THURSDAY: Until Death

BY COPPER ROSE

Copyright is held by the author.

“THE DOCTOR is wrong.” Edward picked up his hammer and began beating the piece of tin into the shape of an angel he planned to fasten to the top of the weather vane.

“I saw the test results.” Elise stepped away from the workbench, away from the beating.

“We can try the newest medicine.”

“Yes.”

“Maybe there is a way a person can live without a pancreas.”

“Yes, Edward, maybe there is a way you can live without a pancreas.”

Edward stopped pounding and brushed dust from his shaggy brown hair. He stared at the hammer. Elise stared out the cloudy workshop window at the cherry blossoms on the tree.

***

“He didn’t put this together right.” Edward tried to lean forward as Elise adjusted the pillow behind his skinny, bald head.

“His name is Justin. He’s been setting up hospice beds for about three years now. He seems nice enough.” Elise filled Edward’s pitcher with water.

“He’s fooling you.” Edward leaned forward, tried to take a deep breath, failed, and let his head fall back onto the pillow.

Elise placed a bowl of ice chips on the hospital table, raised the tabletop until it cleared the side of the bed, and swung it around so the tray was within Edward’s reach. “Can I get you anything else?”

Edward pushed the tray away. “Are they going to hook me up to anything?”

“No. The doctor said there won’t be any more tubes.”

“Needles?”

“No more needles.”

“Are the kids here yet?”

“They’ll be here shortly.”

“It’ll be too late by the time they get here.” Edward closed his eyes. When they didn’t open after a good long while and his breathing evened out, Elise slipped from the room and went to sit down next to Miriam, the overnight nurse.

“How’s he doing?” Miriam didn’t look up as she continued to fill out forms.

“As good as can be expected.”

“He’s been a handful, hasn’t he?”

Elise sighed. “He’s always been so stubborn. And the hardest part is he never admits it when he’s wrong.”

Miriam flipped the last form onto the stack of papers. “You know, the rails come down on the sides of that bed. We can scoot his bed close to your bed if you’d like.”

Elise studied Miriam’s face.

Miriam went on. “Some people prefer the rails up, some down. But then, some prefer a room of their own.”

“I’d like them together. With the rails all the way down.”

“We can do it now while he’s resting.”

Elise sighed again and followed Miriam past the fireplace decked out with stockings hanging from the mantel, past the Christmas tree lights winking on and off in the corner. Miriam and Elise tiptoed into the room and scooted the hospital bed next to Elise’s bed. Miriam dropped the side-rail and rearranged the blankets.

***

The evening was filled with quiet laughter and picture taking. Grandchildren sitting with Edward gripped his fingers, brushed their little hands along the length of his frail arm. “Momma, is Grandpa…”

“Shh.”

Elise and her children stuffed the wrapping paper in plastic bags, put the eggnog in the fridge and then tucked the grandbabies into bed. Elise said goodnight to Miriam and then turned out the lights. Elise undressed in the dark, pulled her nicest nightgown over her head and crawled into bed. Edward’s hand reached out, motioning her to come closer. She snuggled against him lightly. He turned his head toward her, his breathing ragged and strained. “I’m so tired. This is hard—this thing called dying. Elise, you won’t be seeing me in the morning, but I want you to know I love you.”

“I love you too, Edward.” Elise sniffled. Edward’s hand went limp as his breathing evened out. One long breath in, one short breath out. Elise looked and Edward’s eyes were closed. She took a deep breath, snuggled in a little closer and closed her eyes too. She never wanted morning to come.

The wind spun the weathervane to the east as the sun broke over the snow-covered hills, glistening past the front gate, across the yard and in through the bedroom window. Edward opened his eyes and stared at the ray of sunshine. “I’m still alive,” he said. For the first time in his life he was glad he was wrong. He reached for Elise. He smiled as his hand softly touched hers.

Her hand was cold.

Too cold.

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