had worsened and there was nothing that could be done. He knew she was ready to leave this world, but he wasn’t ready to let her go. With every passing moment the ache inside his stomach grew – a piece of him was dying with her.
“Davey, Davey.” Ange rubbed his arm gently.
He looked up to her. She was blurred, almost swimming. He wiped his face and looked down at his glimmering fingertips. He couldn’t remember the last time he cried.
“Davey, you can go back to talking to Milly. I’ll just be in the corridor if you need me.”
Ange left the room and found her place back on the chair in the corridor. She smiled as she listened to Milly recall her life, finding solace in her stories. Usually when Ange sat in the corridor, her patients cried with their loved ones, prayed for just a little more time, and the most heartbreaking of all – spoke of regret. But not Milly and Davey. They hadn’t wasted a single moment. They truly lived their lives to the fullest, and in Milly’s last hours she could retell her wonderful memories to the man she loved.
Ange looked down to her naked ring finger. It hadn’t always been naked. There had been a man and he had been wonderful, but he wanted to travel and then start a family. As romantic as that notion was, she had to focus on her career. It’s not that she didn’t want to travel and start a family – she did, but not just then. She had to finish studying and ensure she had a stable career. To spend her time traveling before that would simply be nonsensical. She constantly reminded herself that she’d made the right decision, choosing a solid career, but it didn’t stop her from caressing the once-dressed finger, and wondering ‘what if’…
She rested her head against the wall and thought of how amazing it would be to fly across the Nullarbor on the back of a motorbike, to lie out under the stars, and dance in the ocean at midnight. The man who’d given her the engagement ring hadn’t moved on from Ange. Maybe once she achieved a solid career they could rekindle what they once had. Maybe he would want to ride across the Nullarbor on a motorbike? Looking down at her naked finger she promised herself; one day I’ll call and ask him.
Davey appeared in the corridor, crestfallen. She moved quickly to him. “Davey! What is it?”
“I’ve never felt so goddamn useless!” he cursed. “My wife is in there and there is nothing I can do to help her!” He collapsed to one of the one of the nearby seats. “She is my wife! I swore to protect her, and here I am, useless!”
That was the part that tore at Ange. Waiting and watching with families as their loved ones slipped by. Davey was right – he was useless, but so was Ange and so was every doctor.
She pulled a seat closer to Davey and took his aged hand in her youthful fingers. “You are helping, Davey. She wants her last memory to be of you.”
Why did death have to be so agonising? Ange knew people felt cheated when their loved ones died suddenly. But after a year witnessing frequent death, Ange came to realise that sudden death is merciful. Through a husky voice, she said, “Just sitting with her, listening to her – that’s all she wants Davey.”
“But what do I do without her?” He sat back in his chair, his face was expressionless. “How will I decide what I am going to watch on television?”
“What?” Ange was taken aback.
“Milly always bought the newspaper on Sundays and circled our programs in the T.V. guide. Who will do that now? Who will slice the vegetables for dinner? Who will ask me to open jars?” Davey sat in silence for a moment, staring blankly. The overwhelming emptiness of his life without Milly began to weigh heavily on him. He and Milly hadn’t had children. After the third miscarriage they stopped trying. He would shortly return to a barren house and wait until death called for him too.
Ange leant across and wrapped an arm around his frail shoulder. “You will find yourself again, Davey. Just treasure the last moments your wife has – be with her now.”
He nodded slowly and without another word walked back to Milly’s room.
“Where did you go?” Milly asked, her voice weaker than before.
“Just for a breath of fresh air. Bit of a run,” Davey smiled, attempting to conceal his heartache.
Milly laughed slowly, “You haven’t run in years.”
“I haven’t done a lot of things in years – like brush my hair. I miss having hair,” he said lightly as he reclaimed his curved chair by her bed.
“You’re still the most handsome man I’ve met – even if you are as bald as a badger.”
“And you are still the most beautiful woman in the world. That first time I saw you, you were wearing a blue dress and your blonde hair was pulled up and tied in a ribbon… I wanted to speak to you, but why would a beautiful girl like you want to talk to a buffoon like me? You would go to the little Baker’s in the middle of the street and every time you would wear the same dress.”
She nodded as a tiny smile slipped across her face, “Yes. Every Sunday my mother would send me to buy bread.”
