FoundlingReview

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I once bought you a ring with a cabochon of amethyst soldered to the top, where our names entwined in a circle of silver.

I once bought you a house nestled in the surrounding hills of the city, where lilting doves sang their arias to one another.

I once bought you a plane ticket to the coastal cliffs of Italy, where we’d laid in one another’s arms as the salty air mussed your hair.

But no jewels, no hallowed mountain crest, and no privacy walls can stop the disease stealing you away.

Your eyes lost in deep pools of blue, you look at me blindly when I ask if you need anything.

“A time machine,” you say, the hint of a smile creeping on to your gaunt face.

And I start to cry, thankful you can’t see me. I hold my breath so tight white spots dance across my vision.

“Safeway doesn’t carry those anymore.” A cough escapes my throat to cover the fear in my voice. “Expiration dates were getting too confusing.”

You release a laugh from deep inside, where you are young and healthy with boundless energy and a head full of chestnut hair. A place where the two of us slow dance with life.

You laugh so hard a dark stain grows on the blue bamboo sheets.

“I’m sorry.” A flush of pink rushes to the pale white of your skin.

I lean down and kiss the hollow of your neck. “It’s okay.”

The aide comes in, arms loaded with towels. “I’ll clean him up. We need more diapers. Can you pick some up at the store?”

“Hurry home,” you call, your hand absentmindedly twirling the ring with the purple stone.

***

The adult incontinence products are at the end of aisle nine, past the sleep-deprived new fathers hefting Pampers into their baskets.

The brand I buy for you is the best, absorbent and soft to protect your ulcerated skin. They only come in ten and twenty packs, and I struggle with each shopping trip on which to buy.

The twenty pack costs only fifty cents more than the ten.

But twenty is twice as many as ten.

That means twice as many times to see the humiliation in your face as you’re swaddled in a diaper. Twice as long to watch you stumble in your dark world. Twice as many days to comfort you as you tell me you’re afraid.

You suffer and yet you hold on. My reassurances sound false and contrived, but you seem eased by the well-intentioned words.

A baby cries behind me and a young man cradles him, just as I do you. The sobs turn to whimpers then stop. He rocks the child in his arms and smiles at me.

“Keep us up all night if they could, huh?” he asks, grabbing a value size Huggies from the shelf.

I nod and watch him throw the bag on the counter, the baby squealing happily at his dangling keys.

The ten-count pack finds its way into my cart. I can always come back for more.         

***

You are clean now, snuggled tightly in the soft comforters, your hair wispy from static electricity. I’ve started to read to you, a silly book about nothing, one to fill the heavy silence that begins to fall.

“James?” You interrupt, your hand instinctively finding mine in your darkness.

“What is it, love?” The hand is cold and grasps mine tight.

Your voice doesn’t falter. “When the time comes…”

“Yes?”

“Make sure they cover my bald spot, okay?” You smile and don’t realize how your words tear at my heart.



Lucy McKee is a full-time Registered Nurse and part-time writer living on the coast of southwest Florida with her Border Collie. She's a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas.



My intent for this piece was to explore the emotional dynamics in a relationship when confronted with illness. In the narrator's wavering optimism for his dying partner, I wanted to create a balance between holding on and letting go. I hope the story impresses upon readers that this theme crosses all boundaries of gender and sexuality.





 





  


Copyright 2009