The river bends at a most inopportune moment transecting a beautiful garden of trees, flowering bushes and flowers of all colors and beauty. It is a quiet place made haven to the birds that fly by to visit and some to feed, for there is always a bird feed full of content and promise. The lazy branches of the birch trees swagger under the tug and push of the breeze and the rustling leaves fill the sounds of heaven on this lovely paradise.
The grass is always neatly cut, for from time to time a thin tall man can be seen mowing it with great care. He seems to pause to catch his breath and then filled with the desire to accomplish he continues undeterred by the body’s desires of rest. He can see the riverbed from where he mows and his glance moves from place to place taking in all the life this Eden has to offer. His rituals are weekly and Wednesdays are what he looks forward to most when he can sit in this haven on the back of a modest century old home and watch the birds at play.
This Wednesday however he is noticeably absent. The birds still fly in but the chatter is different. The sounds of communication have a different cadence. There is hurried chatter and coos and twitters but little harmony. They must miss the human.
It is 2.O Clock in the afternoon and he sits besides his wife who is lying quietly in the hospital bed. He holds her hand in between both his. There is a communication between them. A lot said but no words uttered. All emotions encompassed within the loving grasp of hands. She looks up at him and smiles. He leans forward and caresses the hair out of place and hovering over her face and gently places it back over the pillow. Her face is calm and content. No frowns of whys and whats and hows lurk on her weathered face. She is at peace.
“You wouldn’t know it, that she was sick. She looks so normal?”
“Yes she does. Unfortunately she has this leukemia and now it is taking its toll on her after 12 years. The bad cells are occupying most of her organs and even congesting the lymph glands. Her immune system is unable to mount a defense against the infection she has but the antibiotics should help with that.”
“Will she be okay?”
“I don’t know jus yet. Her vital signs are steady but until we get ahead of the infection this could be serious. She has been having more and more sweats and chills. She has lost a considerable amount of weight and her appetite is poor.”
“I noticed that and asked her about the appetite and weight loss but she would shush me every time, saying she was okay. I know you are all working hard to help her. I appreciate that very much.”
He goes back to the room to join his mate and picks up her hand gently to caresses it once again in both his. The circuit of energy is once again established and she smiles.
The nightfall is slow and comes easily but within the fluorescent white walls of sterility it is fire walled to an outside realm, deciphered only by the clocks that register the passage of time. Muted echoes of emergent calls overhead stream through the hallways and scurried steps emerge and follow to whence the demands came. The pace is slower a little. The clatter of the dinner plates being collected by the Food Service creates a limited banter between employees but this too is brief and quickly ceases once the tasks are completed.
“You should go home. You look tired.” She says awakening him from his nap. Her hand still in his and his body slumped to the side against the hospital bed.
“I am okay. I want to be here with you.”
“I know, but I don’t want you to be sick too. I couldn’t help you.”
“You get better then I will get as much sleep as I need.”
“There is little chance of my getting better. The doctor told me.”
“I think this is just a slight relapse. You will bounce back as you have done before.”
“No, darling. My time is over.” No tears flow from her eyes, just truths. She looks at him and a frown crosses over her forehead. “It is okay. We will meet on the other side. I couldn’t live without you anywhere.”
“I love you.” He says and continues holding her hand. Tears flow from his eyes readily with a sting of pain. He turns his head to avoid being seen. She knows.
The sun announces its arrival as a shaft of the golden hue breaks through the shutters and touches the opposing wall scattering the bright light in the room. The bright light falls on his face and he awakens to a silence. His hands still cover hers but the warmth has stolen away in the night. Her eyes are closed and her face is set in its quiet calm of peace and tranquility.
The tears don’t come. He wants them to, but his eyes are wrenched from all their moisture. The heart feels heavy and flutters inside his chest but continues to beat. His hands shake ever so slightly yet they continue to do his bidding. The past flows through his mind in torrents, bleeding the memories in its wake. Some sharp and vivid, others softened and blurred – all good and comforting and aching his insides.
“But she was in remission?”
“She was for almost two years. But she had been in remission several times before.” The disease always comes back. We have many tools now. Medications that thwart the mature lymphocytic leukemic cell from growing, but we still cannot get to the primitive mother cell or cells that start this whole process. “
“How long do others in her condition live?”
“Some much shorter and a few much longer. Remember that is from the time of diagnosis. Sometimes the diagnosis is not made and the disease has been in the body for many years.”
“Without any symptoms?”
“Yes, unfortunately. These lymphocytic white cells basically grow and survive raising the total white cell count. They subsequently overpower the normal functioning white cells by their sheer numbers and infection and organ dysfunction starts to create mischief in the body, which ultimately leads to illness and death. In her case the infection got her because she had no defense network of normal cells to help the antibiotics to rid of the bacteria.”
“I don’t now what to do?” He looks for answers and can find none.
“You can keep her alive in your memory, by staying healthy.”
It is a Wednesday afternoon and he is once again mowing the grass and the birds are chirping their normal chatter, unbeknownst to them of the heavy burden of loneliness he carries. His gait is slow and his once erect spine and straight shoulders are bent and slumped under the weight of his grief. He looks at the riverbed and the water appears to course around the bend a little quicker, sloshing ever so harshly at the turbulent turn. The light is bright but seems to fade a little. He wipes his brow and heads to the chair to catch his breath and drink from the glass of water sitting on the table. His hand never reaches the glass.
The Obituary Section of the newspaper mentions one J.U. Brown, 97 years old dead of natural causes. No relatives. His wife G.L. Brown predeceased him at age 99 years two months ago.
Years later the bend in the river is gone from the thrashing of the turbulent water and where once stood the majestic garden now courses an angry river. The boarded house has fallen in disrepair and uprooted trees form the river’s bank. Now the weeds rule the chaos that surrounds where order once ruled and the sound of the chirping birds is replaced by the burble and roar of nature’s fury from the angry river as it slowly inches its way to devour the once upon a time home of two beautiful soul mates.