“I know. Because I used to get a haircut every Sunday. It was the easiest money that Barber ever earned. Every Saturday night I would promise myself that that Sunday would be the day! I would walk across the street and speak to you!” The backs of his eyes burned again, but he refused to let her see him cry. “But then I’d see you and I’d clam up… You are just as beautiful today as you were all those years ago.”
She gazed at him for a moment, gaining strength to speak again. “Do you remember that dance? The one when you grabbed my hand and swung me out to the dance floor. Remember that Sabrina? Oh, she was so mad that you chose me over her. And the look on everyone’s face when we took over the dancefloor! You had been having secret dance lessons. I remember how it felt when you swung me around the room – I was with Davey Eminson. I felt like a queen.” She closed her eyes and hummed the music quietly. “You know, I never thought you’d ever take dancing lessons. I thought I’d die an old woman never having danced into the night.”
“I’m sorry!” Davey burst as tears flooded from his eyes. “I’m sorry! I should have done more for you. If I could go back, Milly, I would do it all so differently.”
She wrapped her withered fingers around his hand. “Shh. No, you did everything you could. Davey. I lived to be an old and happy woman.”
“Milly, you were always happy. I took you for granted, I should have done more. You deserved so much more.” He leant his face into his palms.
“Davey. Don’t worry yourself with what could have been. Just let me live these memories with you now.” Her words were growing further and further apart, every breath challenging her.
Davey slowly pulled his face from his hands. Her voice was fading. “I will live all the memories you want, with you. I will sit here as long as you want.”
“You still have time.” She whispered, “Do everything we didn’t get a chance to.”
“Everything is empty without you. I can’t. I haven’t even prepared a meal at home since you’ve been in here. I tried to, but I couldn’t stand to only put out one place at the table. Milly, please don’t leave me.”
She rubbed his cheek with the back of her fingertips. “It will only be for a little while…” Her words faded again. Davey could see life slipping from her. The glow in her that he fell in love with was fading. This was it. He leant across and kissed her, but she didn’t kiss him back. Her lips stayed straight and still. The machine by her bed changed from pulsating beeps to a long, unbroken sound.
Ange heard the unmistakable sound of the heart rate monitor. She walked into the room, leant across and took Milly’s wrist between her fingers. Silence. She glanced at the round silver clock hanging from the wall. It showed 4:15 a.m. – Milly’s time of death.
“Davey.” Ange tried to speak without crying.
He was still leaning over Milly, just watching her as though waiting for her to wake. “You know, I always meant to take dance lessons.” He said as he sat on the side of Milly’s bed and ran his fingers through her hair. “I really did plan to buy a motorbike – one day…”
Ange could barely breath as she left the room. She was stunned. None of what she overheard had actually happened! Milly hadn’t been retelling her life – she was living it for the first time! Ange had taken solace in knowing there was time for her to accomplish her dreams after securing a house, career and all of life’s other necessities, just as Davey and Milly had. But it was a lie. They hadn’t embraced life. They, like so many others, had sat on the side and watched it pass before them – just as Ange could feel her life pass before her. She caught her reflection in a window; her orange hair hung loosely by her face, her make-up was smudged. She wanted to hide away and cry for hours – not for the passing of Milly, but in fear that one day she would be filled with endless regret and broken dreams.
She pulled herself together. Ange was a nurse, which meant she had a job to do, even when that job was upsetting. It had to be done.
As Ange walked back into Milly’s room she saw that Davey had slipped under the blankets with his wife and was holding her. His arm draped over her lifeless body and his face nuzzled into her neck.
“Davey, I’m sorry but we need to move…” Ange stopped short. Something was wrong. She leant across and took his wrist in her fingers – nothing.
“Ange! What are you doing?” Another nurse asked as Ange grabbed her coat and handbag from the nurse’s station and headed towards the door.
“The paperwork is done for the Eminson’s. They’re both in Milly’s room.”
“Angela! What are you doing? Your shift isn’t over for another two hours.”
Ange turned on the spot. For the first time in years Ange didn’t have a plan, nothing was calculated, and she sure as hell didn’t know what was coming next. For the first time in years she felt alive.
“I have no idea. But I’m going to start by making a phone call, and then I’m going to buy a motorbike.”