The story of Laura is about looking back on life. Several people have commented to me about how it reminded them of their own personal experience. Our lives all differ, but we also share a lot.
The story of Laura was the First Place winner in the WestSide Story Contest. The contest was sponsored by the California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch in 2009. It was published in the on-line magazine The Green Silk Journal in February, 2014.
The hospital room door was open as it always was, and Tom Morris stepped inside, using his cane more like a walking stick than a crutch. His thinning white hair was combed to show a neat part on the left, and he wore a camel hair coat over his shirt, white with thin brown stripes. He pulled a chair over beside the bed and eased himself down. He leaned his cane against the foot of the bed.
“Hello, Laura,” he said. He took Laura’s limp hand in both of his as he looked at her face. A flexible air hose crossed her pale cheek, and its mask covered her mouth and nose. Her eyes were closed, and her chest rose and fell in a slow rhythm. Otherwise, she was still.
“It’s a beautiful day outside, clear with just a touch of autumn, your favorite time of year. The leaves are just starting to turn, and soon the whole landscape will be reds and oranges and yellows. This is when we always went for our longest walks, just to admire the scenery and to be invigorated by the weather. You remember.”
Tom searched her eyelids for movement and patted her hand to elicit a response. Laura remained still.
“Chuck and Edna had me over for dinner again last night. They served that great pot roast that Edna cooks. You know, the one braised in port wine and red onions. If she could sell that recipe, they would be rich or famous or both. They said they wanted to make sure I didn’t waste away while the chief cook was laid up. They sent some home with me.” Tom paused and gently squeezed Laura’s soft hand. “They send their best.”
Tom stared at the floor for a moment. Then, aware of his silk tie patterned with swirls of dark brown and strands of gold, he looked up. “I’m wearing your favorite tie today. I remember buying it because it made me think of you. It’s the same dark brown as your hair was back then, and the swirling pattern is just like the way your hair fell onto your shoulders in those days.” He caressed the back of her hand and looked at her hair, short and thinning now, forming a pale splash on her pillow. “The gold on it reminds me of all the gold jewelry you like to wear, especially the bracelets. You always looked so festive, even just going to the market.” He looked down at her fragile wrist, patterned with age spots and adorned now with only the hospital identification band. He sighed.
“At dinner Chuck and Edna talked about that dance contest we won back in college. They said we were obviously the best couple on the dance floor. We made all those moves look so easy. They didn’t know that we spent so much time practicing that I barely passed English Lit that semester. But you were the smart one. Your grades didn’t suffer a bit.” Tom stared past the blank walls to some place far away. “You were a natural dancer,” he said softly. “You had that trim figure and strong legs. If you didn’t know it before, let me tell you now that there were a lot of guys jealous of me.”
Tom leaned back in the chair, continuing to hold Laura’s hand in both of his. He was quiet for a while. The only sounds were the steady hum, rhythmic click, and intermittent whirr of the various machines in the room. They crowded a rack on the wall at the head of Laura’s bed.
“You always had flowers in the house. I brought you red roses on your birthday and on our anniversary and on Valentine’s Day. But you said daisies were your favorite for every other day because they were always so cheerful. Our front yard was full of them, and you always had some in a vase in the front room by the big window.” Tom looked around at the pale green walls and furniture of metal and plastic. “I’m sorry they don’t allow flowers in here. I wanted to bring you a vase of daisies, even a small vase, but the nurses said no. ‘Allergies and germs,’ they said.
“They also said ‘no pets,’ but that’s not a worry now.” Tom looked away. “I still miss Crystal,” he murmured. “She was such a sweet dog.” He leaned forward toward Laura. “I remember when you brought her back with you when you worked for the Red Cross in that flood disaster. That little lost dog attached herself to you, and you couldn’t leave her. Do you remember how surprised I was when you showed her to me? She was all white with floppy ears and a very waggy tail.” Tom smiled. “After we gave her a real bath, her coat had a sparkly quality to it, ‘like sugar crystals,’ you said. She went on all our walks and didn’t even need a leash. Remember how people would say such nice things about her good manners? Crystal was the center of our family for almost fifteen years. No other dog could replace her.” Tom looked down at Laura’s hand and caressed it. He whispered, “Crystal was very special,” and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
Tom cleared his throat and, in a cheerier tone, said, “You and Crystal got arthritis at about the same time. I remember we joked about which one of you had arthritis and which one had sympathy pains. Her medicine helped her more than yours helped you. You had to give up walks, so you started swimming. You loved it so much that you swam almost every day. You would come back from your morning swims all energized. It made you cheery, and that made Crystal and me eager to start the day with you.” Tom smiled to himself.
Laura’s limp arms lay on top of the blanket, penetrated and leashed by tubes. More tubes and some wires snaked out from under her blanket. Tom looked them over and slowly shook his head and pursed his lips.
“I know you miss your swimming. You haven’t been able to go for the last few weeks. In the mornings I keep expecting you to come through our front door, smiling and fresh from your swim.” He paused. “But you’re here.” Tom looked up at the painted ceiling, the blue glow from the fluorescent lights casting it with a cold, metallic tint. No windows allowed the warm autumn light to enter this space.
“This is the sixteenth day I’ve come to see you here.” Tom sighed. “I know it’s past our agreement time but…” Tom sniffed and then wiped his eyes and nose with a tissue from a nearby box. He leaned on the bed to help himself rise from his chair, and he shuffled to the bank of machines on the wall. He gave them a curious and critical look, friendly robots who blinked their lights back at him.
Tom took a slow, deep breath. Then, one by one, he turned off each of the machines except for the heart monitor. The humming, clicking, and whirring stopped. The room was silent. He looked at the heart monitor screen where its marching bright green line traced the strong, regular rhythm of Laura’s heartbeat. He eased himself back down into his chair and took Laura’s hand in both of his. He raised it to his lips and kissed it.
Tom gazed toward her pillow. “I see you, Laura,” he said, but his vision was too clouded by tears to see anything. “I see you on a long autumn walk, arm in arm with me, the cool breezes tugging on your long dark hair and flushing your cheeks. You’re kicking leaves out of our way with your dancer’s legs and laughing. Your eyes sparkle when you look at me. I see you. I see you.”
Laura lay still, a wisp under the light hospital blanket. Tom lifted her hand to his wet cheek.
“I love you, Laura. I will always love you. Always.”
The green line on the monitor staggered and shuffled across the screen, showing the weak and erratic pattern of Laura’s heartbeat. Then the line was flat.