Ira pulled the door to Jean’s apartment closed. He had spent the last three nights trying to sleep on her couch. Davy, her brother, was in her spare room. Ira was an old man, and had expected to die before any of his children. What little hope he had of that was gone. Jean was in the hospital.
The window at the bottom of the stair was a blank. The bones of his knees ground as he went down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairwell, the first dim of dawn jagged across the window, a pale thin line, like the line on a hospital monitor, edged the white mountains from the blue-black sky, empty except for the Morning Star, cold and sharp. A mask mirrored back at him from the window. It was gray under the shadow of his hat. He pushed open the door, and the cold came in sharp and brisk. It had snowed. His truck was blocked in by Jean’s Jeep on the narrow drive way.
They had used Jean’s car to drive her to the hospital. Davy carried her down the stairs. Ira held the door. The snow was falling, thin dry flakes that gathered on her jacket and eyelashes as Davy carried her to the car. Her eyes were closed, whether against pain or the indignity of being carried by her brother, Ira cold not tell.
“We should a called an ambulance,” Davy said, again. Neither of them answered him. Ambulances were death wagons to Ira. Hospitals were where people died. He hated them both. Snow was already gathering, and Davy shifted into four-wheel before he backed into the street.
Ira walked past the two vehicles and onto the sidewalk. It had snowed. He turned and walked to the end of the sidewalk. The road to the hospital went up a hill, and thenhe walked along the edge of the road. His shadow walked in front of him and shortened and lengthened in the light of the traffic passing him. His breath steamed out ahead of him. It was a mile to the hospital. He walked steadily up the hill and then across an open field between the street and the parking lots.
It was starting to be lighter, but the parking lot lights were still orange in the dim dawn. He walked across the parking lot. His boot tracks were the only marks on the snow.
The doors at the emergency room slid open when he walked toward it. He went in and the vestibule door slid open. The antiseptic smell of illness and pain came to him. A woman in a blue smock and blue hospital pants asked him if she could help.
Jean lay in a bed with rails on it. She was sleeping, breathing through her open mouth. There was a tube in her nose and an IV tube in the port they had put in her arm. Her cheeks were very pale and sunken against the bone of her jaw. The machines hummed and popped. A monitor jittered her heartbeat and told numbers that were not about a life.
He remembered suddenly her, only a child then, a little girl, riding behind him, laughing because of something he had said—he could not remember what it was—only that she laughed and clung to his back as they rode through the sunlit June afternoon fields. He remembered the two of them laughing and her clinging to him, and the expectations of forever in that June afternoon.
That was gone.
He had to look away from her to the gray morning. The Morning Star was gone. The sun would rise soon. There was an inevitability about it that could not be stopped.
He sat in the room and waited for her to wake.
Posted in response to the Word of the Day Challenge dismal