He walked the familiar route through the hospital corridors, the weight of his heart dragging his steps.
She’d been on the end-of-life ward for over two weeks, though she’d been lost longer than that.
The creeping fog that invaded his wife not long after retirement had taken the best parts and left a stranger in her place.
It had started with small things: forgetting names, forgetting what they had for lunch.
I’ve got the memory of a goldfish she would mutter, as she tried to remember where she’d parked the car.
The doctor said her brain degeneration was consistent with a poor lifestyle. They’d asked for a second opinion. His Mary had never smoked, she walked everywhere, the only time she drank was a sherry at Christmas.
Five opinions later, Samuel was done arguing with fate.
He’d kept her at home as long as possible, but the occupational therapist hadn’t taken kindly to her midnight wanderings. So here they were.
He paused at the door to her room, took a deep breath, as if the air could inject some levity into his heart, and went in.
She turned towards him, a smile spreading across her face the likes of which he hadn’t seen since…well, it’d been too long.
‘Samuel. They said you were coming, I’ve been waiting.’
His brow knotted in confusion.
‘Oh, stop stammering, you old buffoon. They told me what’s been going on. Whoever would have thought I’d lose the plot at sixty-seven? All those things we had planned!’
He stood, lost for words until she filled the silence, the lightness and familiarity in her voice like a once favourite song he hadn’t heard for years.
‘Still, it can’t be helped. Come, sit…tell me about our grandchildren, how are Beau and Theodore?’
So he sat, and they talked. They didn’t stop talking. Reminiscing about when they met, their wedding day, their children and their children’s children. Visiting hours came and went, but no one disturbed them. The staff had seen these kinds of miracles before, they knew better than to interrupt.
When they finally ran out of words, they sat and gazed at each other, Samuel marvelling at the light behind his wife’s beautiful eyes, a spark he never thought he’d see again.
‘I’m getting tired now Samuel,’ she said at last, I’m going to fall asleep soon.’
‘Okay my love. You should get some rest,’ he said, his fist moving to his mouth as he stifled a yawn.
‘We both should,’ agreed Mary, a smile dancing at the corner of her mouth.
‘I’ll come back first thing tomorrow. I’ll call the kids, see if they can get the day off and…’
‘No Sammy,’ she hadn’t called him Sammy since they were teenage sweethearts, ‘I won’t be here tomorrow.’
‘What are you talking about? I know you’re feeling better, but they won’t let you home yet.’
‘I’m not coming home Sammy. Or rather, I am, but I won’t be leaving this hospital.’
He shook his head slightly, as if to shake off an annoying fly that had just buzzed in his ear,
‘You Do, Sammy,’ she took his hand in both of hers, ‘You don’t want to, but you do. It’s like all those second opinions. You thought that if you didn’t look, it would go away. But you need to look at this Sammy. You must.’
Tears were rolling down his cheeks now, he couldn’t hold them back anymore. Acceptance settled over him, grief shrouding his heart as he felt the truth of her words.
‘That’s it, my love, that’s it.’
He climbed onto the bed and held her through the night, silent tears soaking his shirt collar, until her breathing became deep…rhythmic…slow…sporadic, and then